The Adirondack Park of Upstate New York is a unique 6 million acre state reserve that is a mix of private and public (state owned) lands. The governmental Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was enacted by the state legislature in 1971 as a means to protect the mountains, lakes and surrounding forest lands from over development and exploitation. While the APA has largely met its goal, many natives and year-round residents feel it has gone overboard with regulations, resulting in minimized modern services needed in today’s economic environment. Part of this has been the lack of Internet service available in its many rural areas, with a specific impact on farming enterprises.

Farming is difficult

Given its largely mountainous topography, it doesn’t seem like there would be a lot of farming going out here. The growing season is short; winters are long and rough. Historically, it’s a tough area to sustain a farming enterprise. The geographically beautiful Champlain Valley is dotted with the sagging barns and weed-filled yards of failed farms.  Crumbling farmhouses, still displaying their striking architecture of the era in which they were built, stand empty-eyed and barren.  Driving by these properties, you can almost hear the echoes and see the ghosts of the families and farmhands who once worked these lands.

 Though modern farming is a challenge in this mountainous area, there are fertile valley areas that support vegetable production as well as a handful of large, successful, dairy farms. The farming movement within the park has been slow and steady, with the “farm to fork” initiative being a driving force. A real game changer has been the advent of CSAs. They’ve given many smaller farming operations the ability to market their offerings in a profitable fashion. 

Firewalls

A significant barrier to almost all potential business within the park is the inconsistency of Internet service. Cell towers have, until very recently, been banned within the park. There remain huge swaths of land that have no cell phone or Internet service. In recent years, a happy medium of sorts has been reached with “Frankenpines” – cell towers disguised as pine trees – in order to provide more cell phone coverage without being an eyesore on the countryside.

Yes, DSL and broadband are available in the heart of the more populated communities, but that leaves a very large population with sparse choices. Where I live, for example, my Internet options are poor to none – dial up (which I have used until very recently), satellite (which is expensive and undependable), or using my husband’s iPhone as a hotspot. Given that reception on his phone is so poor, using it as a hotspot actually works worse than dial up (depending on the weather). We only live three miles from a state route, but due to the low houses per mile ratio, the cable company which provided Internet was not willing to run the lines up our road (we can’t get television, either, unless via satellite).


Bringin’ in the broadband

A broadband committee formed a couple of years ago in the effort to secure a piece of a state grant to bring Internet to the masses. Their efforts were finally rewarded last week when they secured a grant of $2.1 million to bring high-speed, low-cost, broadband to our Town of Schroon.

Not only will this be a boon to all local businesses, it will enable local farms to have better service and communication with their customers. Farms in the more rural areas will be able to have more affordable and dependable Internet service, letting them reach more customers and increase the profitability of their farms.

For small startups like myself, faster Internet means a lifeline of being able to network and communicate more readily with other agricultural folks. Since I still work away from home full-time during the day, the evening is my prime time for catching up with my farming contacts, related blogs and Internet news. Not being able to do so puts me at a major disadvantage. I can’t load posts or pictures on my homesteading blog, and maintaining a website is out of the question.

When the planets align and the Internet works well, it’s been an asset to our operation.  I found our new tractor – exactly what we were looking for – on Craigslist in New Hampshire.  Being able to see what other cheese producers charge has helped me figure out how to competitively price our own cheeses.  I can obtain numerous methods of controlling weeds in my garden, and get varying opinions on them all, enabling me to make an educated decision on how to proceed with my own.  I’ve read many accounts of folks who have dairy goats, which prompted me to inform my husband we’re not getting anything that needs to be milked as long as I’m working full-time.

Adirondack farms

All of these things (and much more) are part of expanding our enterprise and staying connected with other agricultural sources.  My husband and I do a full-bore computing session on our laptops once a week or so from our local tavern, which has wireless; while it’s nice, it has the potential to turn us into alcoholics.
Improved Internet is just one part of the whole for successful farming within the park. While it’s a unique environment that offers much to many, it also has some unique challenges. Being able to successfully market ones products or network with others shouldn’t be one of them. We are, after all, on the same team here. This is a huge step in the right direction.

Beti Spangel is a freelance writer and homesteader in Schroon Lake, New York, where she resides with her husband, forester/soils scientist Larry Phillips, their horses, chickens and cats, and ever-expanding gardens.  You can follow her blog at weefarmgirl.blogspot.com.

If you would like to write a guest post for The Social Silo, send an email to editor@farmanddairy.com.
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