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Brett McLeod says the Adirondack North Country is a "working landscape." Photo: Sarah Harris
Brett McLeod says the Adirondack North Country is a "working landscape." Photo: Sarah Harris

How can North Country's "working landscapes" thrive alongside the wild?

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Yesterday farmers, community leaders, business people and students gathered at the Paul Smith's VIC to talk about the future of the North Country and launch a new collaboration, the Adirondack Center for Working Landscapes.

Sarah Harris went to the symposium and talks about the event and the issues raised by it with Martha Foley.

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Sarah Harris
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Martha Foley: Tell us a little bit about the Center for Working Landscapes.

Sarah Harris: The center is a collaboration between Paul Smiths College and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County. It's housed at the Paul Smiths VIC.

It provides a place to address issues of agriculture, food systems, energy and ecotourism in the North Country. And it does it through the lens of "working landscapes." The center encourages people move beyond thinking of the Adirondacks as a place to be simply preserved or exploited. Instead, they want to encourage people to think holistically about the future of the region. Paul Smiths' forestry professor Brett McLeod says that means creating robust, durable communities.

"And so this is based on the idea of crafting communities and this is a linking of our economic and ecological choices. Too often we make these choices in isolation of one another, and I'm trying to bring these two ideas together."

MF: What did people talk about at the forum yesterday?

SH: The program began with Congressman Bill Owens talking about the Farm Bill and the parts he feels are important to the North Country:

"We got some provisions related to maple syrup marketing, we got a provision that got apples to be exported without being tested," Owens explained.

And there were representatives from USDA rural development, SARE (that's the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program) and the Northern New York Agriculture Development Program. They explained the types of projects their organizations fund and how, if you're, say, a farmer who wants to conduct research on your property, or you're a local library that wants to renovate – how to find and apply for funding.

MF: What did you take away from the symposium?

SH: Another big part of the day was really taking the pulse of where the North Country is with regards to food, energy, farming and tourism.

I think, for a lot of people in the audience, the idea of "working landscapes" as lens to look at our region makes a lot of sense.

Bill Farber, who's chair of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, spoke yesterday. He says the Adirondack Park was designed to be an experiment in whether small communities could thrive against a vast forest preserve.

And he says that while the idea of working landscapes doesn't encompass all the issues the North Country faces – like health care access and education funding – it is a broad and important way to bring people together.

"You have people that are thinking about themselves as farmers and value-added and how to tie that to food banks – so I think you're starting to piece together some of the collaborating partners to make the whole community, the North Country, a success."

I think this mix of practical information that people can use, plus big conceptual thinking about the region, is what we can expect from the Center for Working Landscapes. This was their first event. And they'll release information on future programs soon.

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