Appalachian Basin

Pastoral Prosperity Supporting Milk House Views

I stumbled across an article this morning in the Times Leader and was taken aback by the author’s lack of forethought for the very farmer who provided such a view in the first place.  Tom Venesky, the writer, describes a view where he used to experience a beauty of the landscape that defines rural Pennsylvania, those endearing farmlands and forests that roll before the eyes like glimpses of nirvana. His spot of choice is an old milk house, long since closed due to the difficulty of making a living at dairy farming. In his piece the one thing Venesky seems to miss is for him to enjoy that view, someone has to pay for that land and maintain its taxes and expenses or risk losing a family treasure.

As Gerald O’Hara said in one of the greatest movies of all time, Gone with the Wind:

“Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”

As the quote eludes, the land we own is something that becomes a part of us. We buy a house picturing our children growing up in it; our grandchildren playing in the yard. We buy land as an investment for the future of our families, something that becomes a part of the family and its history. Indeed it serves as the founding principle of our nation and society.  On a more personal level, for those who have had a parcel of land in their family for generations, it is a treasure that is unfathomable to imagine losing.

What Mr. Venesky fails to mention is that whoever owns that land, and allows him to enjoy a piece of their lives, has finally been offered an opportunity to revitalize the land in an environment otherwise filled with economic hardships.  The Marcellus Shale he disparages is positively impacting the people who have spent their lives  maintaining this land thus allowing moments like his “view from the milk house window”.  However, Mr. Venesky never had to pay for that view and his article makes it seem he lacks this understanding and care for those who made his enjoyment possible.

The view he treasures will return and with it perhaps not only mere remnants of a farm that once was, but perhaps a farm returned to its golden days potentially prosperous once again.  As I look out at the beauty that surrounds my own home I wonder what Mr. Vensesky would have thought if the view he treasures, at someone else’s expense, had been lost and replaced with a new owner less attached to the land?  An owner that could be more likely to build a subdivision or large private residence that could have deprived access to the parcel completely.  Would this have been a better outcome?  Would the view not still be lost, in this scenario more permanently?

There is also an inherent idea expressed in Venesky’s article. The idea being that the action of this landowner is detrimental to the public good.  Inherent in the writer’s tone is displeasure, agitation and condescension for the loss of a memory to which he was attached but had no stake in supporting.  The idea of public entitlement on private land espoused here is a questionable one and it has been an undercurrent throughout the debate encompassing the Marcellus Shale.

Also, the author presents a false choice essentially declaring that no development can exist if we are to safeguard our landscapes and treasured places. I offer my home outside of Hughesville, PA (able to be viewed in the video below) for you as one such place where beauty and prosperity co-exist harmoniously.  We have what I like to call pastoral prosperity and I have to believe there are many others who want it too!


Rather than espousing an idealized vision of a world outside of possibility I believe Mr. Venesky would have been better served by expressing gratitude to these landowners for their generations of care to the land they love and  maintaining and conserving it for the benefit of all. For many, the Marcellus represents the only real possibility to conserve their land as state governments and conservation districts are strapped for funding to offer landowners to conserve their land holdings.  These residents, the untold side of Mr. Venesky’s story,  face the real choice of leasing or losing in many cases.  I assure you the thought of loss hangs heavier each day  with every new expense or bill that arrives at the mailbox.


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