Martha Clarvoe, November 14, 2012

Title

Martha Clarvoe, November 14, 2012

Subject

Otsego County Conservation Association
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Otsego County (N.Y.)

Description

Martha Clarvoe is a prominent member of the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA). Clarvoe was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and later moved with her family to Maryland. In Maryland, Clarvoe attended high school and college. Clarvoe studied a year of Physical Education and went to Physical Therapy Assistant School in Baltimore, Maryland. Clarvoe worked at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, where she met her husband who was training to be a Physician’s Assistant at Johns Hopkins University. Eventually, Clarvoe and her husband decided that they wanted to live around nature in a rural setting, so they moved to Otsego County. While in Otsego County, Clarvoe began volunteering with the OCCA, and eventually became a board member and leader of the organization.
Clarvoe’s recollections range from stories of her day-to-day activities growing up with her siblings in Maryland to the work that she currently does at the Otsego County Conservation Association. Additionally, Clarvoe’s recollections consist of her broader observations of the current environmental state of Otsego County. Some of the most interesting material in the interview concerns her work to push conservation to the forefront of Otsego County’s social issues. Such instances include, but are not limited to, her involvement in Earth Festival, Bike to Work Day, the League of Women Voters, and the Burn Barrel Committee.

Creator

Georgiana Drain

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2012-11-14

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
63.6mB
image/jpeg
2448 x 3264 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

12-006

Coverage

Upstate New York
1954-2012
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Georgiana Drain

Interviewee

Martha Clarvoe

Location

101 Main St.
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Research and Fieldwork Course (HMUS 520)
Oral History Project
Fall 2012

Interview with Martha Clarvoe by Georgiana E. Drain

Interviewer: Drain, Georgiana E.
Interviewee: Clarvoe, Martha
Date: November 14, 2012
Location of interview: Cooperstown, New York

Archive or Library Repository: New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Description:

Martha Clarvoe is a prominent member of the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA). Clarvoe was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and later moved with her family to Maryland. In Maryland, Clarvoe attended high school and college. Clarvoe studied a year of Physical Education and went to Physical Therapy Assistant School in Baltimore, Maryland. Clarvoe worked at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, where she met her husband who was training to be a Physician’s Assistant at Johns Hopkins University. Eventually, Clarvoe and her husband decided that they wanted to live around nature in a rural setting, so they moved to Otsego County. While in Otsego County, Clarvoe began volunteering with the OCCA, and eventually became a board member and leader of the organization.
Clarvoe’s recollections range from stories of her day-to-day activities growing up with her siblings in Maryland to the work that she currently does at the Otsego County Conservation Association. Additionally, Clarvoe’s recollections consist of her broader observations of the current environmental state of Otsego County. Some of the most interesting material in the interview concerns her work to push conservation to the forefront of Otsego County’s social issues. Such instances include, but are not limited to, her involvement in Earth Festival, Bike to Work Day, the League of Women Voters, and the Burn Barrel Committee.
Clarvoe speaks in a clear northern United States dialect that is not difficult to understand. For this reason, I have been able to reproduce Clarvoe’s speech. However, I have chosen to make a minimal amount of grammatical and editorial changes. Therefore, I encourage researchers to consult the audio recordings for the exact narration without my editorial decisions.


Key Terms:
Agricultural (Ag.) Plastic
Bassett Hospital
Bike to Work Day
Burn Barrels
Cornell Waste Management Institute
Cooperstown, New York
Earth Festival
Environment
Farmers
Hartwick, New York
Hartwick Conservation Advisory Committee
Hazardous Waste
League of Women Voters
Milford, New York
New York Farm Bureau
Otsego County



Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2012

MC = Martha Clarvoe
GD = Georgiana Drain

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

GD:
This is the November 14, 2012 interview of Ms. Martha Clarvoe by Georgiana Drain for the Cooperstown Graduate Program's Research and Fieldwork course recorded at 101 Main Street in the Otsego County Conservation Association Headquarters. So, can you tell me about what the community that you grew up in was like when you were young?

MC:
I really grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York for several years, and then we moved to Rockville, Maryland. My dad was an employee of IBM, and so he worked in Gaithersburg and we lived in Norbeck, Maryland. I believe that I was actually bussed as an elementary school student for desegregation. We were bussed to Olney, Maryland, and that’s where the school was. Kids didn’t probably understand any of that. I sort of learned that after the fact. I had a wonderful time, had many friends- black and white- and I don’t imagine there were many Latinos there at the time. I spent a lot of time in a swimming pool. My sister and I were on the swimming team, and so we swam a lot and went to practice in the morning. We practiced for an hour and we had homework assignments. We had to swim a mile even after practice, so we spent a lot of time in the pool. My sister and brother are older. My older sister is nine years older and my brother is six years older, so I feel like I spent a lot of time with my sister, my twin sister.

GD:
Ok.

MC:
My brother was old enough that he didn’t hang out with us. We were somebody that he could torture, and my older sister was away at college. She actually went to private school. She dared my father to send her, and he said, “if you can get in, I’ll send you,” and she got in [and] regretted it but couldn’t say anything so she ended up in private school. We were able to ride our bikes to our friends’ houses and we played outside all the time, helped my mom after my father died, helped my mom rake leaves, and did a lot of outside things.

GD:
So do you think that these outside things, that you just mentioned, in what ways did they help you become an environmentalist?

MC:
I don’t know. I think about that. I don’t really know why I'm so passionate. [silence].

GD:
It's ok. We can take a minute.

MC:
[sighs] [sniffles]

GD:
Your passion is really evident.

MC:
[sighs] [sniffles]

GD:
We can take as long as you want. Don’t worry.

MC:
So then I went to high school and college. I studied first a year of Phys. Ed., and then physical therapy. Then I ended up working for a while, and went back to Physical Therapy Assistant School. I ended up working in [Washington] DC at Sibley Memorial Hospital, and I think by then, I had met my to-be husband. He went to Physician Assistant School, and I was going to Physical Therapy Assistant School in Baltimore. While he was training at Johns Hopkins, I ended up working there. We wanted to get back to nature, get back to raising some of our own food. And for some reason, we thought we had to move to do that. I'm not sure why. [laughs]. He was from Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside of DC. So it was city, or suburbia, and it was quite busy there. At that time in the sixties, Montgomery County was the fastest growing county in the United States, and we just decided that we wanted to be in a rural setting and so he went into the career office. He was at Essex Community College, and he saw this job on the desk of the counselor, and she hadn’t mentioned it and he said, “Well what about that job right there?” And she said, “Oh, well that just came in,” and he said, “Wow, that sounds really interesting,”- because it was at Bassett Hospital. They were hiring physicians’ assistants to cover for residents. They were worried, at the time, that they might lose their residency program, and they wanted to have PAs to be there as back up. If they weren’t going to have their residents to help during surgery, they wanted to have PAs. So, he applied and came up for an interview and he got the job. So we moved here and that was in 1980. I'm probably off the topic right now.

GD:
Oh no, it’s fine. This is wonderful. I’m wondering if while you were getting to know your future husband, if you both realized that you were passionate about the environment, or was it something that just came about?

MC:
I don’t know. After being here, I worked a little while. They had a vacancy at Bassett for a temporary three month position. So, I worked as a physical therapy assistant. Later I had hurt my back, and was having chronic back pain. I realized that maybe being a physical therapist assistant wasn’t going to work because you either have to wait for help to help you with someone, or you do it yourself. And if you do it yourself, you may hurt yourself. So I decided that I needed to find a new career, and in the meantime, I went out on the boat cruise for [the] Biological Field Station at SUNY [Oneonta]. While I was on that boat cruise, Doctor [Willard] Harman was giving the tour and he kept saying, over and over again, that “this was funded by OCCA. This was funded by OCCA.” I thought, “Wow, that sounds like a really good group.” So I went by the office and met the director at the time, which was Teresa Winchester. I asked her if she needed a volunteer. She said, “sure,” and she obviously needed a lot of help. She had a lot of things that she was trying to do all by herself, and so I started doing membership and things like that. It just grew and grew. I was employed at Brookwood School for a little while. I was employed at the elementary school as an aid and the OCCA work just pulled me in, [the] volunteer[ing]. That’s really what I wanted to be doing. So I just did it more and more. At the time, OCCA didn’t have the funding to pay me. Then I was asked to be on the board, and so, I thought, “Well, I’ll just be on the board and it’ll be like a job. I just won’t get paid.” At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, I'm fine. I have a comfortable life, my husband’s employed, and the kids are grown now, and I’ll be happy with the volunteer work.” And so, that’s just what I decided to do. Luckily, OCCA was there to let me do the projects that I wanted to do, and they were fitting for their mission. So I do that, and I really enjoy it. I attend the County Solid Waste Committee meetings. My particular interest was in recycling. I didn’t feel that the county [Otsego] was doing as much as it could to promote recycling. I think my feeling was that the county was doing it because they somehow had a law on the books. I’m not sure how that became enacted or who pushed for that. Probably New York State said every county has to have a law. And so they did it, but there was sort of this just on the side when, in fact, the thing that was costing them the most money was the solid waste. They should have been looking at more options. So I thought, “Maybe that’s what I could put some of my focus on.” And I have. Through the League of Women Voters, which is where I started working on recycling, we organized the first magazine collection. This was before paper was really recyclable. You had regular office paper, but slicks, is what they were called, weren’t being recycled. So the League of Women Voters, which already had a history of recycling, they were doing the glass recycling at the train car at it used to be Agway on Railroad Avenue. There used to be Agway there, and then there was a train end right there where the railroad offices are now. The train was coming in and out of there. They dropped a train car there, and the League of Women Voters collected glass and, I believe, tin and aluminum. They put it in barrels and then they put it in the train car and sent it to get recycled. That was our first recycling center here in the Village [of Cooperstown], and probably for the county. So it was fitting that the League would take on the magazines. And in one Saturday, we filled a tractor-trailer with magazines, which means we filled probably forty thousand pounds. If the containers would actually amount to that. A standard load now is forty thousand pounds.

GD:
Did you go door-to-door to businesses?

MC:
No, we just got the word out for all those people who had been saving magazines, and probably, newspapers. Some people save them for various reasons- for pet bedding or for their wood stove. They had too much, and we probably gave them some notice that we were going to be doing this. The owners of Marcal Paper Company, who happen to have a home here in Cooperstown, provided the truck. Because Marcal Paper Company has been using pre-consumer, I believe, and possibly some post-consumer. In other words, before they make the magazine, and this was with National Geographic, they took those scraps from making the magazine, and then, if they had leftovers, for whatever reason, those things were turned into toilet paper, and paper towels, and paper napkins. Marcal provided the truck, so all we had to do was fill it. We filled it in one Saturday, and that started the magazine and slick paper recycling. So we did that. We did a tire collection- a couple tire collections. I managed to hurt my back on at least one of those. Now OCCA does Styrofoam collection at Earth Festival. That’s at least seven years old. Hopefully, this year we will actually take the Styrofoam up in a horse trailer drawn by biodiesel. It’s a diesel engine truck, and it will be running on biodiesel that is grown on our president’s property. She and her husband are very much into alternative energies, and they grow rapeseed, and they have [a] press, and they make their own vegetable oil. She is hoping to provide that this year. So, instead of renting a fourteen-foot U-Haul truck, which we pretty much fill with Styrofoam, and we take it to Cohoes Shelter Enterprises in Albany where they make- basement wall insulation board out of the collected Styrofoam. They take white plain Styrofoam and then they turn it into wallboard. It’s not called wallboard. [laughs] I don’t know what it’s called- blue board. We’ve done paper shredding at Earth Festival. We call a company, and they bring a shredder and we’ve been trying to get people to bring their old files of- say their aunt dies and they get all her papers, and you want to shred it. Running that through a little tiny hand shredder- it can take you hours. This guy can do it in ten seconds [laughs] with this machine he has. That hasn’t ever really taken off. Not like the magazines

GD:
That’s what I was going to ask you. It seems like you guys, here at the OCCA, have had so many efforts to reach out to the community, and I’m wondering what their response has been. Especially since you said that since it was you and the League of Women Voters that had the first effort, like this big recycling effort. I’m wondering what the community involvement has been like.

MC:
Oh, it’s good. It’s good. OCCA also provides the volunteers for Household Hazardous Waste Day, where the county runs a program, which includes paint, chemicals, car batteries, propane tanks. It used to include electronics, but electronics are taken care of with the New York State Product Stewardship law. So, that’s done through a company now for free for all the residents. They also collect Styrofoam, I mean, compact fluorescent bulbs and fluorescents tubes- the long ones- that’s called hazardous waste collection. When this started, OCCA and Teresa Winchester, the executive director then, was at the table when they were organizing this. They said OCCA would be happy to find the volunteers because you can’t operate something like this without volunteers, unless you want people to sit in line for hours waiting to get through. I think the average wait is probably ten minutes. I have gone to another county’s Hazardous Waste Day, and sat for an hour and a half with a cars idling the whole time. It’s really not any fun and not an environmentally-friendly atmosphere if you’re sitting in idling cars. So, I had no trouble getting enough volunteers. This year, we had a fraternity from SUNY Oneonta come, and they came with fifteen people. Then we had Job Corps came with, boy, over twenty. So this year, for the first time, we were standing around a little bit because we had too many volunteers. More and more people are starting to see that they want to protect the environment and they want to do what they can, and that’s one of the things that they can do. Another activity is the Bike to Work Day that I help organize. We have twenty-four sites around the county where people can check in and say, “I’ve ridden my bike to work today,” and you pick up some information. Hopefully a little reward for participating, you know, a water bottle or something like that. And hopefully every year, we'll get more people. But right now, we're stuck at about three hundred and fifty participants. I think it’s something that I’ve heard a lot of people say- that they use our day, which is near the end of May. They use that to start off their bike season. If they’re normally bike riders, they sort of go, “Oh yea, I’ve got to get going because I’ve got to get started for Bike to Work Day.” And that keeps them in the habit, and so they continue to ride after the event. I’m sure there are a lot of people who ride just on that day, but yet, it still got them out that one time. [It] encourages people to do more and think about that, and we also encourage walkers, as well as bicycle riders.

GD:
So tell me about the preparation for this day. I mean, three hundred and fifty people is a large amount of people. I’m wondering what your role is in organizing this event.

MC:
We started with probably six check-in locations. Each year, I try to find more people. We are looking at businesses, schools, [and] colleges. Schools are sort of an obvious choice. A lot of kids already ride their bikes, but the bike rack is stuffed when we have Bike to Work Day. I know it’s not stuffed every day. They’re easy to get on board. It’s the businesses that I think could be on board. I don’t know. They’re too busy. I don’t know why they’re not jumping on board more. It’s not a new idea to think that businesses should be rewarding people who ride their bikes. Bassett Hospital has a parking problem, and they should be rewarding people for riding the bus, for riding their bikes, and for walking to work.

GD:
So in what ways have you tried to engage these businesses that seem like they’re not really as into it [as much] as you wish that they were?

MC:
Mostly, I’ve just called, tried to get- it’s usually either somebody- like at the college, there’s somebody who’s involved in community health on campus [who is kind of a] promotional person. It might be a human resources person who’s supposed to be doing some kind of activities with employees to [do] sort of a bonding thing. But, unless I’m talking to a bicyclist, it’s hard to get people to say, “Oh, I could be riding my bike. I only live five miles away.” The really hard sell is people who are driving twenty-five minutes. For them to think, “Well, I could ride. I could drive half way, and then get on my bicycle and ride in.” To me, that is still a possibility because you’re getting to work and you’re getting your exercise. Then you have to get back to your car, and you could ride your bike back. But, you have to want to do it. I think bicycling is so much fun. It’s like being a kid again. You think about other things when you ride on your bike. You think about the car in front of you or behind you. In some ways, it’s a really nice, exciting distraction. Plus, you feel really good because you’ve had your exercise and you’re not using gas. Four dollars a gallon, I think it should be on people’s minds a little bit more. The other thought is that we have an amazing public transportation system here in Otsego County. It’s kind of a well-kept secret. There’s not a lot of advertising again. Just like the recycling, there isn’t enough advertising and education, and they’re not spending much money on publicity. My husband and I ride the bus, and oftentimes there’s no one else on the bus. And I feel bad because I’m using the bus. Thirty-five cents, it costs me to ride from Hartwick to Cooperstown. That’s what it used to cost me to get lunch when I was in elementary school. It was thirty-five cents. So, it’s really nothing. I could use the change out of the jar of change that I have in my house to ride all year long probably. And that’s a crazy little bit of money.

GD:
Why do you think that they haven’t been putting as many efforts into publicity and advertising?

MC:
It’s time consuming, and work, and they don’t have a staff person. [Within] the county and the village, everybody is so short-staffed. They all have so many things to juggle. Just the mere fact that our county solid waste department and planning department are staffed by the same people- that’s crazy. That means some things are not happening that should be happening.

GD:
Would you say that there should be more of an effort, perhaps in the school systems, to raise more young people who are conscious about the environment?

MC:
Sure. I like to think probably phys. ed. teachers and science teachers are the people who are concentrating on that. If they’re talking, at all, about the environment and science, which I assume they are. And phys. ed., I mean, bicycling is a perfect match. Once I was driving around west of here, working on the RAP program- recycling agricultural plastic- which we actually haven’t talked about, and I saw a class of kids on bicycles. They were probably ninth through twelfth grade, and they were learning how to bicycle. I think that would be a wonderful thing to promote. I’ve never seen or heard of any class having a bicycle class. The group, Otsego Regional Cycling Advocates, which OCCA has helped start, has offered this to Cooperstown and other schools but we haven’t had many takers yet. Everybody’s limited, as you know, to how much time they have, but that’s something we should be focusing on is education. We’ve tried. We’ve offered courses, and it’s difficult to get enough people to make the course worthwhile. But [that’s] something we're focusing on. The Recycling Ag. Plastic Program came out of the Otsego County Burn Barrel Education [laughs] Committee. Carl Higgins was the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives. There were a lot of people, including myself, who were complaining about trash burning. Thanks to Teresa Winchester, we were at a county solid waste meeting, and she said, “Why don’t you start a committee?” So, Roberta Puritz went ahead with that idea. She took it to the board, and they voted to form a committee. My friend, Mary Ashwood, became the chair of that committee. We had people sitting at the table who admitted freely to burning their trash. They actually took the trash out and they used gasoline to make the fire burn hot, they thought. They would light up whenever they needed to burn their trash. We had Doctor John May who worked for the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, and he knew that trash burning was probably not a good thing, but he hadn’t had time to give it some attention. So our homework, the first day after the committee, was to go and do some research-see what you could find out about trash burning.

GD:
I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit more about trash burning because I had never even heard of it until I came to Cooperstown. I didn’t realize that some people may not have trash pick-up, so I’m wondering if you could talk more about that.

MC:
I’m not sure why I’m thinking about this, but in New York City, I know they had incinerators- little incinerators, one for each high rise, and trash was burned in those. I don’t know what the temperature was, but it might not have been that hot. It needs to be hot. It needs to be like three thousand degrees in order to burn and not create dioxins. The low temperature fire, which you see in rural backyards, often referred to as “burn barrels” [or] backyard burning, happens in a barrel probably with holes punched in the bottom. I guess that was started to try to contain the fire- to give it real walls, so that they were less likely to start a fire. Originally, many years ago, it was paper products.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
MC:
Your meat that you bought at the deli, or wherever, was wrapped in paper. Now, it’s wrapped in plastic and cellophane. Well, not cellophane- cellophane’s a plant material- but a plastic material. And so, it might have been okay back when it was paper. Now that it’s not paper, it’s really hazardous. It creates dioxins-one of the most poisonous things known to man, most concentrated, known to cause cancers, [and] known to aggravate asthma. And the most amazing thing [is that] we all thought it was because you were being exposed to it in the air, but you’re being exposed to it when it lands on a hayfield. The cow eats it and it gets stored in the fat of the cow. Humans do this too, store toxins in our fat. And a cow releases that when it gives milk. So, the dioxins are ending up in our air, but they’re also ending up in our food supply. And that’s a serious problem. We have enough poisons that we don’t need to be creating them and putting them in our food supply. Michael Waling was one of the first persons that really made me look at it. He and I did a survey in the Village [of Cooperstown] and town of Milford. We walked around with a map and marked every time we saw a burn barrel. We got good because you could tell by the color of the barrel [if it was] an active barrel or [if] it was a barrel that somebody had said, “Okay, I’m not going to burn anymore.” You could tell by the color. The amount of rust told you that they weren’t using it anymore, and then a different colored barrel was one that was being burned every once in a while. It somehow changed the amount of rust and oxidation that was going on in the barrel. I haven’t thought about this in a long time, but I think we found some ridiculous number like seventy-five barrels in a quarter mile radius in the Village of Milford. This happened to be the home of [New York State] Senator [James] Seward, which is why we picked it. We wanted his attention. He held for a good fifteen or twenty years that Michael fought for this and the Burn Barrel Committee fought. He thought that every town should just create a law and ban it. It should be local control. The first argument to that is that people can’t control their smoke. Just because Milford has a law banning it, doesn’t mean that the town of Hartwick is going to be protected from the burning and vice versa. Everybody’s affecting everybody, so we felt we needed a state law. We needed somebody to enforce it. So few towns have law enforcement. Most of the towns rely on county and state, so we pushed for a state law. Mary Ashwood had the most brilliant idea- she’s the chair of the Burn Barrel Committee- that we should be talking at the time to Cornell Waste Management Institute. I don’t really know what their mission was, but at the time, we believed that they were looking at solid waste issues. So, we found a contact, Mary called them, and said, “you guys should be looking at this trash burning issue.” First, we met with [drums on desk] Ellen Harrison and then Doctor Lois Levitan heard our plea, and we met with both of them and talked to them about this. Lois Levitan took it on, and after a lot of discussion with the New York Farm Bureau, because they were the ones who were worried about farmers. If you told farmers that they couldn’t burn this trash, it was going to penalize them. They were either going to have to pay to have this garbage removed from their property, which was expensive. We’re talking about a product that comes in- lets see, it’s a pound of plastic for every round bail that they harvest and store. You cover it to protect it from rain, and you want it to stay fresh. You don’t want it to rot, so you cover it and keep the air and water off of it. I mean, it depends on the size of the farm, but this is quite an expense to even use ag. plastic. Then, if you’re going to pay for the disposal of it, everybody assumes it’s too expensive to do, it’s more work, they have to put it in a truck, they have to carry it, [and] they have to pay the tip fee. We all know farmers are very busy people, and a lot of them might not have time to take care of it, and so the easiest thing is to burn it. They’re burning it all over New York State and other states. So we ended up working with the New York Farm Bureau and the Cornell Waste Management Institute. That’s the only reason that we have a ban on trash burning, because the New York Farm Bureau stepped back and said, “If you can come up with a solution to the ag. plastic disposal problem, then we will support this ban. Lois Levitan realized that the ag. plastic is a product. It’s perfectly clean, it comes from natural gas, it could be used for other things. It’s a very clean plastic, so it can be used for all things plastics can be used for. There were two ideas: either to recycle the plastic or to create a fuel with the plastic because there’s a lot of energy in it. There was someone at University of Pennsylvania, I believe, who was looking at making pellets and then burning them. You could have a fuel source right there on the farm. I don’t know what’s happened to those efforts. They sort of stalled for a while, and I haven’t pursued that. I don’t know where that’s gone. But the recycling of the plastics is finally happening. I think it’s been probably six years. Lois was able to get a DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] grant. They purchased a bailer that came out of the tobacco industry. In the southern states, where they grow tobacco, they were bailing the tobacco. I think that also led them to bail the plastics from row cover. So, the gentleman who developed that bailer ended up working with Lois to develop this bailer. After a lot of tests and use of that bailer, we finally have a bailer that everybody feels is safe. Ostego County has one of the six bailers in New York State. We’ve managed to bail, in the last couple years, sixteen bails. Those bails have, just this week, been picked up. They’re awaiting pick-up to go to market. Believe it or not, there’s a company called Terracon that makes plastic sidewalks. They’re attempting to make pervious sidewalks so that the water can run through the sidewalk and therefore go into the soil, instead of running off into the storm drains. So you’re reducing your flooding, which is something we’re going to need with global warming. We’re going to need to get more of our water into the ground right away, instead of letting it run off and cause flooding. We’re close to finding a solution for the ag. plastics. There are other options out there, but this is the one that has been actually coming together.

GD:
I see. How would you characterize the local farmers’ reactions to your efforts and your partnership with the New York Farm Bureau?

MC:
That’s a good question. The New York Farm Bureau representative for Otsego County was at the table when we first met. Lois got a whole lot of people together. Maybe there were twenty-five [or] thirty people in the room. We did have press, and New York Farm Bureau, Steve Sinniger, was represented there. They were happy with the solution. They thought that this would help farmers. We have a list of probably thirty farmers that are interested in participating in this. Farmers know how to operate equipment, so what our goal is to train the farmers to use the bailer, set up a circuit of farms that want to use the bailer, and a schedule. Then that bailer would rotate around so that the farmers could bail the plastic when their storage is full. Then Otsego Soil and Water would come around and pick up those bails and take them to the drop-off site where they’re going to go to market from there. We’re very close to making that happen. Again, there’s nobody that has the time to devote to this project. We all try to do a little bit when we can and get it started. Once you start something, it’s like anything. Even the simplest little auction- once you get people understanding, all it takes is everybody [doing] a little bit of work. We can make it happen. I think that’s where we are. We’ve tried it once, we’ve got it working, and now it’s going to be easier the next time. Now that we’re working out the bugs and we’ve solved some of the main problems. We just needed to find that right person. We finally found Todd Goadey, who has all the equipment we need and the location. We needed something near a major highway and didn’t mind having bails of ag. plastic that weigh a thousand pounds each sitting around until it could be taken away. It’s a certain type of client, if you will, who wants to have something like that sitting at their place of business. And he happens to be a farmer, which is a good fit. But the interesting thing is he can’t have a lot of animals on his farm because we don’t want to contaminate from one farm to another farm. Because you’re bringing a product from one farm to another farm, this could be a risk. And that’s why he’s such a good fit, because he doesn’t have cows or other animals close to his site. So it’s interesting. Nothing’s easy. There’s always these little problems that you have to think about and solve.

GD:
Exactly. I know that the other day, you showed me the award that you won for your efforts with the Burn Barrel Education Committee, and I’m wondering if you could tell me about the emotions that you felt and perhaps describe the day.

MC:
That was very special. We were quite surprised. Mary Ashwood and I went to the EPA headquarters in New York City, and of course, I haven’t experienced that kind of- I’ve been to New York City as a kid, and visited my sister who lived in Manhattan. But we were in an office building that was twenty floors up and [there was] a beautiful view. There were a lot of people in the room that were also getting awards, so you knew it was a nice crowd. It was very fun. It was fun for Mary and I because we like to think that we kept the committee together and kept it going. We did a lot of the work, so it was great. It was great to be recognized. I was just so happy that we didn’t have to do that fight anymore [laughs] to get the law. We also shared the email with other contact people. There’s a group up in Canton, New York who also fought this. I remember going. Two of my children went to Clarkson, so we would drive up to Canton to get there. There was a huge burn barrel ad on a billboard. I can’t remember what it said, but it was so awesome to see that out in the open that people were fighting and they were really doing exciting work up there. They actually had a program where they had farmers bring in their plastic and then didn’t charge them to dump the plastic. They wanted them to realize how much weight it actually was, and how much it actually cost. It didn’t cost as much as you would think because garbage costs by the ton. Probably only garbage haulers deal in tons of garbage. In Otsego County if you were dumping your garbage at a thousand pounds, which would be probably your whole year’s worth of plastic. Most of our farms are small. So I think we’re somewhere around sixty to seventy dollars a ton. I guess over the year, for a farmer it could be three tons, so it’s not that much money. But it was an education program. You also want to educate farmers that they shouldn’t be burying it, which is what a lot of farmers did. They do that. An owner of a property is allowed to bury on their property for one year. Say they’ve taken down an old building and they don’t want to burn it and they just want to bury it, you’re allowed to do that, I think, for one year is the limitation. But if down the road, they want to sell that property and whoever’s looking knows about this buried area, there may be questions. They may have to eventually dig it up and dispose of it properly, so it could come back to haunt you.

GD:
Are there fines?

MC:
Probably. If you’re burying something that it’s common knowledge that you should not be burying, and they find that there, there could be fines. There are fines now with burning trash. The first fine is a warning and education to try to teach people. “This is why we’re not encouraging you. Why you should not be burning your trash.” And then, if you still don’t get it, then you get a fine. But they want to get everybody the education first because we can’t assume- everyone can miss something [the article in the newspaper]. It’s not like it’s in the paper everyday for weeks. It’s only in there once. If you’ve missed the paper that day, then you might have missed the education.

GD:
To what extent are they bringing this type of education to the school system, do you know?

MC:
Actually, when this was very active, OCCA hired a company called the Wildlife Learning Center, at one point. We asked them to create a curriculum that could be taken to schools. It was called “Burn Barrel Biology”, and they did this wonderful program. They set up this lesson plan, and they pretended that up on stage, in an auditorium- say you had three or four grades of kids there- so you’d use a big space, and they’d say, “Pretend this is a burn barrel and here are the things that are going to come out of it.” They had a burn barrel up there and they made it look like it was on fire. We pretended that they would go out in the air, and they told you what those things were, and then you would go from station to station pretending that these fumes landed on hay, they landed in a stream, they landed in a pond, they landed in your backyard garden. And [they] talked about the chemistry of those things and then where they would end up. So, it eventually led you back to your food. It was really great. It was a wonderful program. They offered this to all the schools in Otsego County and anybody else. I do believe they tried to get it shared statewide. It was on the Internet. I’m sure they had a lot of people picking up from this idea. They did that for a couple years, at least.

GD:
What year did it begin in?

MC:
[laughs] That’s a good question. I would say it was six to eight years ago. But their company has kind of disbanded. I think, again, because schools don’t have the funding. I know a lot of schools have stopped field trips. I think it got harder and harder for them to take- they also had birds of prey. So they had a turkey vulture and screech owl and great horned owl. They would bring them into the classroom, but they couldn’t get enough jobs. They just happened to be my neighbors. I think that day they moved in, I was down there because I heard that they were educators and I was like, “You have to take this on.” And they ended up taking it on, and it was good.

GD:
So then what do you think, right now, is the greatest threat to the environment in Otsego County? I know we spoke a lot about the barrel burning, and it seems like you guys have made some huge strides in that movement. I’m wondering what else you would consider to be a threat to the environment here.

MC:
I hope it’s not the gas drilling. Through my own research and the OCCA’s research, we are really hoping that gas drilling doesn’t come here. Much of the shale is too near the surface, and possibly the southern part of Otsego County might get hit. But, we sure hope it’s not coming anytime soon. Water is a very big issue, mostly because we have so much of it. I’m also the chair of the Hartwick Conservation Advisory Committee, and one of our members described the center of Otsego County, which happens to be the town I live in, as a sponge. There’s so much water, so many creeks, so many ponds, so many aquifers, and our aquifer in Hartwick is very near the surface. You contaminate one thing, you’ve contaminated the whole thing. So we’re really hoping just on that fact alone, I think, it should keep us from having gas drilling. The town of Hartwick is working on zoning, and as one town board member said, “If you just created a law that said you couldn’t drill within a mile of a water body, I think you’d have Hartwick covered because we have so much water running through the town.” The next thing is global warming, and what has to go along with that is the decline of oil production. I believe it’s causing the global warming, and we’re also running out of it, which you would think would be sort of a good thing, but the carbon numbers are just too high. If our oil-use stopped today, we still have too much carbon in the air and it’s already wreaking havoc on our weather. We need to be looking at alternatives. There’s wonderful book, Power from the People, that talks about using biomass, which we have a lot of. We need to develop tree farms here so that we don’t use up all our trees for wood pellets and various fuels. We also have access to farms. I hope this will improve and increase farming in this area. Manure from animals can be collected and the methane pulled off. You can use that for electricity and you’re keeping it out of the atmosphere. So, it’s a doubly good thing. We’re going to have to figure out ways to transport without fuels. We can grow rapeseed, so we can make our own biodiesel. All of the chemicals that are in fuels, today, can be grown, so we really can grow our fuels. We’re going to have to use them sparingly and somebody’s going to have to prioritize who gets these fuels. There are even hospitals that are looking at heating with wood pellets. It’s a transition, but we need to start figuring this out. We can’t sit on our hands and keep burning fossil fuels, and conservation has to be going right along with that.

GD:
It seems that sometimes the environment is easy to take for granted. I’m wondering how you push these issues about water contamination, and the gas drilling, and global warming. How do you and the OCCA push these issues to the forefront, knowing that the people that you are trying to reach out to –the environment really might not be a priority for them. What tactics do you use?

MC:
We try to base ours on science. We try not to be hysterical. I can remember years ago, sitting at a meeting getting upset because people were not getting the trash burning issue. And I don’t know what happened. Somebody said something to me or something, and I realized you can’t be emotional because if you’re emotional people just write you off. And I think it’s something innate in people- that they just go, “Oh, this is too upsetting. I can’t deal with that.” It’s not that they think you’re crazy. They’re scared to look at the issue. And that was a great help because it was hard. A lot of people made jokes. For a long time, whenever there was an opportunity to make a joke about trash burning they did. And I learned that you had to laugh with them. You have to go, “Yea, yea, you’re right. That’s really funny.” But [laughs] then you have to come back and say, “You know, you can’t allow that to go on.” You have to address it. So it is difficult and there’s a lot of people who, from stress in their own lives, they can’t take some of these things on. And those people, I think, the ones who are passionate, do have to keep doing it because everybody can’t be an environmentalist. Everybody has other things they want to be. So it’s a responsibility, but it’s important.

GD:
It is important. And speaking with you has really enlightened me and made me realize how important the environment is. The work that you guys are doing is so special, and I’m just wondering what do you hope for the future of Otsego County and its environment, and conservation, and preservation?

MC:
I think Otsego County is getting on board. OCCA has been a key part of these efforts. There’s a grant- Cleaner Greener Community. I’ve forgotten the full name of it. But OCCA was very important in getting Otsego County to apply for this grant. It is based on the Mohawk region, and so Utica and Herkimer are included. Another community had applied last year and didn’t get it because they were not hooking up with other people. I think that’s key whenever you’re applying for a grant. The more people that you can get on board, when they see that they’re going to be servicing a bigger area, then you’re more likely to get the grant. So working with the other counties, there’ll be positive things that will come out of this grant. We’re going to be setting up focus areas. What does Otsego County see its future in relation to their energy needs? Do they say you wanted to focus on nuclear power? [laughs] So you would say that in these goals, and then when someone comes to NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] which is going to administer this money- I thinks it’s like ninety-six million dollars- they would look for nuclear power projects and say, “Oh, this one would fit for Otsego County.” I’m pretty confident that we’re not going to choose that [nuclear power], but it’s a way for us to give direction for these energy solutions that are going to be coming down the pike. And after reading this book, Power From the People, by George Paul, I can see that the biomass and the biogas and some solar, some wind can really help to create some energy for our community. They call it localization. It gives me hope that

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]
there are some solutions. How we’re going to battle really heavy winds- I don’t know. I lost shingles on my roof from this last super storm [Sandy]. That’s not something I ever thought would happen. A lot of tree damage that I didn’t really even know about until someone told me that they lost twenty-five trees, but we’re going to need to start looking at issues like that. Someone at the town board meeting the other night said, “We don’t have a building in the town of Hartwick in the hamlet,” she was thinking, “that has a basement that you could set up cots in to keep people safe from a hurricane.” They all agreed that they need to revisit their emergency management plan and try to figure out how they’re going to address that. We did have straight winds in 1998, I think, that luckily didn’t hit the populated area, but had it, we would be like the people in Rockaway with no power for three weeks. There’s talk about putting electric wires underground. I don’t know. It’s very expensive. There are a lot of very expensive options out there. [laughs] I feel like I’m going off topic. But it’s exciting to think about farmers joining together to pool their resources, which turns out to be cow manure. [laughs] I think that’s really awesome. In Hartwick we have a local meat market. Here is a USDA certified market that cuts meat, and I just learned in that book that there’s a lot of waste product from that. I want to run down and ask Larry’s Meats what does he do with all that because that can be added [to biogas products]. The organs that they don’t sell and the waste from the cutting of the meat can be added to the cow manure and composting, and you could put it all together and create this methane product. It’s not something that I would have thought of on my own, for sure. [laughs] I know composting is great, but I’d heard about this for a couple years now, but I never thought about it as a local thing that could really create energy. There are farms that are doing bio-digesters and they’re creating their own electricity, but if they’re big enough they’ve got excess. I guess that’s what we’re hoping for- that we can create excess energy and power to help to power the town. Then like for the town of Hartwick, there’s one hill that is on the wind map. I know it has enough wind up there. But we got to start. We got to start raising the funds. Vermont has a lot of solar farms and they’re like co-ops. I’ll put in my two hundred and fifty or whatever and I’ll get so many kilowatts credited to my electric bill, and the solar farm grows like that, and then more and more people, and more and more electricity. Pretty soon everybody’s getting their own electricity created by this farm. But we need to start.

GD:
I’m wondering does the OCCA have any types of partnerships with places of worship? I’ve noticed there’s so many churches in Cooperstown. I’m wondering if there’s any way that you can get people on board with talking to religious leaders.

MC:
Absolutely. Churches, for at least ten or twenty years, have been active in the energy conservation efforts. There are several organizations. They have already started some of this. Florence Carnahan, who is a friend and another energy alternative person, and I are supposed to be getting together to try to start approaching churches and see if we can’t get some who aren’t on board to get onboard. We need to do a survey of who is active and who isn’t and who needs more information. There’s a great book called Low Carbon Diet, which everybody looks at and goes, “I don’t want to go on a diet.” [laughs] But it’s about their energy use. And it’s a cartoony book, and set up so that each little chapter addresses a couple little easy things to do in your home. It would be great to do with a family to get everybody on board. And watch your energy use and see how it goes down as you implement some of these things. It’s all right there. OCCA tried to do some of those classes and it just hasn’t stuck yet. But the churches are a good place to start, since they have members and they can communicate with them. It’s something we need to pursue.

GD:
I know that you have to leave soon, but I’m just wondering if you could give some words of advice to people of Otsego County who might not necessarily be as passionate as you are, but who are interested in the environment and who want to preserve this beautiful space that we have here, what would you say are some small ways people could get involved with the Association?

MC:
First of all, get a programmable thermostat. It saves you a lot of energy. Start riding the bus, and then find something that you’re interested in and see how OCCA can help you participate a little bit more in your community. There are so many exciting things to do, and you’re going to make a difference. And you’d be first in line. [laughs]. You don’t have to fight the hoards of people. OCCA is a great place to start. Attend a board meeting or say, “I want to learn such and such and you know maybe we’ll form a committee and get people together to discuss it.” There’s so much to learn from each other because a lot of people are already doing this. I know years ago when I would go to a meeting and I’d say something about my heat- how I keep my thermostat at fifty-five when we’re not there and it’s at sixty when we are there. Everybody in the room would be at the same place. I wasn’t the only one. I was surprised by that. It’s kind of nice to know that there are other people out there that are conserving, and we need to share because we all have great ideas of things that we’ve done. This Low Carbon Diet book, that’s what they encourage you to do. Commit to coming to a meeting for four weeks, work on these issues, take your homework home, and do those things- programmable thermostat, or insulation around the windows, or fixing a cracked glass, or finding the time to finally get the new water heater that you know you need- or something like that, something related to energy. Then people come back and say, “Oh, I did this, and I tried this product. This one worked really well, this one didn’t.” You can learn from each other and save yourself some hassle, I suspect. And meet your neighbors, have fun doing it. You never know what will come out of a group of people getting together. They might have a group wood-cutting project, where they all get together and cut their own wood and then bring it home and it would be fun. Many hands make light work. [laughs].

GD:
Well, I’d like to thank you so much for participating in our oral history project. Your story is so valuable to us and to learning, and I have learned so much right now [from] just sitting here and talking to you.

MC:
Good. Thank you.

Duration

30:00- Part 1
30.00- Part 2
09.25- Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Georgiana Drain, “Martha Clarvoe, November 14, 2012 ,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 8, 2019, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/139.