Vicky Lentz, November 20, 2014

Title

Vicky Lentz, November 20, 2014

Subject

Environmentalism
Farming
Sustainability
Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA)
Otsego County
SUNY Oneonta
Economic Development

Description

Dr. Vicky Lentz has been involved with the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA) since 2007, and currently serves as the president of the Board of Directors. She is an Assistant Professor of Biology at the State University of NewYork Oneonta. Dr. Lentz grew up in Indiana, completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware, and earned her PhD in immunology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has lived in Otsego County since 2001.
I interviewed Dr. Lentz in her office at SUNY Oneonta. Dr. Lentz recalled her early interest in environmentalism and training in biology, and discussed how helping to run a family farm has influenced her views on environmentalism and sustainability. She discussed her involvement in several OCCA projects, including advocating against hydrofracking in Otsego County, commenting on the Edic-to-Fraser electrical line expansion, working on a riparian buffer project along Butternut Creek, and organizing local educational and recycling events. Topics also included the importance of guarding against invasive species in Otsego Lake, ways to balance economic development and environmental protection, incorporating environmental advocacy into her role as a professor, and her hopes for Otsego County in the future.
Dr. Lentz speaks in a standard English dialect. I have chosen to make minimal edits for clarity and consistency. Researchers are encouraged to consult the audio recordings.

Creator

Emily Koehler-Platten

Publisher

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

Date

2014-11-20

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
12.6mB
image/jpeg
459kB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Sound
Image

Identifier

14-029

Coverage

Upstate New York
Oneonta, NY
1957-2014

Interviewer

Emily Koehler-Platten

Interviewee

Vicky Lentz

Location

SUNY-Oneonta
Ravine Parkway
Oneonta, NY

Transcription

VL= Vicky Lentz
EKP = Emily Koehler-Platten

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
EKP:
This is Emily Koehler-Platten interviewing Dr. Vicky Lentz at the SUNY Oneonta Science building in Oneonta, New York on November 20th, 2014 for the Cooperstown Graduate Program oral history project, which is part of the Research and Fieldwork course.
All right, could you tell me where and when you were born?

VL:
I was born in Franklin, Indiana, on June 26th, 1957.

EKP:
Can you tell me about the community you lived in growing up?

VL:
I lived a few different places, including Oklahoma for a year or so when I was five, then moved back up to a very rural region in Owen County, Indiana. We had neighbors across the street, and then the closest neighbor was at least a mile away. When I was twelve we moved to the city, which was a town of 900 people. We lived on Main Street, on the edge of town, and there were cows across the street from where we lived.

EKP:
So were you farmers?

VL:
My father was a farmer part-time, until we moved to the city, but he worked for the navy at an ammunition depot. He made bombs, basically.

EKP:
So was there anything in your childhood that got you interested in environmentalism and nature?

VL:
I think the time that we were growing up out in the country, whenever the weather was nice, we were out in the woods and playing in the creek and catching whatever we could catch. And I think that is when I started really loving nature. And we went to state parks, we did a lot of camping, vacations were a tent camper and we went all over the eastern half of the U.S., so I saw a lot of nature, and just always have liked nature.

EKP:
That's great. So tell me about your schooling in biology.

VL:
I started off as an undergraduate, I wanted to be an ecologist. I've known since I was in the fifth grade I wanted to be a biologist and I wanted to get a PhD. I'm really weird, I know. In high school I took all the science courses I could, except physics, and as an undergraduate, I was aiming toward being an ecologist. Then I decided to be a microbiologist and then I got married, ended up going to three different colleges [in] undergraduate and I insisted upon taking a biology course every semester even when I did not need them, so I ended up with a lot of biology courses. I ended up graduating from the University of Delaware, finally. I started at Indiana State University, went to the University of Pennsylvania for a while, transferred everything to the University of Delaware and got my degree. Then I went to Rutgers-Camden for my Master's and I got into a program where I was doing island biogeography. I was looking at the distribution of plants on forested islands in the New Jersey salt marshes. I did that for two years and realized every time I went out in the field I was getting ill. And I just decided I could not do that anymore and I dropped out of the program. I subsequently have discovered I am allergic to pine, and these were pine barren vegetation so we were constantly in pine when we were out in the field. So I got an indoor job and I worked as a technician at SmithKline Beecham for about a year, and then I went to the University of Pennsylvania dental school and worked in their molecular biology department, and then went to the pulmonary department there at the hospital and when my supervisor there left to become the chief of pulmonary at Yale, I decided to go back to graduate school and I went for my immunology degree. Even though I have been an indoor biologist, I have always wanted to link it with outdoors and when [SUNY Oneonta professor] Donna Vogler asked if my husband would be interested in being on the OCCA [Otsego County Conservation Association] board, I said “No, but I would.” So then I joined the board, I don't remember exactly what year. [laughs]

EKP:
So, is that when you came to Otsego County?

VL:
I came to Otsego County in 2001, to take the teaching position here.

EKP:
And how would you describe the environment around Otsego County?

VL:
It is very much like what I grew up in, except there's hills instead of being flat. The people here are very nice. Being outsiders, you know, we realize we are outsiders, but we have been included in a lot of community activities. My husband and son have taken up farming, and the local farmers will, you know, watch them and chuckle and then they will come over and tell them how to do it right. They have been able to go to our neighbors for advice and help. And the other thing, we assumed when we moved here that there would be the locals and there would be the college people, and we have discovered there's all kinds of different people. The locals, they are a very diverse population. There's lots of people who have moved up from the city with all kinds of interesting occupations and activities, and then there's the college people who are, you know, international. You can find just about any type of person you want to. So we enjoy it, we like being up here very much.

EKP:
So you mentioned that your family has gotten into farming. Has that influenced your views on environmentalism or nature at all?

VL:
Yeah, we are working on being sustainable farmers. My son is what we refer to as a doomer. He's certain that peak oil and all the bad things that will occur with that are going to occur and so he wants to be self-sufficient. And so my husband and I are like, “Okay, we can go that way.” [laughs] And so we try to work with the environment. We use rotational grazing, we don't use anthelmintics to de-worm our animals, we grow our own grains, all our animals are grass-fed, we don't use artificial fertilizers, we compost, you know, we recycle. So yeah, it has definitely affected our lifestyle and so I think it's good so I try to tell others.

EKP:
Yeah. You talked about this a little bit, but how did you first get involved with the Otsego County Conservation Association?

VL:
Well, I have been, you know, a distance member of a number of different environmental organizations over the years: Audubon, World Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy. I knew Donna was on the Otsego County Conservation board and so she would tell me about things that they were doing, so when the opportunity popped up, I jumped at it, to be able to do that.

EKP:
What roles do you have within the organization?

VL:
Well, I started off as just a board member and would attend the monthly meetings and help direct policy. Then we had a shift in our officers and I took on the role of secretary, which as it turns out is a very easy position to fill because all of the designated roles of the secretary in our bylaws get done by our wonderful staff. So then when Martha Clarvoe decided not to be president again they approached me and asked me if I would be president. I was worried, I was not sure I would be able to handle it, but the current executive director, Erik Miller—I talked with him and he was confident, and I talked with one of the past presidents and he was confident, so I agreed to do it, and so now this is my fourth year that I have been president.

[TRACK 1, 10:21]

EKP:
So tell me about some of the big issues or projects that the Conservation Association has worked on since you've been involved.

VL:
Well, okay. During my tenure, one of our biggest projects was we collected $83,000 and we sampled well water in forty-seven different wells across the county. And it's all documented, it's official. You can take this data to court. It is definitely cataloged and tested following all the rules. That was the biggest. We have commented on the fracking [hydraulic fracturing] issues, that has been a big thing. We have been lauded and criticized because we, at the beginning, took sort of a middle road, but we have since definitely decided that fracking is not a good thing and so all of our correspondences with officials indicate that. One of the newest issues that we're dealing with is the Edic-to-Fraser line, where the Marcy South electrical lines go through the county, they are wanting to expand that and possibly double the width of the right-of-way that they clear cut. And so we applied for what they call intervener status and we got $65,000 from the state agency that's overseeing that, the PSC [Public Service Commission], I think it is, so that we can investigate. We have hired an environmental attorney, we have hired an environmental planning company, and if they decide to run the electricity on that route, then we will be allowed to comment and have input into how they do it.

EKP:
So what is the impact of that project, why is the Conservation Association so involved in it? What impact would that have on the environment?

VL:
One of the biggest impacts is habitat fragmentation. Right now it's a really wide swath that goes through, just clear cut, and you will have forest on either side and that is harmful for the plants, the animals, everything. So they want to double that. That is one of the biggest issues that we have. The other thing is that the route goes through some very sensitive environmental areas. It goes through a huge wetland that's called the Greenwoods, and so that is a significant thing and it is going to be a lot of disturbance. And if it is going to go through, if they decide to use that line, we won't stop it. But what we can do is manage it and make sure that when they go through and, you know, they are putting up the poles and they are running the big trucks through and all of that kind of stuff, that it is done correctly and damages are mitigated and fixed when they are done and all of those kinds of things.

EKP:
Great. I want to go back to the fracking for a minute. I know that's a big issue in the county right now and you said the Conservation Association is making a big stand on that. What kind of things have they done for advocacy?

VL:
Well, we have conducted our own studies and we consult experts in the field whenever we do any of this. One of our things that we are most proud of is that we take a very scientific approach to deciding what our positions are. And so we consulted with a lot of different experts in the area, and we have sent lengthy comments to DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] during the comment periods. We have sent letters to the governor and right now that is about all you can really do. We are not a group that goes and shakes signs in front of the Assembly Building. That's not our style. We have tried to hold educational meetings, to educate the public. That is another thing that we are very proud of is that we do a lot of educational activities, so the people know what is really going on. Which just made me remember another issue that we have been weighing in on. On Route 80, alongside of Otsego Lake, they need to rebuild some retaining walls, and unfortunately the Highway Department thinks that they may have to take down some buildings there. But our environmental planner has been looking into the issue and we kind of made sure that the folks; it's a very emotional issue because they may lose their property. During our investigations we were able to point out to them that some of the things they were afraid of were actually not in the plan. And so that the Highway Department was trying to do this without disrupting their properties. The Highway Department said that they would suspend work on that and go back and look at it again, which has made the property owners a little happier. We're waiting now to see what the Highway Department comes back with as far as what can be done.

EKP:
So that project is to build retaining walls. What would that do, why is that important?

VL:
Well, it is right along the edge of the lake and it is a very steep slope and if they don't rebuild, the highway will fall in the lake, basically. So they have to do something, but you, know, the question is how to fix it and can we fix it without taking down those people's summer cottages.

EKP:
Yeah, that's a big issue. All right, so I know you worked on a project on Butternut Creek, the riparian buffer project?

VL:
Yes.

EKP:
Yes, can you tell me a little bit about that?

VL:
Oh, that was fun. We partner with the county Soil and Water District, and help funnel federal monies into programs, that is another thing we do is we help get federal monies for local projects. And so one of the projects that we have been involved in for a number of years is replanting trees along the edges of rivers and streams. That is what riparian is, the buffer edge. And there was a project, oh my, a mile from my house on Butternut Creek. And I have also been involved with the Butternut Valley Alliance, which is a group of people that live around Butternut Creek, and so OCCA was involved in getting the monies to buy the trees to plant, and the Butternut Valley Alliance volunteered to help Soil and Water plant the trees. So we went out on a Sunday morning and Scott Fickbohm, who was the head of that at the time, had all the equipment and everything and so we went out and we dug holes and we put in the trees and we put in stakes and tubes so the deer wouldn't eat them, and it was kind of chilly and misty and a really yucky day, but we all had so much fun, we didn't care. [laughs] And now every time I drive by there, I am like, “Okay, are the trees coming up over the top of the tubes?”

EKP:
Nice. So planting the trees by the different rivers and
streams, what does that do to help the environment?

VL:
It stabilizes the creek banks. This one particular location, the creek is a very windy creek because there is silty soil in the valley and so when we have been getting these really big floods, the water just whips around these curves and when they do they just carve out another big huge chunk of the creek bank and all of that sediment ends up going down the Susquehanna River. And that is not good for the Chesapeake Bay and the oysters and, you know, things we do up here affect them down there. And so if you plant the trees there, that helps hold the soil against, and prevents erosion, so that is why we try to do that. We did it on the one side of the creek and shortly after that the farmer on the other side of the road, the other side of the bridge, asked if they could come do his. So, it spreads. [laughs]

EKP:
That's great. All right, so are there any projects you're currently working on?

VL:
There are a bunch. OCCA does a lot of different things. And that is one of the things that the board of directors have to deal with is, our monthly meetings, if we let staff give a full report of what they have done, we are there for like four hours. So there is a lot of little things. One of the things that we are just getting started is an EcoTeam for middle school students, and our program director and one of our board members who is a high school biology teacher have been taking kids out to pull and to look for invasive species. And to learn some wilderness survival techniques, they learned how to make a fire with a flint and stone and things like that. They learned how to just take a— [I'm] blanking for words. A tarp. And make a tent out of it. Things like that, which goes along with our education thing. We've got the Edic-to-Fraser thing going on, we hold an annual Earth Day in Milford where we promote recycling and reusing, and we have lots of vendors that are environmentally-oriented there, and do a big Styrofoam recycling collection. Which, my husband and I, the last two years have taken all the Styrofoam that we have collected and we have to drive it up to Troy, New York, to be recycled. And we have used our veg-oil truck to take it up there, so it was totally carbon-neutral.

EKP:
Nice. So you said that OCCA does a lot of educational activities, you mentioned the EcoTeam. What other sort of things do they do?

VL:
We have a brochure that is called “Walks and Paddles in Otsego County”, and so it shows nature trails and canoe trails that people can do. We have put together several fliers and posters on what you can and can't recycle. We have held small local meetings on alternative energy things, on how to weatherize your house. Oh, just lots of things. Our project manager, Martha Clarvoe, has also been going around to various local businesses along with NYSEG [New York State Electric and Gas Corporation] and demonstrating how local businesses could reduce their electricity use simply by changing out their lights and things like that. And we help partner them with NYSEG and NYSEG grants to be able to do that. So a lot of things like that.

EKP:
That's great. I'm really interested in—you said you have a vegetable oil truck?

VL:
Yes. [laughs] So, my husband and my son, they bought a diesel, and you can run it on what we call dino-diesel, which is regular diesel, or you can use bio-diesel, which is diesel fuel made from vegetable oil, but that takes a lot of chemicals and things to make the bio-diesel. You can also run it on straight vegetable oil. And originally we thought we would grow our own canola and then process it, so we bought the equipment to do that. We have a grain grinder and we have a big centrifuge to take out the particles. And then we discovered that it is much easier to get used vegetable oil from restaurants, and our other son owns a restaurant in Hudson, so we have an unlimited supply of vegetable oil, and so we bring it home and we put it through the centrifuge. And the truck has a dual fuel system, basically. You start the vehicle on regular diesel and as soon as the engine gets warm enough you switch over to the vegetable oil, and then the only thing you have to remember is to flush it when you stop. Because if it's cold, the vegetable oil will get thick and that will mess up your car. They have actual companies that make the kits, which is what we did, but we converted our pickup truck, we converted a Volkswagen Jetta, actually two of them because my other son drove one for a while. And we now have a 1986 BMW diesel that my husband is going to convert next.

EKP:
Nice. That's really interesting. So what do you think are the biggest issues facing Otsego County today?

VL:
Land-use planning. Making sure we use what we have wisely, and getting those kinds of practices in place without using the word zoning, which a lot of people are afraid of. Resource management, we need to increase our recycling, we need to look into alternative energy. And invasive species. We are advocating for an aquatic invasive species transport law, which we are trying to convince the county Board of Representatives to pass, so that if anyone is seen transporting a boat or a trailer that has vegetable matter on it, that they can be pulled over and cited, to discourage people from moving aquatic invasives from one body of water to another. As I said, OCCA is doing a lot of different things. [laughs]

EKP:
Yeah. I know that the invasive species are a big deal in Otsego Lake, definitely.

VL:
Yeah, two or three times a year, we take people out to pull water chestnuts out of Goodyear Lake, and we have almost totally eradicated them. And people said it wouldn't work, and we tried it, and it works.

EKP:
That's great. So about the land-use planning, do you think that is a county-level thing, what can individuals do?

[TRACK 1, 28:58]

VL:
It should be county, town, municipality, it should be done at all levels. And individuals should think about it. You need to think about if you are going to do something on your property, how might that impact your neighbors. You know, do we want a factory built somewhere in the middle of farmland or, you know, obviously not. But still, we want to be economically viable, so you have to balance those things. We understand that, that there are businesses that need to go in, but if they are going to be put in, they need to be done correctly so that there is as little impact as possible.

EKP:
Yeah, that leads right into what I was going to ask next, which is how do you think we can balance economic development and environmental protection?

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

VL:
By educating ourselves, knowing all the possibilities. What are all of the options? And then, you know, you have to weigh things, we can't have it all one way or all the other. There has always got to be some compromise and we just have to find the best.

EKP:
So, for businesses that want to come in and develop a factory or whatever, what should they do to make sure that the environment is still protected?

VL:
Follow the rules. [laughs] And there are a lot of rules in place that help to make sure things are done correctly. The state does require the companies to undergo what they call SEQR, and I do not remember what that acronym stands for [State Environmental Quality Review], but they have to assess all of the environmental impacts. And then they have to explain how they will, you know, if there is going to be a problem, how are they going to deal with it, and it is up to us to kind of look over their shoulder just to make sure that everything is going the way it should and they are not taking shortcuts.

EKP:
So what do you think are the most important accomplishments of the OCCA?

VL:
Oh, well, looking back, I think supporting, they have supported the Biological Field Station and a lot of the studies that have gone on at Otsego Lake. We have been involved in putting in walleye to get rid of the alewifes so that the other fish can be healthier and bigger and all of that. We have been involved in the boat inspections at Otsego Lake and basically kept the zebra mussel out until just very recently. We were quite proud of that accomplishment and very disappointed when they showed up. We have been involved with a state program called “Cleaner, Greener,” we helped get that going in the Mohawk Valley, that was like a three-county coalition that worked on that. I know there's more, but right now I can't think.

EKP:
That's all right. Where do you see the Association going in the future?

VL:
I am hoping that we can have more collaboration with the county. I think we can do a lot for the county that they don't realize. We've got some expertise that it would be nice if they would take advantage of. I see us getting more involved with youth. We have cooperation with DEC, with Soil and Water, and we just try to keep our eyes open so that, you know, I heard about the Edic-to-Fraser line from my husband, who is a county politician, and so I knew about it and I alerted OCCA and we started investigating and found out that it could possibly be a very big deal. Those are the kinds of things we just have to keep our eyes and ears open and be ready to defend the environment, if you want to use some big words.

EKP:
And how do you see your role in the organization?

VL:
My role is just mostly—well, I sign a lot of thank you letters, which is nice. I am one of the public faces of OCCA. Our executive director, Darla Youngs, does some things and there are other things that I'm the voice and the face for OCCA. I run our meetings and I look over things that the staff does, just to make sure they're doing what the board wants. Getting the committees, you know, the routine maintenance things, making sure our committees meet and that kind of stuff.

EKP:
How do you balance the work for the Association with your work on the farm and with the school, it seems like you're very busy?

VL:
I am very busy. [laughs] I guess when I am working on one thing I try to focus on it, which is not always possible. But from efficiency things I have read online, they say that is what you should do, you should focus on your one thing. So I just try to take part of my day to sit down and think about what I need to do. Like right now I have a pile of thank you letters that I need to sign so that they can get mailed out. I am very fortunate our staff is wonderful, and so aside from a couple of minor glitches, the office runs absolutely wonderful and so that takes a lot off of me. It makes my job easier.

EKP:
How do you see your role as a professor in Oneonta as relating to environmentalism?

VL:
Well, most immunologists wouldn't. [laughs] I have actually managed to get back outdoors with my research. I have started studying the immune system of the American eel, and so I get to go out and collect eels from the Hudson River occasionally. Part of that project is trying to get the American eel restored to the Upper Susquehanna. There were dams built in Pennsylvania and Maryland in the forties that blocked the migration of the eels upstream, and so we now do not have eels in the Upper Susquehanna. They are the host for the larval stage for one of our most abundant freshwater pearly mussels. So if there's no eels, the mussels can't reproduce, and the relationship between the eels and the mussels is probably immunological tolerance, so that gets into the immunology part that I am interested in. And so I can take my projects to immunology meetings and tell people about the immunological things going on and teach them a little about the ecology, and then I go to environmental meetings to talk about the eels and the mussels, but I can teach them a little bit of immunology at the same time. And so that is a lot of fun.

EKP:
That sounds like fun, yeah. And how about teaching your students here?

VL:
Ah, you ask my students and they will tell you all about recycling. [laughs] Yeah, whenever I can, I try to put in a plug for the environment, for recycling and for thinking about their use of things, and mostly I try to be a role model. And they see me recycling. For instance, those boxes there are posterboards. Up until recently, I had a set of posterboards that my students were reusing, and we had been reusing for about seven or eight years. And they would put their displays on the boards and then we would clean them off and store them, and pull them back out the next semester. Unfortunately our ice machine had a flood and it damaged all of my posters, so I am starting off with new ones. But I am saving the boxes so that we can store them, and we are just starting over again. And so that is one thing the students know, that okay, it doesn't look pristine, but it works just fine, and we don't have to waste all that cardboard every semester, and so they get an example.

EKP:
That's great. Was this something that you have learned over the years, or is it something that dates back to your childhood, did you do a lot of recycling then?

VL:
No, no. Recycling, I guess I'd say twenty years ago, [we] started recycling. The community we lived in outside of Philadelphia had a recycling program, and so we could do cans and glass. And you know, after moving up here, now you can do the plastics. And then OCCA is involved with an organization called Terracycle, so now we can recycle potato chip bags, cereal bags, cheese bags and wrappers, the plastic part of pens. We collect all of those and send them to a place where they can be recycled. So now my husband and I have one tiny bag of trash a week, you know, just one little itty-bitty bag.

[TRACK 2, 10:50]

EKP:
That's great. So what are your hopes for Otsego County in the future?

VL:
I'd like to see the farming industry build back up. I think agriculture is going to be one of our greatest assets. I'd like to see us move more towards alternative energies, get away from fossil fuels. Learning to recycle and reuse items more. I don't want to see us become more industrialized. [laughs]

EKP:
Yeah, I recently heard that more and more people are coming to upstate New York to start farming.

VL:
That is true. We know a number of people who have come up and small farms—the large dairy farms are not going to come back, that is not economically viable unless you are really huge. And the way our community structure is, the mega-farms that you find out in the Midwest, that is not practical here either. So we are going to have to go with the small farmer, and we need to find ways that the small farmers can market their goods, economically. And so that's not exactly within OCCA's purview, but it is definitely, you know, peripheral to it.

EKP:
Related, yeah.

VL:
Yeah.

EKP:
So how do you see your role in environmentalism over time, in the future?

VL:
Right now, I kind of feel that I am doing about as much as I can handle. At some point, I will retire from teaching, and at that point I fully expect that I will become more involved in what OCCA is doing and possibly with other organizations as well. So it won't go away.

EKP:
Yeah, definitely. [laughs] Well, I think we're pretty close to being done with our hour, so do you have anything else you want to add?

VL:
Gee, no. [laughs]

EKP:
All right, well, thank you very much.

VL:
Oh, you're welcome.

EKP:
It was a lot of fun.

VL:
I had fun.

Duration

30:00
13:42

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kpbs
128 kpbs

Time Summary

10:21 - Otsego County Conservation Association Projects
40:50 - Future of Otsego County

Files

Lentz_Koehler-Platten Nov 20 2014.JPG

Citation

Emily Koehler-Platten, “Vicky Lentz, November 20, 2014,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 4, 2020, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/184.