Phil and Joanne Markham donned their finest garments and set up shop in Albany’s Townsend Park last Saturday (April 6) to hock homemade pickles. The main ingredient, discounting the shriveled ex-cucumbers, was fracking “brine”—a chemical cocktail the Markhams say contains, among other things, benzene—a known carcinogen.
The Markhams’ table was a few spots down from Lemon-Adieu, an old-fashioned lemonade stand whose product, made of 100-percent fracking fluid, promised to “scour your insides to leave you clean and fresh as an oil slick on a beautiful lake.” Across the center path of the park was a table of rotten, wilted vegetables. Next to the not-so-fresh produce was a booth for Gasland Realty, “Specializing in toxic homes near drilling sites,” which was promoting a prime property in Slingerlands valued at $465,000 but recently reduced to $29,000.
The people responsible for these booths were being facetious, but the subject of the jokes, they said, is no laughing matter. Food Not Fracking, an event promoted by Occupy Albany, was created to bring farmers, food lovers, and concerned citizens together with anti-fracking activists to rally against the ever-spreading hydrofracking movement and to promote New York’s natural resources and burgeoning agriculture industry.
“I think the turnout was great, and I’d like to do another event in the late spring or early summer, during the growing season, that looks even more like a farmers market,” said Daniel Morrissey, organizer for New Yorkers Against Fracking, who also organized Saturday’s event. “Superstorm Sandy caused us to pause and think, maybe for the first time ever, that we may not have food security or a roof over our heads if we continue on this bridge to nowhere with fossils fueling our lives.”
Nestled among the mock vendors were some real businesses and groups. Food Not Bombs, Nine Mile Farms, Troy Bike Rescue, and All Good Bakers were among the nonfictional representatives.
“Cows won’t drink water that’s on fire,” said Sandy Gordon, former Albany County legislator. “People won’t drink water that’s on fire.” Gordon raises grass-fed beef in Berne and said that New York state should be protecting businesses that utilize clean water, including the “$2 billion nanotech microchip” industry.
Diana Wright, an actual realtor behind Gasland Realty, asked the crowd if they knew that “homeowners insurance companies can drop clients” whose land is leased for fracking, and that “mortgages can be canceled, or nullified” if the properties are involved in fracking. “All the land is at the mercy of the oil companies,” she said. She also warned of a “law called compulsory integration,” which allows oil companies to access a person’s land without their consent, based on the agreement of their surrounding neighbors.
That’s a fear that resonates with Rebekah Rice, owner of Nine Mile Farms in Delmar. “They can go a mile underground—they could take my stuff anyway,” she said. She is also concerned with chemical spills and the safety of the controversial process itself. “There are organic farmers in Pennsylvania who have neighboring farms who have leased their land for fracking,” she said. “As soon as there’s an accident they’re done.”
Rice uses water from a pond on her property to sustain her organic farm, that she said is fed from water found in the limestone karst, deep in the earth. This structure is fragile and susceptible to pollution; if one part of the intricate system falls victim to a toxic invasion, it would spread quickly.
“If we allow fracking in New York state I have to stop farming,” she said. “I can’t sell organic vegetables that are watered with ground water that has fracking chemicals in it.”