Homeland Security

What makes you feel secure? Several years ago I brought home a poster which is prominently displayed on a bulletin board in the kitchen.  It shows a picture of a lush farm stand, brimming with tomatoes, peppers, squash and other autumn bounty.  The banner line says “HOMELAND SECURITY.”  The bottom reads: “BUY LOCAL. IT MATTERS.”

That poster still draws my eye, and captures the attention of visitors to our home as they scan the family photos and invitations pinned to the huge cork board where it hangs.

While “Buy Local” or “Think Local” may sound clichéd at times, the fact is what happens in our local economies here in the Hudson Valley does matter. Big time.  And every time. It is good news that local farmers markets — which will all soon be open for the season — have increased a whopping 350% in the last fifteen years.  It’s bad news when towns don’t understand the importance of farmland protection. NY State loses farmland at the rate of 9,000 acres a year, jeopardizing safe, sustainable, local food sources for our population.

It matters profoundly every time a family farm is replaced by a housing project or mall. It matters every time a factory, gravel pit or mine pollutes our fragile ecosystem. It matters every time a big box retailer pushes out mom-and-pop stores and undermines our village Main Streets. Of course, what matters most about “Think Local” is creating, growing and keeping jobs: Jobs that draw young people to the area; jobs that keep families in their homes; jobs that make our communities vital and thriving and our residents secure.

It also matters that we have local media — newspapers, radio stations, websites, and, yes, blogs like this.  I have long felt that one of the great ironies of living in the so-called Information Age, is that we get too much information about things we don’t care about, but not enough about the things we need to know. We suffer information overload when it comes to the private lives of celebrities. (Remind me, why we care so much about Charlie Sheen?)

But if you try to find out why that fragile wetland down the road seems to have become a building site or why we can’t get an ethics bill through the state legislature, then it’s hard to get information.  It still boggles my mind that former State Senator Vincent Leibell, who represented the Hudson Valley for almost three decades, ran for and was elected Putnam County Executive last fall and no local media reported on the fact that he was under investigation until he pled guilty a month after Election Day of obstruction of justice and money laundering charges. Having free, independent and reliable media  (as well as ethical elected officials) is essential for homeland security.

I’ve thought often about why I love living here: what I wish was different, what I want to preserve and what I’d like to see improve about our way of life here in the Hudson Valley. Sure it’s spectacularly beautiful, and rich in history, culture and natural resources. I love the river, the farms and the rural character. But, what I love most is being part of a community — a community that values its local assets. Join the dialogue. What makes you feel secure?

About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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