Paradise Gardens & Farm owner refutes drilling in honor of wife, nature

REYNOLDSVILLE — Thursday, Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn staged a little rebellion of his own, but it was an emotional one.

“Now I feel empowered by a bond of love,” he said following an event he hosted Thursday on his Paradise Gardens & Farm. “No drill will ever penetrate this land, and I’m prepared to stand behind that.”

Cleghorn’s rebellion came with a declaration without weapons, and as well as with the spirit of his No. 1 confederate — his wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González, who died of cancer in November 2011.

In his formal statement — witnessed by numerous neighbors and representatives from environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Thursday atop a hill that overlooks his 50-acre farm — Cleghorn said, “Today, I act to declare my farm, all that lives above its surface, the very air and sunlight that caresses and enlivens all of us here today, and all that lies below it as firmament, all of this I hereby declare off-limits from shale gas extraction and its toxic impacts, in perpetuity.”

He sealed his declaration by spreading a portion of his wife’s ashes on the ground, saying, “Here now, she declares a new right of love on the surface and below this farm that no gas drill will ever penetrate.”

Cleghorn, who earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Emory University and worked in non-profits for most of his career, said his event coincided with a report from the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air, which said that there are more than 100 cases of people and animals living in gas fields who have become sick or even died from exposure to air and water contamination associated with gas field facilities — more than half of which are from Pennsylvania gas fields above the Marcellus Shale formation.

The event also stemmed from passage of Act 13, which supporters say creates jobs and supports the environment, while others say it allows the gas companies to govern local governments.

At issue is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where large volumes of water and toxic chemicals are pumped into vertical wells with lateral bores to shatter the rock and release the hydrocarbons.

Cleghorn said Act 13 is “a corporate-sponsored form of organized crime perpetrated upon the people and democracy of Pennsylvania.”

“The America we love is fast becoming America Inc. — a wholly-owned subsidiary of faceless corporations that get to speak with money to get the politicians they want to make the laws they need to despoil our environment and even what we eat for their exorbitant profits,” he said.

Also speaking Thursday was Aaron Mair, a member of the Sierra Club’s national board of directors, who said the organization wanted to be a part of Cleghorn’s event because it was “a symbolic action that represents a connection with the land, community and nature ... the whole chain.”

But the gas companies, he said, endanger that chain of community and the land by extracting its resources, thereby damaging the land.

The gas companies’ argument that drilling for fuel is in the interest of energy security is hollow, Mair said, because they are stealing from the land and the community, only to export the resources and support nations abroad with jobs that could be here Thursday, Mair said the people who gathered for Cleghorn’s event were standing together to protect the land and the chain.

“This is what America is about,” Mair said. “This is a symbolic act. This is what we all need to do.”

Cleghorn said what he did was as much about protecting his own land — and serving as a voice for others — as its was protecting the big picture.

“A lot of this is protecting the rights of nature,” he said.
Cleghorn and Hart-González came to Paradise in 2005, where they established the garden and all-solar farm. He had attempted farming in the late 1970s, which also helped him brush up on his carpentry skills.

Those skills would come in handy over the next few years, as when they first viewed the farm — much of it under a few feet of snow at that time — most of the buildings required some renovation or complete rebuilding.

The thought to a couple from a world outside agriculture may have been daunting, but Cleghorm said they transfered their skills and education to make it work. After all, he said, years of writing grants proved to be pretty helpful when filling out 80-odd pages of USDA forms.

But Cleghorn and Hart-González took a different path with the farm.
“We really took control,” he said. “We made it organic” — meaning that the land is farmed without chemicals; maintains a self-sustaining cycle of life; and practices resource conservation and improvement.

Paradise Gardens & Farm is part of Community-Supported Agriculture and partners with the Women’s Health Center of DRMC to promote its shares. It also offers WIC and FMNP discounts.

The farm also offers apprenticeships in hope of attracting young people to the world of agriculture.

It is the only certified organic farm in the tri-county area and is northwest Pennsylvania’s first licensed goat dairy and creamery, where it offers goat milk, drinkable yogurt, fresh goat cheese, grassfed goatmeat and more from its 95 goats, that looked on from over the fence during Thursday’s event.

“Our goats — the food that comes from them goes to the center of other people,” Cleghorn said. “Protecting these animals — they are a part of nature. We share survival with one another.”

Other factions have not protected natures, as evidenced by strip-mining and mountaintop removal in states such as West Virginia, he said, and its is not dissimilar to how fracking affects nature.

A couple from Punxsutawney owns the deed for the gas rights under the farm, but Cleghorn said he made his declaration not knowing whether or not he’ll be successful, because individual acts of resistance such as his Thursday “must be part of an ongoing organization to create a foundation of law based on the rights of nature.”

Saturday marks the seventh anniversary of Cleghorn and Hart-González purchasing the farm, and a memorial service will also be held in her honor — where her ashes will again be scattered — at the same spot where her husband made his declaration.