Green Acres

_DSC8423[1]“A Native American farmer in Bucks County is about to lose his farm”.

That telephone tip came my way three years ago this month. It concerned 145 acres known as theThorpe First Nation Family Farm. Currently owned by Dale and Renee Thorpe, the farm has been in the family for five generations and was in financial trouble with its mortgage holder. Much has happened since I got that phone call. In January of this year I posted a blog–Takin’ it to the court–highlighting the early struggles that brought together a hundred activists (including Native Americans) to save the Thorpe farm.

The Thorpe’s were determined to keep their farm. They petitioned Philadelphia Bankruptcy Court where they’ve appeared on and off over the last two years. At every turn the bank’s attorneys (Susquehanna, now BB&T Pavilion) fought them. Reluctantly, the Thorpe’s decided to sell off a separate parcel of 48 acres which would solve their mortgage problems. An interested prospect offered $1.2 million for the parcel and then strangely, withdrew the bid.

This past summer the bankruptcy  judge ruled that in order to satisfy the bank loan the entire farm must go up for auction. The auction was held on September 16. Bidding was swift. Surprisingly, for a paltry amount of $1.7 million the bank accepted a bid for the entire 145 acres which included the outbuildings, the family’s home and all the livestock. Equally surprising, the beneficiary of that bid was the same man who had previously offered to buy that 48 acre parcel at a slightly less amount but had changed his mind.

The Thorpe’s have appealed the accepted bid. States Dale Thorpe in a December 3, 2015 article published in the Bucks County Herald, “I think this sale was orchestrated. It sounds like collusion to me.”

Until a ruling is made on the auction bid, Dale, Renee and their five children remain on the farm.

The appeal of the auction bid isn’t the only legal action they’ve taken to save their farm. On October 28, 2014 a Civil Rights lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia 3rd District Federal Court against Upper Makefield Township Supervisors. The suit lists multiple instances where the township had served unfounded zoning violations against the farm. Within the past two weeks the judge–Honorable Cynthia M. Rufe ruled the suit should go forward. Attorneys on both sides have begun discussions.

There’s an ironic twist to this struggle that involves the Upper Makefield Supervisors. At the December 1, 2015 the Supervisors considered a proposal about a 30 acre farm threatened with sale. They voted to purchase 24 acres of the farm in order to establish a conservation easement. I am bewitched, bothered and bewildered to figure out where the township’s responsibility is in serving their constituents.

Supporters for the Thorpe’s continue to stand with the family. The farm is sacred ground where once a tribe of the Lenape Nation lived, hunted, fished and are buried. The land has historical significance as it was the starting point for the William Penn Walking Purchase. Dale Thorpe is a distant relative to deceased Olympian Jim Thorpe. As a boy whenever he walked the farmland he would discover arrowheads in the soil. His tribal heritage includes Lenape, Sac and Fox Nations.

The December 19, 2015 front page of Lancaster Farming published an in-depth interview with Dale Thorpe about the issues surrounding the financial and operational challenges facing the farm. The facebook page, Save Thorpe’s First Nation Organic Family Farm is the hub for updates to the cause. A supporter also created a gofundme page to raise money for the legal appeal of the auction bid (www.gofundme.com/festival of fears).

This is not over.

This is not over.

 

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Takin’ it to the Court

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December 2014 marked two years of my support for the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm located near Newtown in Bucks County. As “Granny” I wrote four posts about the struggles confronting this 145 acre non-certified organic farm currently owned by Dale and Renee Thorpe. Dale, a distant relative of Olympian Jim Thorpe and Daniel Boone is the 5th generation of Thorpe’s to work this land. At the end of 2012 when learning that the farm was in danger of being lost, nearly a hundred citizens–dozens of them Native Americans along with farmland advocates, banded together to Save the Thorpe Farm. We became very public with letters to newspapers, holding monthly Native American events at the Farm, organizing a protest march in front of the bank that was threatening foreclosure and making public comments at Township meetings. See link to public comments at the March 6, 2013 Upper Makefield Township meeting:

http://uppermakefield.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=db5c9abbca3d5f715c5c66a6aa908ec3.

Over seven years ago the Thorpe’s purchased the farm from Dale’s cousin. The outbuildings were in poor condition but the Thorpe’s, so passionate about farming, were and remain determined to transform this diamond in the rough into a farm equal or better than neighboring farms in their area. A major resource of their land is the rich soil for growing crops. In addition with an abundance of underground water, for years before and since Dale and Renee bought the farm, developers and other special interest groups were sniffing at the gate. The farm’s tumbledown condition was cause for the local municipality, Upper Makefield Township to file numerous code violations against the property. It should be noted that surrounding the Thorpe farm are homes large enough to board a baseball team. Many of these home owners dislike the farm spoiling the view from their windows.

Then in the fall of 2012, just like toast landing butter-side down on the kitchen floor, disastrous events strike the farm:

1) On October 13 a suspicious fire destroys the barn filled with machinery and tools; 2) Then on October 30 Hurricane Sandy rips the roof off the farm’s Market, taking with it some of the galvanized steel roof on the hay barn that is attached to the Market; 3) With little revenues to maintain the farm, the mortgage holder–Susquehanna Bank–threatens to foreclose on the farm.

Last summer Bankruptcy hearings were held and for now the wolves have been blocked at the gate.

Enough already with the bank and the township and the neighbors! The Thorpe’s are takin’ it to the Court. On October 28, 2014, Robert T. Vance Jr. attorney for the Thorpe’s, filed a Civil Rights lawsuit in the Philadelphia Office of the Pennsylvania District Court.

Thorpe et al v. UPPER MAKEFIELD TOWNSHIP et al.Case Number: 2:2014cv06154.

The document numbers over a hundred pages with a plethora of exhibits. It’s not over yet.

Always remember: No Farms No Food.