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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Trampling on Native Heritage

DSC_1882For the times I’ve volunteered at the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm, I’ve been aware of the Thorpe’s struggle to keep their land from getting sold. This past August a sign announcing an auction for September 16 was planted in the farm’s field across from the parking lot. The auctioneer–Max Spann–notified the media with a press release for two dates when interested parties could travel to the farm in order to walk the land and tour the family’s farmhouse.

Thursday September 3 was the second and final opportunity for speculators to check out the property. I went to the Farm to take pictures and get a sense of the people who were there to gain information about this 143 acre piece of land that has been in the Thorpe family for 5 generations. As a friend and supporter to the Thorpe’s it was unsettling to observe strangers strolling around the property, peeking inside the farm’s outbuildings (strictly off-limits for this preview) and watching as other strangers were greeted by a realtor at the door of the farmhouse before showing them through the comfortably warm rooms of the Thorpe’s home.

October will mark three years since two disasters hit the farm. On October 13, 2012 a suspicious barn fire destroyed the building where all the machinery, tools and Native American artifacts were stored. Then seventeen days later–on October 30–Hurricane Sandy tore off the roof of the Market.

Tragic.

A few months ago, as some supporters gathered at the Market, one remarked to me, “I feel Louise is here today,” She was referring to Louise Leckner, a hands-on healer who volunteered her gifts at the first Farm event held in February 2013. It was organized by a newly formed group of people whose goal was to Save the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm. Although a section of the Market’s roof was covered with tarp, the Thorpe’s decided to keep the doors open to bring in needed revenue. On that day, besides Louise, there were Native American drummers, storytellers and crafters bringing awareness to visitors about Native culture and heritage. Sometime during the middle afternoon Louise experienced a feinting spell that rendered her unconscious. 911 was called staying on the line to give instructions over the phone to a First Aid trained person. Almost half an hour passed before the ambulance arrived. Louise never regained consciousness and several days later on February 16, 2013 she died in the hospital.

A month later the Market was served with notice from the Township to close. Renovations began and the Market was approved for reopening in September 2013,.

picture one

Louise Leckner (photo from Bucks County Courier Times)

A lasting result of Louise’s death was Upper Makefield Township government’s approval to place an EMT Station in their Fire Department. Through Louise’s passion as a healer and her sudden death, citizens of Upper Makefield would live because an EMT was now in their community.

My first post of 2015, Takin’ it to the Court recounted the last two years of supporters’ efforts and the Thorpe’s struggle to keep the bank from the door. The post also mentioned a Civil Rights lawsuit filed by the Thorpe’s attorney on October 28, 2014 in U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Upper Makefield Township. The suit details the excessive zoning violations wrongfully placed against the Farm.

While walking the grounds two days ago, taking pictures and observing the ‘lookie-loos’, I  felt the presence of Louise. It gives me hope that the Thorpe First Nation Family Farm will not be lost.

 

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.