Earth Day

Theodate and Anesthesia's "Faith"

I guess it would be wrong not to do an Earth Day entry on a nature blog! But I must say, the Pope/Riddle families could never have imagined a holiday celebrating sustainable behavior, recycling and saving the Earth.

Theodate Pope dreamed of owning a farm, and ten local farms were purchased and consolidated to realize that dream. But it’s not as if they bought up the farms to put up a strip mall. The land was always farmed, and was renowned for its apples, peaches, sheep and cows.

At the time Hill-Stead was built, 98% of the population lived or worked on a farm of some kind. Only slightly more than a century later, the equation is completely inverted. Today only 2% of our population lives or works on a farm. The message is clear: we’ve gotten away from something fundamental. The origin of our food is unknown to most of us, assuming we ever think about the subject at all.

I used to do farm programs for school children. If I got lucky, a hen would produce a nice, fresh egg right around the time the group got to the chicken coop. Sliding the egg from under the chicken and holding it, still warm, to a child’s cheek I’d ask where eggs come from. All too often the answer came back, “Stop and Shop”.

Were it not for Miss Pope’s appreciation of the land, things at 35 Mountain Road, Farmington, Connecticut would be awfully different now. For starters, those ten farms that the Popes bought would have gone the way of millions of family farms. They’d be housing developments. Theodate would be chastened to realize that although her will called for Hill-Stead to become a museum it left little money to make that happen. Even to begin carrying out her wishes, much of the original land had to be sold, which accounts for the unfortunate encroachment of development near the property today. But who could have forseen how culture would change? How could anyone even think that we could NEED an “Earth Day”?

Still, over 150 acres of land remain. The property is noted for natural diversity by the Connecticut DEP, one of only a handful of such properties in Farmington or the entire state. Though in her wildest dreams Miss Pope could not have imagined our present need for land conservation, she would have liked being the cause of habitat preservation on any scale.

It is forty years since the first Earth Day, sixty-three since Theodate’s death. Only twenty-some years intervened between her demise and the days of Rachel Carson and her Silent Spring. It seems as though things went downhill quickly. How nice it might be to repair things as fast, but as every farmer knows poor earth takes time to remediate. Repairs to the environment go slowly.

Around here we’re doing some new things. We are trying to protect our pond, and have pulled out invasive plants and planted natives.  Proper mowing encourages grassland birds and other declining species. We look for ways big and small to preserve and improve the land, and to show people why this is all worth saving and celebrating.

Starting July 12, Hill-Stead will host a Farmer’s Market, showcasing locally grown and organic foods. Theodate would be delighted. I think she’d like our other outdoor programs, too. Although she had a large staff of gardeners charged with keeping the lawns exactly three inches high and hand-digging the dandelions, had she lived today I think she’d have been a big “greenie”. I bet those dandelions would have made fine salads for the household to enjoy. No doubt the gardeners would have been charged with other tasks to sustain the much-loved Hill-Stead earth.

See you on the trails,

Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

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One Response to “Earth Day”

  1. Alden O'Brien Says:

    Wow! A farmer’s market–how fantastic! Great idea. i agree Theodate would be a big greenie–and would love what you all are doing these days. Thanks for a great blog–so well-written, and I have learned a lot in my half-hour browse. Now how about a weekend workshop on making dandelion wine? Never mind–I’ll just come visit the pond and look for bats and moths next visit.

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