The River Reporter, November 4–10, 2010

Trailer Talk picnics to probe gas impacts


UPPER DELAWARE REGION — If you’ve got something to say about natural gas, Sabrina Artel would like to hear it, and is preparing a picnic featuring local goods as part of her ongoing Shale Project to invite conversation on issues impacting communities facing natural gas extraction.

“My relationship to The Shale Project is a personal one because I live on the shale in Liberty, NY and have been a participant in the unfolding of the possibility of wide-scale drilling where I live, while being present for what could be the largest industrialization of the state ever and a massive environmental disaster,” said Artel.

The inventive proprietor of Trailer Talk, a unique blend of live performance, community event and broadcast that begins in the cozy kitchen of the vintage 1965 Beeline trailer that Artel tows to various events, said she knew very little about gas drilling and hydrofracturing when she found herself perched on top of the shale two and a half years ago.

“The more I learn, the clearer it becomes that for all I’ve been given by this beautiful place and the incredible community here, in addition to the vital wilderness and farmland that I share my life with, it is my responsibility to give voice to this critical time in our region’s history,” she said.

In pursuing that goal, Artel launched The Shale Project, a combination of live events, a radio and video series and an interactive website with archives, interviews and public conversations exploring the impact of natural gas drilling on the region’s water resources and the issues being debated in neighborhoods.

Artel has taken Trailer Talk to numerous events this year, capturing perspectives at a gas rally at the New York state capital, a Delaware River Basin Commission hearing in Trenton, NJ, the Trout Parade in Livingston Manor, NY, a Gasland movie screening in Callicoon, NY, various Sullivan County drilling forums and more.

Sitting across the trailer’s kitchen table, or crossing paths along the way, have been Julie and Craig Sautner from Dimock PA, whose water is contaminated from nearby gas drilling, actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, Mayor Calvin Tillman from Dish, TX, Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson, pro-and-anti-drilling activists, NYS Senator Tom Duane, NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, NYS Senator John Bonacic, U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey and countless ordinary citizens.

In her travels, Artel explores what defines a community. “I’ve continued to seek new community strategies to see how communities are coming together in unique and productive ways,” said Artel. “What is most clear is that local culture, generations of history and beloved homes are always lost when the companies intent on fossil fuel extraction move into a new region. In addition to depleting or destroying essential and finite resources like clean water, neighbors are pitted against neighbors and whole communities are torn apart.”

On November 7, Artel will bring Trailer Talk to Callicoon, NY, the latest location for her Shale Project Picnics (see sidebar). “The picnics are a way to connect to each other through something universal—food and the coming together to ‘break bread’ and connect through our everyday need to eat—and celebrate the specifics of a location expressed by locally grown and prepared foods,” she explained.

Artel will interview guests and record for broadcast their ideas of home, in addition to discussing the environmental conditions required for sustainability. “Without clean water, we would not be able to sustain ourselves with locally grown healthy foods, so I will speak to producers about water needs of farmers to learn more about our precious water resources,” she said. “The small farms that pride themselves on generations of connection to their land are risking their clean air and water because selling a lease to a gas drilling company can be perceived as the only way to keep from losing the property.”

Artel was invited to picnic at the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, where she traveled last weekend to help inform NYC residents about what’s happening in New York’s upstate region in terms of gas drilling and the connection that exists between local foods and water.

The Shale Project and the picnics are funded in part by the Park Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist’s Grant with support from the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Visit sabrinaartel.com/shaleproject for more information.

Picnic time!

Join Trailer Talk at the Farmers Market in Callicoon Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on November 7. Farmer Greg Swartz, former director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and owner of Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Abrahamsville, PA, which is threatened by impacts related to gas exploration nearby, will provide organic produce from the farm, including watermelon radishes, chard, winterbore and red Russian kale, cranberry red potatoes, prince and rosa di milano onions, leeks, necoras carrots, sugar pumpkins and delicata and acorn squash. The event will also feature cheese from Tonjes Farm, Sherman Hill Homestead goat cheeses, Maynard Farm apples and pears, Muthig Farm maple drops and syrup, foods from Lucky Dog Café in Hamden and more. Artel will have contaminated well water on display from the Sautner’s well in Dimock, PA.

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