The following is the text of a commentary airing mostly on Liberty & Justice 1640:
Hannaford Supermarket in Ayer is now gone. Hannaford management wanted to
bring the store up to 21st century standards. The local land owner
The Ayer Farmers Market is no longer operating on Saturdays during
the Summer and Fall. Why? The local land owner said "no." He also
said "no" to rail commuters who need access through "his" land to
reach the few job pools in the region still able to sustain middle
class life. He also said "no" to the parking needs of nearby small
businesses. After all, he is *The Land Owner.* If he unrealistically
expects his slice of downtown to remain as pristine as an acre of
remote northern Maine woods, that's his prerogative under
capitalism, isn't it?
And finally, lest we forget, we do (or did) have a local farm stand
in Ayer. But it's only open from July to Labor Day and only during
years when the owner feels like opening it.
Welcome to Ayer and Shirley, where narcissism and eccentricity have
produced America's newest food desert.
To anyone even casually familiar with the recent departure of
Hannaford Supermarket from Ayer, as well as the small seasonal
venues for fresh vegetables that either no longer exist or are no
longer reliable, it should be obvious which groups are almost
entirely responsible for their demise: selfish land owners, greedy
real estate developers, and dysfunctional town zoning boards.
Food that is nourishing enough to sustain health is essential to
human life. Maintaining local retail sources of food should be of
such importance that it warrants intervention by town governments,
even to the point of exercising eminent domain, when private land
owners repeatedly demonstrate self-centered, pathological behavior
with no sense whatsoever of the greater public good. Yet, this
behavior should be no surprise. Just look what the local real estate
developers and land owners have given Ayer and Shirley over the past
15 years. They have destroyed nearly all of our remaining viable
agricultural land and filled it with cookie-cutter, energy wasting
McMansions that fewer and fewer people can afford. What, you want
new organic small farms? That's for those hippies out in western
Mass. and New York state. What, you want zero net energy homes?
That's for those hippies on Devens... or something like that. And
for all you working poor people who make up the bulk of the
population of these two towns, don't you just love those rents which
have more than doubled over the past 15 years? Don't you love how
easy it has become to pay your bills and stay out of debt, thanks to
the local land owners?
"Hey, get me to the money with as little effort or thought as
possible! And those poor people, they deserve what they get."
Of course, it's easy to think that way if you have the time and
money to climb into a $50,000 vehicle and go food shopping in
Leominster, Lunenburg, or Acton, or better yet, have a servant or
employee do it for you. But most low income working people in Ayer
and Shirley do not have such options. Many do not own even an old,
beat up vehicle. The local landlords and business interests have
made sure that most are within a 10 minute walk from all the
alcoholic beverages they could ever want to drown their sorrows. But
a nice bunch of health sustaining, organic kale? You have to hitch a
ride out of town for that one, boy!
If you think town governments will finally rise to the call and
seize these vital, limited properties until truly appropriate buyers
emerge who will end the food desert, don't hold your breath. In the
early years of this century, a plan to expand Roux's Market to two
stories and vastly increase their grocery offerings was shot down by
the Shirley zoning board. But a year or two later, that same board
had no problem allowing a chain franchise like Dunkin Donuts to come
in by knocking down a classic, residential building in otherwise
As long as idiocy, eccentricity, narcissism, and greed continue to
persist in the local real estate industry and in town governments,
the Ayer-Shirley Food Desert may persist for many years to come. So,
brace yourself. But for every month it continues, the more and more
likely the two towns will become the laughing stock of the state,
especially considering that most surrounding communities avoided
such problems by exercising sanity, vision, and common sense.