Thursday, May 10, 2018
Monticello, NY – Most of Sullivan County knows Callicoon Center resident Dick Riseling as a champion of sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. But as the Sullivan County Legislature noted in bestowing its Distinguished Citizen Award upon Riseling today, his life, talents and achievements are nothing short of astonishing.
Born in Batavia, Illinois, Riseling came east to go to school, ultimately earning a bachelor’s in International Affairs from Yale University and a master’s in International Law from the Fletcher School of International Law & Diplomacy.
“I had a dream: I wanted to work at the United Nations,” he recalled.
Raised in a religious home, he became the director of the Office of International Affairs for the American Baptist Convention and worked for the National Council of Churches in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“It was a very exciting time,” he said – so much so that he shifted gears and became an advocate for social and civil equality, as reflected in the master’s of Divinity in Social Ethics he earned from Yale Divinity School and in yet another master’s – in Public Education from Baruch College – that he put to use teaching labor studies, micro- and macroeconomics, and U.S. relations with Cuba. A portion of that time was spent mentoring state prison inmates through Empire State College.
That period also saw Riseling’s introduction to Sullivan County, when he and partner Sonja Hedlund bought a small home in Mileses in the Town of Fremont.
“We became enraptured with nature,” he said. “We decided to become farmers and use that as our political platform.”
Already an advocate for women’s rights and labor issues, Riseling and Hedlund found their most satisfying political expression through what became Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Center in Callicoon Center, where they continue to live. Since 1973, they’ve raised draft horses, produced meat and vegetables, developed new methods of agriculture, instituted a community kitchen, installed looms for weaving, generated 100% of the farm's electricity on-site and provided farming internships for more than 300 young people from around the world – nearly 50 of whom are now full-time farmers!
“Let’s produce producers of food who will produce really good food – that’s what we’ve been doing,” Riseling explained.
He paused for a moment, a twinkle sparkling in his eyes.
“Once you get hooked in nature’s glorious realms,” he added, “you’re a goner!”
Running a model farm certainly has occupied much of his attention, and some might see the “For Sale” signs in front of it as acknowledgment of a need to retire. No such intention exists with Riseling, however. The man who wrote an entire curriculum for children on economics and law, who penned more than 500 newspaper columns on green energy, who spent two decades delighting public radio listeners with a weekly call-in program, and who helped found and lead the nonprofit Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development? He’s not about to relax.
Apple Pond Farm now has a conservation easement ensuring it will be farmed in perpetuity, and Riseling may once again return to the halls of government to press the causes he holds most dear.
“I’m going to stay in renewable energy work,” he promised. “Nature has to be saved, and we have to save ourselves. That is what is before humanity.”
“To know Dick is to understand advocacy, passion, and responsibility to the land and its inhabitants,” remarked District 5 Legislator Terri Ward, who presented Riseling with the Distinguished Citizen Award. “From farm-to-school programs to the Sullivan County Charter Review Commission, Dick has approached every challenge with a fresh perspective, a can-do attitude and a deep sense of conviction.”
Riseling explained his ethos simply: “I’m trying to get us closer to what we were promised as kids: a good country.”