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For Farmer Jeff (a good read)

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A man of conviction and feisty patriotism



Friday, December 29, 2006


Fifteen years ago, Irwin Richardt was asked this question as he sat in the kitchen of his sagging clapboard house with no heat, little plumbing and only one room with electricity.


"Who will take care of you when you get too sick or too old to work?"


"My neighbors. That's the way God intended it to be."



Richardt said this with absolute confidence. It was how the old farmer spoke. In slogans and dogmatic truths. Strong words from a slight, soft-eyed man with a thinning white ponytail.


The question was asked as Richardt explained why he chose to live like a pauper on a million-dollar piece of land in the affluent Somerset Hills and why he refused to pay into Social Security.


Richardt said any forced government-citizen contract -- from Social Security to mandatory car insurance -- was a form of indentured servitude, and therefore unconstitutional in his book.


He stuck to those beliefs until his death last Friday at age 78 -- even as the world changed around him and his rundown 22-acre farm in Liberty Corner, even as neighboring farms became corporate campuses for Verizon, Reliant Pharmaceuticals and Concurrent Technologies.


He stuck to those beliefs even as the modern world encroached on his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Million-dollar homes now overlooked the pond where he liked to swim naked. Road projects created muddy run-off soaking his makeshift lumberyard.


None of it made Richardt bitter, just on guard against the "tyranny of government" his philosophical idol Thomas Jefferson warned about.

Jesus and Jefferson, Richardt liked to say, guided his life. But his father and older brother shaped it.


Richardt learned independence from his blind father, who raised three sons on the farm by himself. He learned to distrust governments after his big brother, Robert, whom he idolized, was killed in World War II.

And so Richardt took up his own patriot's fight.


He was thrown in jail in 1987 for repeatedly driving without car insurance. After his first ticket, he began driving a red, white and blue school bus decorated with slogans of the Founding Fathers and pictures of George Washington and Jefferson in the windows.



@StoryAd?xHe was arrested again five years later for removing surveyors' sticks from his land when the state began widening "his road."

Over time, Allen Road went from a two-lane path into the woods to a raceway connecting the massive Hills development to routes 78 and 287.


Over time, his small community became a sprawling township populated by newcomers. He fought fines over the condition of his property. He fought to have it assessed as farmland, because he tapped maple trees for sap each winter and made syrup that he sold or bartered for food.


He fought to keep his farm. He knew it was worth millions, but it was more valuable to him in its natural state. Developers came. The town pressured him. Richardt stayed stubborn and true -- an old-fashioned rabble-rouser and damn proud of it.


He exercised his right to free speech with "Obey the Constitution" signs on his property, citing various presidents for treason; relentless letters to the editor of the Bernardsville News and a daily ham radio broadcast, which drew the attention of the FCC.


Over time, everything changed except Irwin Richardt.


He lived a 19th-century lifestyle in a 21st-century world, but was not a recluse. He lived alone, but loved people. He visited schools where he talked about the Constitution. He hosted school groups on his farm and showed them how to make maple syrup. He was active in his church and handed out leaflets on July 4.


He was an antique fixture in a changing town, a piece of its past living in the present. And for that, he became a well-known curiosity. A spectacle riding his bicycle to the library, to church, to town.

And in the end, Irwin Richardt was right. His old neighbors may have moved on, but new neighbors took care of him.


Andy and Kelly Dietsch, a young couple who manage the nearby English Farm, brought him into their home for his final days as cancer consumed him. Bernards police officer Henry Werner, who had arrested Richardt for taking away the surveyor's stakes, looked in on him often during his final years.


This morning at the Fellowship Deaconry Chapel in Liberty Corner, there will be a service, followed by another at Richardt's farm, where he placed a headstone memorial to his brother and himself two years ago. His side simply reads: "Irwin Richardt -- Farmer." It is not a grave. He will be buried elsewhere.

And the land?


"It was his wish that it stay a farm," Andy Dietsch said. "And right now, we're trying to keep it that way."


some great photos in the paper... I'm looking for them on the net.

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another tribute i likes:


The End of An Era


Irwin Richardt, long-time town resident, curmudgeon and a regular commentator on local affairs has passed away. For as long as I have been active in township work Irwin was a regular visitor to public meetings where he would read prepared statements espousing his rather unique views on the US Constitution, the Bible and other weighty matters. These were regularly printed in the local paper.


One got the impression that he had been born in the wrong century. He could be loosely described as a "libertarian", with the anti-government and anti-tax stances of that classification but going way beyond that in many ways. For example, he did not consider corporations to be legal entities. He refused to buy insurance, and when that became mandatory for operating a motor vehicle he stopped driving and began riding his bicycle everywhere (no doubt accounting for his being hale and hearty up until a year or so ago). He considered himself simply as a farmer, a Christian and a patriot.


Living on the corner of Somerville and Allan Roads, on several occasions the county took narrow portions of his property for road widening. In all cases he was issued compensation for this legal condemnation, but he never accepted the checks and bemoaned the loss of some of his beloved sugar maples -- the source of his income. On one such occasion he was arrested for accosting workers doing the road widening but was released on bail and charges were dropped.


Not everyone appreciated his zeal. On a number of occasions he sent written threats to the tax collector and to the police chief. In fact, the metal detector at the entrance to the court room was rumored to have been installed after one such threat. But in the end nothing ever came of this and most people in town considered him to be a charming eccentric. In fact, after one roadway condemnation on his property made the papers he garnered several hundrd write-in votes during the next municipal election, setting a record for a write-in candidate.

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At times I aspire to be a curmudgeon.


God bless the old coot. clapping.gif





yah gotta love refusing to accept payment for the land seized. A man who truly had the courage of his convictions.

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Thanks for the read. Those are the type of guys who are dying out frown.gif . Every time I get the chance to work or talk with an old New England Yankee I am overjoyed and saddened at the same time. The world needs more curmudgeons and characters in my opinion...although a random sample of the SOL populace would indicate that there are more than I give credit for wink.gif .




Sounds like the guy had a rough time of it. I am fortunate/unfortunate that by virtue of its rarity, farming (sustainably) is quite respected in my area, though it is still viewed as somewhat of an anachronism.




Someday there will be no more gnarled hand farmers from the old day and the world will be worse for it.

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