About Harry MacCormack
Harry lived his first 14 years in the then small farming community of Chenango Bridge, New York. In the 1940s and early 50s the area revolved around dairy farms, a creamery, Mr. Peak's General Store, the railroad station/post office, a volunteer fire department with one open-cab engine, a three-room school house, and Mr. Moppert's school bus for older kids to be transported to Port Dick and Binghamton. Those times saw fuel rationing, victory gardens, ice boxes (the ice carved from the river in winter and stored in straw in an ice house) community people growing chickens and veal, and a lot of hunting, fishing, canning and other food preservation for the very long, very cold winters. Homes were heated with coal.
After WWII Harry's father and mother organized what became The Chenango Bridge Civic Association. Henry MacCormack grew up on farms in Pennsylvania and Delaware where parts of the family still farm. He was one of the original developmental engineers for IBM, a Cornell man who had grown up in poverty and as a teenager, an orphan. He was extremely concerned about the youth of Chenango Bridge, especially as the 50s influx of city people began to develop what is now suburbia.
Naomi, Harry's mother, had been a school counselor for 18 years and shared her husband's concerns as she was in contact with the women of the community on a daily basis over the crank phone system run by the phone lady at the switchboard. Her father, Russell Yager, was a market gardener, horse farming with a side job working the railroad in Oneanta, NY. Their work resulted in a 1966 award by the community as the family prepared to leave for San Jose, California where Mac had been given a job by IBM sighting the third IBM plant.
Harry grew up gardening, directed by his green thumbed mother and his former full-time farmer father. He tagged along with his dad hunting, helped butcher mostly birds and rabbits, and fished with him during vacation periods in summers. The fish were frozen in a rented locker in Nimensburg. Harry sold his first vegetables when he was 5, and from then on shoveled snow for new neighbors and did other odd jobs to earn money for art lessons and other hobbies. He also developed a route up and down the gravel roads selling Christmas cards.
| A large part of Harry's exertion
in this life has been in construction and finishing; carpentry, wiring, plumbing and painting. He worked
his way through college spray painting. Twenty eight of his years at OSU involved building, finishing,
and tearing apart over 120 large stage sets. He built or rebuilt the buildings at Sunbow, as well as several
houses and cabins for others.
Life Lesson: With proper tools and materials anything can be created or dismantled, cycled or recycled. Design and intent coupled with physical effort builds a world.
Harry got interested in scouting as a thing for boys to do in a rural community. He began playing trumpet and at the age of 12 and got the job as bugler at Camp Tuscarora, essentially running the daily camp activities with his hundreds of bugle calls. This position allowed him to work on merit badges in a rapid manner which led to him becoming the fifth youngest Eagle Scout in the country. He also became heavily involved in Native American awareness during this period, learning dances in costume, carving totems, etc. He was convinced at the age of 14 that he wanted to become a professional scouter.
Harry was ready to leave Chenango Bridge when the call to California came. The farming community was being rapidly replaced by people who were tied to the city of Binghamton people who usually didn't garden or farm, and who lived with considerably more income than those of the formerly rural community. This change in demographic actually prepared Harry for becoming part of that change when his family landed in the Santa Clara Valley, the early part of what became the electronics gold rush of the late 50s and 60s, displacing farmland and the nation's fruit basket at a rate of 3,000 families per month.
Harry watched the rapid force of houses and cement turn a rich food source into Silicon Valley. This was very disturbing, and it led to much of his later decision making.
The first summer in San Jose Harry took a job picking beans with Mexican labor families in a local bean field. Picking started at 5 a.m.
One morning Harry was directed to dive his head into the beans as a spray plane roared over the field dropping insecticide over the beans and the workers. This was his first shocking experience with agricultural chemicals. The second (which led to his writing of The Transition Document) happened years later when two of his father's synthetic chemical solvents from the IBM plant were found in the San Jose water system. At that time Harry advised his father on bio-remediation and introduced him to Dr. Warn who worked on that problem.
High school years at Willow Glen High were packed with non agricultural activity. Harry played sports, some football before being injured, track, and music, school band and a dance band called The Blue Notes. He was also active in the Presbyterian church youth group and choir, and in 1959 was elected to be moderator of the giant San Jose Youth Presbytery which saw him traveling between San Francisco, Monterey, and out into the San Joaquin Valley. He developed his organizing skills working with youth of other communities and he was honored by the Rotary as Boy of The Week.
He was sent by the Presbytery to Los Angeles and Tulsa for conferences, and these experiences opened him to the idea of going to college at a Presbyterian school, which he did from 1960-1964. He received his BA from Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon in 1964.
Having studied philosophy and English at Lewis and Clark, Harry considered becoming a minister. He became active in the civil rights movement and as a member of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, worked in the "ghetto" of East Portland. He worked with poet, William Stafford (his mentor as he began writing his own poetry), worked with a Peace Activist group at the college, and became a recognized leader in Portland demonstrations.
Harry realized that as a moralist he was more and more out of step with a world that had chosen many seemingly wrong directions all the way back to his post-WWII childhood. He became more and more "radical," and known on the Lewis and Clark campus as "Crusader Rabbit" and "That Poet".
At graduation Harry was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Grant which would pay his expenses at Harvard University. But it was several weeks before graduation, and he was convinced to take over the summer ministry duties of Highland United Church of Christ on Portland's east side.
He took over for pastor Ralph Moore who went to work with his former roommate Jessie Jackson. Harry ran the church, worked with poverty, especially youth, lived on a friend's floor, ate 12-cent hamburgers, worked 18 hour days 6 and a half days a week, and before going to Harvard that fall had decided that the ministry was a thankless, although very necessary job, which he wasn't sure he wanted. Harry was also responsible in this position for raising $2,500 a to support the Mississippi COFO one man one vote project. Several weeks before leaving for Harvard he received a phone call from a Neo Nazi who threatened to bomb the church and harm his girl friend if he didn't stop what he and others were doing.
Harvard began with a break-in to Harry's station wagon.His few possessions were stolen, including a nearly finished poetry manuscript. The elitist institution was intellectually challenging for Harry, but he saw how the rich controlled the country and the world with family ties, corporate money, and a willingness to go to war for "vested interests." Harry continued civil rights work in Roxbury, and took a job as a youth minister in Glouchester. He excelled in his studies of Philosophy and Religion, working on religious language from a Wittgensteinian point of view. He worked with Quakers and other political activists as the Vietnam war geared up in 1964, was a very early member of Students for a Democratic Society, worked for weeks organizing what became 35 bus loads of people from the Boston area to attend the first anti-war march on Washington. He and others jumped the fence behind the White House, ran around with the Harvard banner, and were chased over the fence again by guards.
Harry learned that his PhD could end up with him staying at Harvard for up to 10 years. He decided to pursue another opportunity a place at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. That opportunity allowed him great organizing freedom, and lots of time to do anti war organizing not only in Iowa City but throughout the Midwest. He was standing only a couple of feet from Steve Smith when he burned the first draft card in the U.S. He was immediately in a car to Chicago where in an overnight meeting it was decided to support draft card burning, and resistance to the war in all forms. Harry realized that he was in fact a displaced warrior in his own country. He later authored an epic book-length poem The Displaced Warrior.
At the writer's workshop Harry found acceptance with other poets, one of whom was a Vietnam vet. He was the subject of a special workshop session called by Paul Engel the workshop chair to deal with his poem The Balalaika published in Peace News in England and considered by Paul to be an embarrassment to the workshop. Another poem one about detainment camps was also called on the carpet. Harry was defended by fellow grad students including his friend the Vietnam vet. He began to be published in both New Left and regular literary magazines. Critics called his poetry too philosophical or too religious. He got pigeonholed as a political poet and a spokesperson for the New Left.
Harry met Linda, his first wife and fellow activist, in the workshop. Daughter Lani was born at the U of I hospital in 1967. Together they finished his MFA and her work at U of I and took jobs in the English Department at Oregon State University. They rented a 100-acre farm 12 miles SW of Corvallis, gardened, put on horses, leased the grain room and horse barn, traded rent for remodeling some of the house, and tried to pull back from the intensive political organizing work. It didn't work. The first term at OSU Harry's black students pulled him into the famous Black Boycott centered on the practices of the athletic department. They requested that he give an organizing speech on a table in the Memorial Union, which he did, and which ended up with his picture on the front of the next morning's paper and a death threat on his office door. So began a saga of working with radical students and faculty doing anti war work, student housing reorganization while teaching four courses for which he was paid and several courses each term in the then Free University, for which he was not. The contract with the English department required a tenure vote for retention. On the day that he received a faculty development grant he also received his notice of termination.
During this period at OSU Harry published two books of poetry, an epic poem, and worked on the groundbreaking native American book Seven Arrows authored by Hyemeyohsts Storm. Harry and Storm worked on another book which Harry authored, Teachings From The People. Harper and Row purchase the book but did not publish it because of a threat from AIM (American Indian Movement) activists.
Harry retains that manuscript and others in similar vein all these years later. They are available on request.
After starting and running River Run Live and Learn Community in 1970, Harry and Linda bought what quickly became Sunbow Farm. Their son, Blue Heron, was home birthed several weeks later.Linda left a year later with the children to pursue her life, Harry developed the gardens, a goat herd, and eventually married Mia Posner with whom he developed Sunbow Farm products focused around their famous wood-fired soy dairy. They served 14 local accounts for over six years, all the while developing the market garden aspect of the farm. They entered the new Corvallis Farmers' Market sometime in the early 1980s. In the late 80s Harry with Joe Farrell and apprentices grew enough produce to serve restaurants, several stores, and two new farmers' markets he started, the Corvallis Saturday and Peoples Wednesday Markets in Portland. He was at that time also serving as an officer in Willamette Valley Tilth, writing a garden column, writing and speaking on the new organic agriculture, and was briefly given the job of President of Willamette Valley Tilth before being given the job as the first Executive Director of the breakaway organization started by Harry, Lynn Coody and Yvonne Frost Oregon Tilth.
Harry took a half time job in the OSU theatre department in 1973. He continued working there until 1984 when he began teaching playwriting. He also wrote plays, helped students produce their class-generated plays, and was eventually given awards for teaching and creating the playwriting and screenwriting programs, which were never officially funded.
Mia left the farm in 1992 and Harry began farming with Joe and Bina Schulte while continuing in all his other commitments. In this time he was beginning to speak around the region and at ACRES USA conferences, wrote the third edition of The Transition Document, authored several more poetry books retired as Executive Director of Tilth, staying on as an advisor. He retired from OSU in 2001 and met Cheri Clark shortly thereafter.
Together Cheri and Harry remodeled the old farm house and landscaped Sunbow, developed The Institute of BioWisdom and worked to established a means for the farm to operate as a perpetual trust. Harry currently sits on the board of Ten Rivers Food Web, which he helped to start, acts as President of The Tilth Foundation, teaches, farms and writes.