Chammings ran for office 10 years ago to fight proposed power line development across farms
STILLWATER — Many farmers today have a job off the farm. Some farmers have several.
Lisa Chammings farms in Stillwater Township, just down the road from the farm she grew up on. She also teaches chemistry at Kittatinny Regional High School in nearby Hampton Township.
And, she is mayor of Stillwater, now in her third one-year term.
Besides giving a farmer’s voice to the governing body of this rural community, Chammings also brings the voice of a township native.
She said her interest in politics really began when the township governing body didn’t oppose a major power line development that was proposed in 2010.
Chamming didn’t want the huge towers and attendant problems adjacent to her property, so she ran for office. She was elected to the township committee in 2012 and to her first term as mayor in 2017.
Chammings’s father was born in Stillwater and served as “basically a constable” for a few years in the 1960s before he went to the State Police Academy in Sea Girt. He was township police chief from 1972 to 2008 when the force was disbanded and law enforcement turned over to the state police. (“A large territory and not a lot of officers,” Chammings commented.) Her mother moved to Stillwater when she was 18 and taught for 30 years in the township, serving as school librarian and teaching fifth and sixth grades.
Not only did Chammings’ parents farm, her mother’s parents farmed on Old Mine Road in Walpack, on land now part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Stillwater, on the southwest of Sussex County, has a number of farms. It also has the small recreational Swartzwood Lake and Girl Scout Camp Lou Henry Hoover (named for Herbert Hoover’s First Lady, an avid supporter of the Girl Scouts). Three restaurants attract visitors from around the county and farther afield. It also has some of the typical problems of rural communities. The only bank recently closed after many years in the center of town. The Middleville Post Office has reduced hours, although the Stillwater Post Office recently increased its hours.
Also closed is the stately Presbyterian Church which is a landmark for people entering the township from the south and west.
The township is notorious for power outages.
“We are on the terminus of three circuits,” Chammings said. The Newton circuit, which serves the Swartzwood section of the township, is not usually out for too long, but the Blairstown and Frankfort circuits can be down in Stillwater for days.
“We manage,” Chammings said, although most residents are on private wells, which is inevitably the biggest problem when the power is out.
Chammings said she gets calls at all hours but “a lot of questions can be answered with a cell phone.”
“I can call from the field,” she noted, and added she is close to the municipal building if it becomes necessary to go there.
“The people at town hall know I have other responsibilities,” she said.
As a farmer, Chammings isn’t always a fan of modern technology. She likes her old Ford tractors that don’t have computers and are easy to fix.
She claims to be old school in her teaching style as well. “I still use the blackboard to show how to solve problems,” she said, adding, “I believe in reading concepts from the textbook.” She likes the fact that chemistry gives students the opportunity for hands-on learning.
Chammings hasn’t always had such a short commute. She started teaching in 1987 at a small Christian school in Pennsylvania, then taught in Irvington and at Blair Academy before Kittatinny, where she is in her 18th year.
“I went from the inner city to Blair,” she noted, but added every school at which she has taught has been great in its own way.
Besides farming the 220 acres she owns, Chammings also hays the farm she grew up on, which she now owns with her sister, and two parcels of land near Paulinskill Lake. She also makes hay on about 60 acres on Fairview Lake Road which has “a beautiful viewshed.” Her parents’ farm has more storage for equipment and there is a large hay barn on her property.
She said hay is the most successful crop in Stillwater because of the deer population, although she can also do oats. As if to prove her point, the day a photographer arrived to take Chammings’ photo four deer were blocking her driveway.
Chammings has regular customers for her hay among the many horse farms in the area, including Spring Valley Equestrian Center and Amy Wunderlich Performance Horses.
“I’ve never had to go to Hackettstown, she said, referring to the Hackettstown Cooperative Auction Market,” she said.
She has help on the farm from her uncle Herb Birchenough, a retired accountant, and her friend Rich Goerner who is a general contractor and does HVAC work in the winter months.
And, since her “day job” is also in the off-season for farming, Chammings can maintain her aggressive schedule on the hay fields.
Teaching chemistry and farming are not as far apart as they may sound, she said.
“It definitely helps to understand fertilizer, soil testing and soil deficiencies,” she said. Although she uses some inorganic fertilizer, she doesn’t use herbicides. She also credits the mathematical nature of chemistry with helping her problem solving skills, which are much needed when equipment needs fixing.
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