Profile: Dick Riseling, founder and Executive Director Emeritus of SASD

Great food and heartfelt tributes for Sullivan County’s tireless champion of social, environmental and economic justice  

Dick Riseling

Dick Riseling

More than 150 close friends and admirers joined SASD founder Dick Riseling on September 6th at the Catskill Art Society in Livingston Manor to celebrate his remarkable activism on behalf of Sullivan County. Numerous guests took the podium to thank Dick for his help and wisdom over the years, and to share reminiscences. State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther delivered a formal citation that described some of Dick’s most notable achievements.  The crowd occasionally gasped with surprise and broke into applause several times as the citation was read.

Many of the attendees may not have been aware of Dick’s illustrious academic background, which includes an undergraduate degree in international affairs from Yale University, a Master of Divinity in Social Ethics from Yale Divinity School, a Master of Arts in International Law from the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, and a Masters in Public Education from Baruch College.  Or that, after serving as the Director of the Office of International Affairs for the American Baptist Convention, Dick became a consultant on women’s health care, and then spent 23 years counseling students and teaching labor studies, micro and macro-economics and US relations with Cuba within the SUNY system.

Most of us are more familiar with Dick’s more recent role as Executive Director of SASD from 2004 to 2012, and as an experimental farmer (just like George Washington!) at Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Center, which he founded in 1972 with his partner Sonja Hedlund. There, Dick and Sonja  develop economically viable new methods of agriculture, produce fine meat and vegetables, and raise draft horses.  Along the way, their farm and energy tours have hosted visitors from all over the world.  They have trained numerous agricultural interns, 47 of whom are now full-time farmers – a remarkable contribution all by itself.

For the past 19 years, Dick has delighted radio listeners with Connections, his weekly call-in program on WJFF, which features thought-provoking guests and explores renewable energy projects and social, environmental and economic issues.  His monthly column on sustainability, Greening Sullivan, has appeared in the Sullivan County Democrat for the past six years. Dick has somehow found time to serve on numerous committees and commissions, including the Sullivan County Charter Commission and as co-chair of the Energy Working Group for the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan.

Most importantly, Dick continues to be an inspiration to everyone who knows him –  as a lively seeker of innovative ideas and technology, and an energetic defender of human rights, social and economic equity, environmental justice, and sustainable agriculture.  His work on so many fronts connects these values to the real life challenges of real people from all walks of life.  A case in point:  combine a passion for agriculture with a deep understanding of the economic needs of farmers and a desire to bring better nutrition to schoolchildren, and you get a vibrant farm-to-school program, one of Dick’s latest endeavors.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with Dick know that he takes great delight in developing the talent and abilities of others and, in particular, of watching young people flourish in their chosen work.  What a marvelous gift!

SASD Board member Isaac Green Diebboll has crafted a lovely film portrait of Dick, called “Life with Horses,” which you can access here:  https://www.youtube.com/user/CommunityFilmWatch

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