Applewood Drive rises from Haasadahl Road in South Whitehall Township in a steep climb, and at the top of the hill, there is a reward for the eyes.
There are rows of enough lovely apple trees to make John Chapman (the legendary Johnny Appleseed) proud. That is, the apple trees used to be there. The lovely hilltop is now hellish, possibly the victim of America's corporate welfare state.
On Saturday, as Tim Leibensperger of Allentown reached the top of that climb on his bicycle, he was dismayed. "It's quite an ugly sight," he said. "All the apple trees were being uprooted on the hillside."
Leibensperger said another cyclist, a resident of that area, also had stopped and told him it was to make way for a development.
"While not trying to go all tree hugger on anyone, that was probably the worst display of land destruction I've seen that will be converted to development," he said.
Crystal Volack, who lives right across the road from the devastated orchard, also was told a development was being planned there. "I just couldn't believe they were doing it," she told me on Tuesday.
While the landscape is being changed, it's not for development in the usual sense.
"There's no development planned for the property," said David Jaindl, whose big agricultural operation owns the orchard. There were two reasons to yank the trees.
"The trees have exceeded their productive life cycle," he told me, and instead of apple trees, the land probably will be used to grow corn or soybeans.
That, to me, is not nearly as distressing as a warehouse, and I have nothing against soybeans (in our house we love our edamame). But I'll miss those trees, especially their spring blossoms. (I sometimes climb that same hill on my bicycle.)
I cannot blame Jaindl, however, for switching from lovely apple trees to blah corn or soybeans. I blame the welfare state.
Bear with me as I go through a couple of convolutions to get to the point, starting with the fact that the word "welfare" was very much in the news this week.
Legislation to change the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to the "Department of Human Services" has been introduced, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend.
One bill was introduced by state Sen. Bob Mensch, a Republican whose gerrymandered district slithers from Montgomery County through Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton counties. Another was by state Rep. Thomas Murt, R-Montgomery.
"The word 'welfare' has been used and abused," the Inky quoted John Denny, a consultant with a coalition of social-service agencies, as saying. A letter from all five of the state's former governors addressed the "stigma" attached to the word "welfare."
(The word may be abused, but so are taxpayers. DPW accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state's $28 billion budget.)
Anyway, I'm skeptical of any program that rewards people for doing nothing, creating vast parasitic cultures. But there is a form of welfare even more sinister.
For now, let's skip the bank and auto industry bailouts and focus on a form of welfare for the rich that has a bearing on what is happening on Applewood Drive.
Farm subsidies began during the Great Depression, to help desperate family farmers. Now, according to the Reason Foundation, they're almost entirely designed for "subsidizing wealthy farmers, to the detriment of just about everyone else."
The federal government pours billions of dollars into direct farm subsidy payments, the foundation said, and even more money to help big agricultural companies buy crop insurance. Taxpayers are stuck with about two-thirds of the cost of such insurance.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, sent me stacks of statistics on farm subsidies. They totaled over $277 billion from 1995 to 2011, with a huge share going to agribusinesses in the Deep South. Texas tops the list with just under $26 billion, compared to $1.9 billion for Pennsylvania. Just two rice-growing companies in one dinky town, Stuttgart, Ark., pulled in $868 million.
Nobody in the Lehigh Valley grows rice, it seems, and the biggest subsided crop, corn, accounted for $35 million, total, for all of Lehigh and Northampton counties.
That brings us back to Applewood Drive.
EWG spokesman Don Carr told me states such as Texas, where apple orchards are few and far between, receive massive farm subsidies for specific crops like corn, rice, soybeans and cotton. Vegetables and fruit are not subsidized at all. "Apples have never been in a direct subsidy program," he said.
There is an obvious need to end the crop insurance scam, which forces taxpayers to make sure zillionaire agribusiness moguls cannot lose money, no matter what they do, but Carr does not oppose subsidies per se.
"We feel it's in our best interest to keep farms in business, especially the small family farms," he said, "but [the government] has been subsidizing the largest operations" — and all the subsidies are for crops other than fruit and vegetables.
So we cannot blame Jaindl if he switches from apples to corn. We certainly can blame any member of Congress, however, who lacks the spine to buck politically powerful Southern delegations and their selective welfare gravy train for zillionaires.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays