A caption in the University of Iowa Alumni publication & the stories behind it

The following post contains a couple of small segments from from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.”

The October 2011 edition of Iowa Alumni Magazine contained the following snippet:


Back on June 30th, 2010 I was invited, via Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, to testify before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee in the first hearing held to reauthorize the Farm Bill.

Link for the website and screen shot of the page:



It was an incredible honor. One humorous result of my oral testimony was, as the Iowa Alumni Magazine made reference to, I was able to work in a Bugs Bunny cartoon quote. From my unpublished memoir:

The highlight though came during the panel discussion after we read our submitted written testimony. When Vilsack testified he detailed a plan he had to create 100,000 new farmers. He based it on the same theme as past instituted programs to get 100,000 new law enforcement persons and mentioned the push for new teachers, or something along those lines. When our panel was up we were asked by Senator Chambliss what we essentially thought about Vilsack’s 100,000 new farmer proposal or how we should get young people to stay in farming.

When they got to me with that question I had a problem. Now, I immediately felt that Vilsack’s proposal was a hare-brained scheme that was totally unrealistic and quite laughable. In fact, when Vilsack said it Eve and I literally burst out laughing. But, I couldn’t say that during the hearing. I actually had the hope of getting Vilsack to visit my farm. I had already met with two previous Secretaries of Agriculture, but none had ever come to my farm.

So, when asked the question here is what I said, and this is taken directly from the official, codified and printed Congressional Record of the hearing:

“Going back to what Secretary Vilsack said, the best way to get people young working on the farms and stay on the farms is make it profitable. And the thing is, I am not looking to be a Elmer J. Fudd millionaire and own a mansion and a yacht. I would just like to make a living. That is what I am looking for, make a living.”

I was a broadcasting and film studies student, I hold a Master of Arts degree from one of this nation’s premier research institutions, the University of Iowa. And I was able to work in a Bugs Bunny cartoon quote into my testimony, and that quote is now part of the official Congressional record. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

On a more serious note, the powers that be need to address the issue of how we farmers get so little of the retail dollar. There are deep, systemic reasons for that problem that need one day to be addressed. We need to encourage production where the bulk of the population lives. These are complex problems but must be addressed if you want to save production agriculture in this country. Make farming a more profitable endeavor and families will continue to farm and people may even eventually enter it. The job numbers will be able to reflect on-farm jobs as a source of meaningful income and economic development. Ignoring this deep systemic problems and instead coming up with gimmicks that won’t work is nothing more than shuffling the deck furniture as the ship sinks.

Here is a copy of the official Congressional Record with that quote (they send you two books after you testify) and my officially submitted written testimony, which you can also download as a pdf file off of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee’s website via the link above. You can also on the website fast forward to our panel’s testimony and watch it. We testified between 45 minutes and an hour.


As the brief blurb in the Iowa Alumni Magazine mentioned, I’ve appeared in hundreds of media pieces over the years, ranging from CNN multiple times, CBS News national, ABC local, the NY Times and numerous local outlets and trade publications far more times than I could ever keep track of. But my oddest media citation has to be the October 2010 issue of Vogue Magazine which profiled Sen. Gillibrand. Here is the back story (for some reason my draft memoir does not contain this story, though I allude to it multiple times. Ah, something new I have to go back during the editing process to insert).

Starting in the summer of 2010 Sen. Gillibrand, who is the first Senator from New York State to sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee in roughly 40 years (prior to her appointment tot he Senate she sat on the House Agriculture Committee), planned on holding a series of field hearings on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill on farms across New York State. And our farm wad the first farm chosen. We were given a couple of weeks notice and we worked with the Senator’s office to put the event together. The event was very well attended and a great success. Here are a series of photos and media pieces on and of it:


Two humorous incidents took place during the event. The first was captured in a series of photos below. During the series of photos I told the Senator about a WCBS 2 NYC news story that had recently run about how extended Viagra use can lead to hearing loss. The story was being played on our tv in the kitchen. I was in our office on the computer as Eve, Caleb & Jonah watched it in the kitchen. At the end of the story Jonah proclaimed very loudly “uh oh mom, you know what that means, Boppa (my dad) will have to learn sign language.”

You can see in these series of photos when I got to that punch line:


The other humorous incident is also related to my dad. Once again, from my unpublished memoir:

In 2010 I was interviewed multiple times by YNN reporter Elaina Athens. She is a fantastic reporter and does a great job covering farm stories for YNN. She is also a very attractive woman. My dad typically is not a fan when I talk to reporters. It takes away from other, more important farm work, in his view. There are exceptions though, like when reporters that look like Elaina are doing the story.

The first story, done in the early spring in April, about the exceptionally dry conditions we were facing, he only got a glimpse of her from a distance. But later in the season, in June, she did a story about the self-appointed farmworker advocate driven bill. When she came to the farm my dad was picking rocks for some reason. He does that on occasion. Well, we were talking about the topic of the story, prior to her formally interviewing me, and my dad drove over on our big field forklift. He stops it and starts telling her the story of how he stepped on a nail the previous year and got a serious infection. He then had a to get a tetanus shot, which since he was now 70 years old would probably the last he will ever get. But then he went to visit my sister at her place of work, and my sister has a hot co-worker who gave at first my mom a hug, but not him. But then he got one after he told her the story of his infection and last tetanus shot. But when he told our friend Tom Savaglio this story, and how it would be his last tetanus shot ever Tom said to him “don’t sell yourself short Rich.” And then he laughed and thought about it and hey, Tom may be right. And after telling Elaina and I all of this he pauses and says:

“So, if you hugged my son I’d like a hug too.”

Elaina laughed and simply said, “I didn’t hug your son.”

In August our farm hosted Senator Gillibrand’s first Farm Bill field meeting. Elaina covered it for YNN. Ah, another hugging opportunity for my dad. He spotted her and eventually chatted. Later when Elaina interviewed me she said my dad tried to score a hug, but didn’t. She was laughing very hard. My dad was quite dejected. My mom, when she learned of this told my dad he should be hugging one of Pastor Farrish’s parishioners who attended the event. They seemed like nice ladies, but, not what my dad was looking for. After the event Sen. Gillibrand noticed he was dejected and asked why. He said, “I want to hug that reporter, but she won’t let me.” The Senator responded with “I’ll give you a hug.” My dad’s eyes brightened, he smiled and asked, “a full hug?” She asked, “uhm, what’s that?” he said, “with a pat and a sway.” She scrunched her nose, laughed and said, “I don’t think my husband would be happy with that.” My dad shrugged his shoulders and happily accepted the standard hug. Not bad dad, not bad!

Here are some pictures of my dad with the Senator, post half hug:


But what about Vogue? Well, a day or two prior to the event Sen. Gillibrand’s DC staff said that a photographer from Vogue who was profiling the Senator would be at the event. We were asked not to share that information and we told no one. When the day arrived there was a number of media present (all secured and known by me) but I did not see a photographer that was not connected with one of the media outlets I got to attend. So I simply thought that something got changed and the Vogue person was a no show.

Fast forward to October, the day the November issue of Vogue hit the newsstands. Gillibrand’s DC staff called me: “holy smokes, you’re in the Vogue article.”

Me: “What? The photographer never showed. What are you talking about?”
Staff: “It wasn’t a photographer, it was the writer. He was there, and you’re quoted in the piece.”

Okay, I’ve been interviewed and have been quoted in tons of press pieces over the years, tv and radio, print, magazine, etc …. But I never imagined I would ever be quoted in any article under any circumstances that would appear in Vogue Magazine.

The following is the link for the article online (it’s a very good piece) the section that deals with our event, and the magazine itself in case you can’t see it via the link:


U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a petite woman with pale-blue eyes and perfectly coiffed blonde hair, is sitting at a long table in a huge barn on a farm in upstate New York. There are great sacks of onions piled up to the ceiling on pallets and a few pieces of hulking equipment used during the harvest. It’s a safe bet that this barn has been spiffed up for the senator’s visit, a very special occasion for the family that lives here. It is one of those intoxicating August afternoons—cool and dry with a gentle breeze and big puffy white clouds set against a brilliant blue sky so perfect it seems fake.

This kind of event, when staged by a different sort of politician, one less finely attuned to small-town attitudes, could strike a casual observer as too perfect to be real. But Gillibrand is nothing if not genuine, and through sheer force of personality she bends the occasion to suit her style, which is essentially folksy and earnest. She radiates kindness. But she is also direct and no-nonsense. Despite the fact that she is a Democrat (and a fairly progressive one, at that) and worked for fifteen years as a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, she seems utterly at ease among this crowd of mostly Republican farmers, with their rough hands and weathered faces. Indeed, when she arrived moments earlier—in a plain-Jane beige linen suit and flat shoes—she walked around the room and introduced herself to everyone, including the children, shaking hands and looking everyone directly in the eyes: “Thank you for coming out today.”

She tells the farmers that her goal is to understand their worries and concerns so that she can begin to create a list of New York State’s specific priorities for the farm bill, which will be written in 2012, as it is every five years. They will do most of the talking, she tells them. She is here to listen. And talk they do, with surprising intensity and an impressive fluency in the legislative language of Washington, D.C. Gillibrand studiously takes notes while the farmers talk for nearly an hour—about immigration policy, land conservation, the estate tax, the price of milk. When she does speak, she displays a dazzling mastery of arcane agricultural policy (Gillibrand is the first senator from New York to be on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years). In fact, when she is introduced by Chris Pawelski, the man who owns this farm, he says, “Often when you deal with a member of the Senate, you have to explain the issues in very simple terms. But the senator had an immediate grasp of complex issues; we were able to talk to her in technical terms. Her appointment to fill the rest of Secretary of State Clinton’s term was the best possible choice for farmers in this state.” After an enthusiastic round of applause, Pawelski says, “One final point: We were born one day apart. She is one day older than me.” After a beat, Gillibrand leans into her mic and deadpans, “You will be doing what you’re told,” and everyone laughs.

As the crowd files out of the barn, I express admiration to one of the senator’s aides for his boss’s ability to charm a roomful of Republicans, and he says, “She can do the same thing on derivatives, comfortably rapping about financial markets. She walks into these huge churches in Brooklyn and Queens and starts talking about the asthma rates and the environmental-justice movement. It’s just her comfort level with so many subjects.” This reminds me of something Tina Brown, the editor in chief of The Daily Beast, told me: “People underestimate how smart Senator Gillibrand is. I hosted a dinner for her to meet a number of CEOs and media figures, and in conversation she was brilliant in her analysis of the economic meltdown. And she is an amazing fund-raiser . . . an unstoppable machine when she works the room.”


As I have mentioned multiple times previously my campaign to raise funds for an editor will be featured in an upcoming episode of the new Crowd Funder Show.


What is the Crowd Funder Show and what does it mean to appear on the show? According to their website:

The Crowd Funder TV Show highlights various ideas that have been selected based on their merit for creativity, social relevance, and commercial viability. Each episode focuses the spotlight on six or seven inspiring projects and personal goals that give the viewing audience insight into the campaign, its principal, and the reason(s) why it should come to fruition. The Crowd Funder TV Show highlights various ideas that have been selected based on their merit for creativity, social relevance, and commercial viability.

What is so neat about their crowd funding method, versus Kickstarter’s, is that it is not “all or nothing.” Further, the rewards are much more exciting. Again, from their website:

Viewers can choose to support the projects they watch by contributing directly to the campaign website or by calling a toll-free number. The Crowd Funder Show rewards contributors with sponsored gift cards for the same amount of money they contribute, up to $100. Supporting people and their projects has never been easier so it’s no wonder you can’t help but feel like you’re a part of something special. The Crowd Funder TV Show is an interesting, inspiring program that highlights human ingenuity and co-operation.

When you go to my page you will see locations once can choose from for the gift card include: Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot and Toys R Us. So, if you plan on doing any shopping at any of these locations anyway you are essentially donating to my cause for free. A total win-win!

6 thoughts on “A caption in the University of Iowa Alumni publication & the stories behind it

  1. Pingback: The wonderful and “famous” Eve! | Mucking it up in Muckville

  2. Pingback: Video of my U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee testimony on the Farm Bill in 2010 | Mucking it up in Muckville

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  4. Pingback: The black dirt region hosts a mini tour for NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and staff! | Mucking it up in Muckville

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