A few weeks ago I was contacted by Eve and I’s longtime and dear friend, Pat O’Dwyer. She had been at a function in Syracuse and happened to speak with a staffer from the NYS Comptroller’s Office, Kyle Seeley. Kyle not only works for the Comptroller, he happens to also have grown up in Orange County and went to the Minisink School system. Kyle happened to mention to Pat that the Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli (http://www.osc.state.ny.us/about/bio.htm) is very interested in learning more about agriculture in NYS. Pat responded, “I have the place he needs to go and the people he needs to meet.” Pat quickly called me and said that I would be soon receiving a call from Kyle. She asked if I would be interested in working on a tour and hosting the Comptroller on our farm. I responded, “you must be joking.” Lol! Of course I was thrilled for such an opportunity.
A few days later Kyle called me. We set up a day and time where he could come and meet me and start to talk about a tour. About a week later, in the midst of planting, Kyle arrived. I was very impressed with him. He was very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and energetic. I told him that I subscribe to the Comptroller’s weekly e-mail and I greatly appreciate his yearly summary of the economic importance of agriculture in NYS. He told me that the Comptroller would like to learn more facts and details about farming, first hand, from farmers across the state. With this information he and his office could then examine ways in which they could do more in behalf of agriculture in NYS. I took Kyle on a tour and introduced him to a fellow farmer friend of mine. We then talked about the tour Assemblyman Skoufis did last year (see: https://muckville.com/2014/06/19/assemblyman-james-skoufis-agricultural-tour-for-his-colleagues-from-the-nys-assembly/). I suggested a similar, if not scaled down tour. I thought it would be quite informative in the Comptroller could visit the Alamo and health clinic as well as the ABCD center in the Village of Florida. Kyle agreed. I connected Kyle with my dear friend Katherine Brieger (http://clinicians.org/about-us/board-of-directors/katherine-brieger-rd-cde/) the Executive Director of the Planetree Training Institute-HRHCare, who graciously contacted the staff of the ABCD center in terms of checking on their availability to host a tour. I also connected Kyle with our Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture Program Leader Maire (pronounced Mary) Ullrich (https://www.linkedin.com/pub/maire-ullrich/2/409/26b) who knows all things-Orange County agriculture. Kyle then came down, met Kathy in person and did a walk through tour of the Alamo and the ABCD school. With everything set we chose the date of May 18th. It turned out that I was able to take off from doing farm work on the 18th (I sprayed one tank of herbicides in the morning but dad and my brother Brian did the 2nd and 3rd tanks on their own) and join the tour from the start at the Alamo.
Initially we planned for a lunch at the world famous Quaker Creek Store (http://www.quakercreekstore.com) but a schedule change for the Comptroller did not allow that. Instead when we visited my farm we were able to offer a small platter which contained some of Quaker Creek’s best products.
The tour started at the Farmworker Community Center known as the “Alamo” (http://www.hrhcare.org/the-farmworkers-community-center). The Comptroller was joined by Kyle and Special Assistant for External Affairs Darrel Aubertine. Eve and I are big fans of Darrel. Before he was in this position he was Governor Cuomo’s first Commissioner Of Agriculture and Markets. Prior to that he was a member of the NYS Assembly and State Senate and Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He has been a fierce advocate and defender of NYS agriculture and in particular took on some very misinformed self appointed farmworker advocates. Eve and I and many farmers will always be very appreciative of the stand he took and efforts he made in our behalf.
Now, I have to mention that I have a former high school and college friend who works as a lobbyist for a firm in Albany. When Mr. DiNapoli was a member of the Assembly she frequently lobbied his office and met with him. When I told her he was coming to my farm she remarked “in the mess of Albany Tom DiNapoli is truly one of the good guys. This was a sentiment I heard echoed by numerous people, including Pat, Assemblyman Skoufis, amongst many others.
The event started in a meeting room at the Alamo. Darrel arrived first. The last time I had seen him in person was on my neighbor and friend John Glebocki’s farm (http://www.glebockifarms.com) in 2011 when the Governor toured the devastated farms after the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee (http://www.twcnews.com/archives/nys/hudson-valley/2011/09/22/cuomo-visits-area-hit-hard-by-storms-NY_558038.old.html). Numerous staff of Hudson River Health attended, including longtime Alamo Director Stash Grajewski (see the article on the Alamo: http://warwickinfo.net/floridaonion/TFODec2009web.pdf). The numerous health and dental and outreach services offered to the migrant farmworker community were detailed (http://www.hrhcare.org/healthcenters/goshen-the-alamo/). Both Darrel and the Comptroller listened intently and asked very insightful questions.
After the discussion a walking tour of both the Alamo and the clinic commenced.
After we left the Alamo we moved on to the ABCD School in the Village of Florida (http://www.abcdny.org/sites/default/files/profiles/2011/ABCD%20at%20Florida%20Profile%20Fact%20Sheet%202011.pdf). The staff first provided an informative briefing regarding the services they provide and some of the challenges they face, including in terms of staff retention. I brought the proposal to forgive college loans in NYS if someone enters farming as a career (http://wamc.org/post/part-five-student-loan-series-focuses-young-farmers & http://wamc.org/post/student-loan-series-update-young-farmer-reaps-good-news)and asked why can’t the same be done if someone chose to enter the career path of working for one of these childcare centers. The Comptroller detailed how when he was in the Assembly he worked on a similar proposal. We both said we would reach out to Assemblyman Skoufis about this.
A tour of the facility then commenced.
After the tour The Comptroller, Darrel and Kyle and I made a quick stop to one of my fields down Indiana Road. i showed him some of the damage we have suffered recently, thanks to the recent excessive dryness and heat. I also briefly discussed the current debt Eve and I carry and the daily financial struggles we face as small family farmers.
I also related to Tom a certain detail found in my yet to be published memoir “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life!” I related how a primary point of my book is how despite the odds and problems with our current system there are many good legislators and government bureaucrats who strive to do right by the people. and if you work hard, and know what you are doing, you can effect beneficial and positive change for your community. A linchpin of this is the integrity of the players and the system. In his position of Comptroller he is one of the persons who ensures that integrity and I thanked him for his efforts in that area. They are very much appreciated.
We then headed to our farm. Maire set up before our arrival a table with some of Quaker Creek’s finest products. Not only did Maire join us but so did our good friend, Orange County Farm Bureau President and local mixed vegetable farmer John Lupinski. John too is one of the good guys who puts in tireless efforts in behalf of the local farming community. I gave Tom and Darrel a brief tour of the farm, including the many photos found in our farm office. One photo included the montage of officials we have met over the years.
He and Darrel also noticed Annie Rabbit’s recognition of me that hangs on the wall (https://muckville.com/2014/01/10/assemblywoman-annie-rabbitts-resolution-recognizing-my-efforts-on-behalf-of-onion-farmers-and-the-onion-farming-industry-in-new-york-state/). Both Tom and Darrel served with Annie in the Assembly and we all had high praise for her and her dedicated service in behalf of her constituents.
I also discussed a history of the region (https://muckville.com/2013/11/30/national-geographic-november-1941story-on-the-historic-black-dirt-region-of-orange-county-new-york/) and of my family (https://muckville.com/2014/01/11/a-tour-for-princeton-students-and-a-little-bit-of-family-history-about-my-great-grandparents-frank-julia-pawelski/ & https://muckville.com/2014/12/20/fantastic-8mm-movies-that-stretch-back-to-the-1930s/). I also related what makes our soil so special (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/24/dining/24onio.html).
I have to say I was totally impressed with how closely the Comptroller listened to what you had to say. This wasn’t a perfunctory event. I’ve hosted and attended many such events in the past and frequently it is very obvious that the various politicos aren’t really listening to what you have to say at all. This wasn’t the case with Tom.
While in the office and looking at the montage photo I related to Tom and Darrel the story of how my dad tried to get a “full hug, with a pat and a sway” from Senator Gillibrand when she visited our farm in 2010 (https://muckville.com/2014/01/03/a-caption-in-the-university-of-iowa-alumni-publication-the-stories-behind-it/). Around fifteen minutes later Eve came out (he had heard a number of stories about Eve) and joined us. After introductions she and Tom posed for a picture. Why are they laughing in the pictures? Because the Comptroller asked if he was going to get a “full hug.” I nearly fell to the floor laughing.
We then engaged in a small discussion, for nearly an hour, on some of the issues affecting farmers locally and how the Comptroller and his office could help. Maire gave a number of facts and figures related to Orange County farming and detailed some important dairy related issues to the Comptroller. The se issues included the very contentious self-appointed advocate driven labor bill (http://nyfarmworkerprotectionbill.com/index.html & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpRWyr57qzw), NY Rising, dairy and beef processing, and a proposal to deal with onion culls and a bio digester. many of these projects are potential investments in the farming community. Tom and Darrel listened, and asked great questions.
Caleb and Jonah joined us and I got to brag a bit about Caleb, on how he was accepted to NJIT and awarded essentially a full ride academic scholarship. Caleb plans on studying some form of engineering. I told the group I hoped he would return tot he farm and armed with his degree he could then fix any of our equipment that breaks. Everyone laughed.
I have to say that what I heard about the Comptroller is 100% true. Tom DiNapoli is truly a very nice man. So is his Special Assistant Darrel Aubertine and his staffer Kyle Seeley. They genuinely listened and were eager to find ways to help farmers. It was a fantastic event and it closed with me inviting the Comptroller to ride with me in the army truck as we harvest (https://youtu.be/Oc5mhpBuoW8). He said he may just do that!