An interesting twist in my life … one minute I’m fine, the next cardiac issues!

This has been an incredibly busy September. September is the peak month of our harvest season, so it is probably our busiest month as well. Further, every September I typically make a trip down to Capitol Hill for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Ag Advisory Panel Meeting and NY Farm Day Celebration. I typically schedule numerous meetings with a number of offices while I am down in DC. This year I was down from September 7th till September 10th. I hope to blog about that very eventful trip soon, which included:

  • a number of very productive meetings on Capitol Hill and at USDA
  • my getting a massive headache forcing me to leave the Farm Day reception early and vomiting in a DC cab
  • my return Amtrak train striking and killing a person who committed suicide outside of Philadelphia

… amongst many other events. Look for that blog entry eventually.

But in the meantime, allow me to share what happened afterward. I finally got home about 12:30am on Friday. I went back to work on the farm that Friday morning and by 6:30 or so I was out the door. I worked on the farm (obviously) all day Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. During that period I drove the forklift in the barn as we packed onions, the windrower to prep the fields for harvest and the big field forklift as we harvested. My days were pretty busy, typically working from 6 or 6:30 in the morning to 7:00 or 7:30 or later each night.

On early Tuesday morning I had an appointment with my neurologist who has been treating me for my headaches, Dr. Uri Napchan, of Middletown Medical (http://www.middletownmedical.com/services/specialty-medicine/neurology/). I brought with me a 50 lb. bag of yellow onions for Dr. Napchan and his staff. I carried the bag on my shoulders from the parking lot up to his office … no sweat. My appointment was my 3 month check-up as well as my quarterly botox shots (I get them for headaches, not for looks, though Eve says I look like a Klingon afterward).

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Well, the visit went well, my vitals were fine, etc ….. After the visit I returned to the farm and windrowed much of the day into the evening.

Here are a few pics taken that day:

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In fact, I even shot and eventually posted a video on YouTube of windowing:

Around 7:00pm I switched to the next field. It is a very wide field and I had to walk the width to count the beds to determine where the center is.

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It’s a wide field, about 50 beds or so. And as I walked the width of the field I started to notice slight discomfort, almost a feeling of pain in my chest, around my heart. This struck me as odd because by this point in the season I’m at the peak of my physical activity and should feel any discomfort after walking a few feet. I filed away what happened, said nothing to Eve later, and continued to windrow for another half hour or so.

The next morning I woke, had breakfast, viewed my weather video, drank my coffee and got out the door at about 6:30am. The first thing I do in the morning, every morning since late April, is take care of our employees’ drinking water. The 5 gallon jug is typically left in the barn. I carry it, with whatever water is in it, to the faucet outside my house, dump the old water, fill it with fresh water and ice, and then take it to the barn.

The bucket:

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I grabbed the bucket and carried it to my faucet. By the time I got to my faucet I experienced sharp and pronounced chest pains that dropped me to my knees. I also could not catch my breath. I literally crawled into my house. Eve was still there, had not left to work. She obviously was a bit freaked out and wanted me to call our doctor. After 5 minutes the pain subsided and I could breath no problem. I assured her that what happened was some sort of anomaly but it wouldn’t happen again. I then went outside, emptied then filled the bucket with water and ice and proceeded to carry it to the barn.

And when I got to the barn I once again was dropped to my knees by the very intense pain.

I crawled into our farm office where my dad was sitting. He nearly panicked, telling me to call the doctor. After about 5 minutes the pain subsided and I felt fine. I told him if something like that happened again I would definitely call the physician that treats me.

I then went out to the field to windrow, which I did from about 7 until about noon. Since I never experienced pain like that I decided to tweet about it. At 9:08am I sent this tweet:

Most of my tweets automatically get posted to my Facebook page. I assumed, after I tweeted and it was posted, that most of my social media friends and followers would say:

“What complaining about you slacker? Get your tail back to work!”

That’s not the overwhelming reaction I received.

Both on Twitter but primarily on Facebook my friends overwhelmingly urged me to seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. Dozens of person told me that what I experienced was not typical or usual and I should seek help immediately.

I didn’t take it seriously. At that point I had roughly $150,000 in farming expenses for the season and roughly $20,000 in sales. i attributed it simply to some form of anxiety or stress, not physical. As I was finishing windowing I watched as my father, who is in his mid 70’s, skipped his lunch to rake onions over to prepare for harvesting.

How can I stop working over my situation when I see that? I proceeded then to drive the tractor back to our property that is between my house and my parent’s house, park it, and I then walked a few hundred feet back to my house.

And when I got to my house I felt very noticeable chest discomfort that one could characterize as pain. And at that point I knew something was up. I called Eve at work and she was adamant I had to call our primary care provider. Because of her insistence (and because of the overwhelming response on social media) I agreed to give our nurse practitioner Vicki Rheaume at Horizon Family Medical a call (http://www.horizonfamilymedical.com/locations/florida/). When we spoke I related my conditions and what I had been experiencing, including on the field Tuesday night and I asked her “don’t you think Vicki that this all might be stress or anxiety?” She paused for a second and said that she would not say that and she insisted I either go to the ER or call my cardiologist asap. That surprised me a bit. I really expected her to say it was stress or anxiety. Or maybe that’s what I wanted to hear.

I then called my cardiologist’s office. It had previously been part of Horizon but was now called the Hudson Valley Heart Center (http://www.hvheartcenter.com/index.php). When I called I detailed my symptoms to the scheduler and asked if someone could see me. The scheduler responded “we do have a space in about an hour and half if you can come in.” I sort of grimaced and replied “well … I’m all dirty and we’re harvesting now, do you have any time tomorrow?” I still wasn’t taking this too seriously. She said they did have time available at 4pm the next day. I said I would take it. I wouldn’t see the doctor I saw last time, this time I’d see Dr. John Portelli.

I then proceeded to continue to work as we harvested till about 7pm or so. I started to notice that when I would exert myself a bit I would start to feel some chest discomfort. But as Eve and I laid in bed that night I continued to insist it was obviously stress or anxiety over what was turning into a not so great season on the farm.

The next morning I worked as I normally would on the small barn lift as we graded and packed onions. Then at about 10pm a contingent of USDA employees from the Risk Management Agency came to my farm with local Cornell Cooperative Agents for a tour and discussion about crop insurance.

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After they left I graded onions and then had lunch with my friend Chris Olert at the fabulous Quaker Creek Store (http://www.quakercreekstore.com). I then went back to work and worked until 2pm grading onions.

During the day I continued to notice if I moved to quickly or attempted to lift anything heavy like a bag of onions I would feel noticeable chest pain. Again, I continued to assume it was stress. i showered and drove to the heart center’s office in Chester for my 4pm appointment. After filling out some basic paperwork a nurse took my vitals and then Dr. Portelli came in to examine me. they did an EKG which I believed didn’t show anything unusual or remarkable and I believe my vitals were also good (my blood pressure is typically low). So after explaining my symptoms and examining me I asked the doctor if it was probably stress or anxiety causing my symptoms. Dr. Portelli said “no, I’m saying heart. This sounds like heart.” He diagnosed me with exertion angina and he then ordered an immediate stress test. He walked me out to the scheduler and stood by to ensure that I would be the first person seen the next day. The scheduler remarked later “he is taking this very seriously, he usually doesn’t stand and wait like that after asking for the appointment to be made.” He prescribed for me a beta blocker to slow don my heart and nitroglycerin tablets. That shocked me.

When I arrived at my pharmacy, The Florida Pharmacy, Charlie the pharmacist came out and handed me the nitroglycerin tablets and said< “this is to be taken seriously, this is life or death serious.” He then gave me the very specific instructions as to when and how to take the nitroglycerin tablets.

I still felt this was all stress or anxiety induced. I firmly believed that. One reason I waited almost two days to actually see a doctor was because I didn’t want to bother very busy people with very important jobs treating persons with very real illnesses. I didn’t want to waste their time or divert their energies and attention from where they should be directing their energies and attention.

The next morning I took it easy. A Facebook friend of mine from Long Island, Laura Di, came and visited the farm. She had a blast and it was great to meet in person someone that I really admire and respect. She has fought very hard for her community after the destruction of Superstorm Sandy.

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(above pics of Laura Di. Dad wanted pics and a hug)

Eve came home from work early and she drove us to the office in New Windsor for the stress test. Very quickly we were taken to the room by 2 nurses to be set up for the stress test, which is basically running on a treadmill. As they were applying the electrodes all over my body they asked how I was feeling. I said, “well, I actually have had all morning a minor level of discomfort that feels like heartburn. I had breakfast but I don’t typically get heartburn.” I then added, “I didn’t poop this morning. Is that important?”

Eve rolled the eyes to the very top of her head and told me to shut up but the nurses just laughed and one replied “don’t worry, I have one like that at home too.” After all of the electrodes were applied I stepped on the treadmill. Dr. Portelli came in at this point to monitor the test.

I lasted all of six minutes. After a mere 6 minutes I was totally gassed and out of breath. I should have lasted longer than 6 minutes. Again, by mid September I’m at the peak of my physical activity. Even in the middle of January when I am far more sedentary I should be able to last longer than 6 minutes. The test did not initiate the sort of pain I felt after carrying the water bucket but I did feel some pain, just not as severe. I did have noticeable pain in my left arm thought the test. My right arm felt fine but not my left. I kept saying to the nurse that was taking my blood pressure during the test “I have pain in my left arm. Is that normal? Why do I have pain in my left arm?” As soon as the stress test was over the pain in my left arm disappeared. No one said a word and I had absolutely no idea what it meant until we got in the car ride home (https://www.sharecare.com/health/heart-attack/does-left-arm-pain-mean-having-heart-attack).

Dr Portelli asked his nurse to get me a nitroglycerin tablet. I said I was fine and I was really reluctant to take it. My pharmacist warned that potential side effect was a headache and I already have enough problems with a headache. I believe he said though my EKG was fine my symptoms continued to indicate some sort of cardiac problems and he ordered a cardiac catheterization early on Monday morning.

I was stunned and bummed. The upcoming Wednesday, September 23rd, would be our 25th wedding anniversary so we planned on spending the upcoming weekend in NYC, We had punched incredible seats to see “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway, planned to be joined by good friends of ours from Connecticut for dinner at Ben & Jacks and maybe check out the naked painted ladies of Times Square (http://gothamist.com/2015/08/17/naked_times_square_struggle.php). Well … maybe we weren’t going to do that as we celebrated our 25th … but we would be in Times Square. then we were going to stay the night at a very fancy hotel and have brunch on Sunday before we came back home. Dr Portelli strongly discouraged me from going and added “do you really want to have a heart attack and be stuck at some hospital in NYC?

Good point doctor!

So, we decided to follow my doctor’s advice and we bagged the weekend anniversary celebration get-away. On the plus side, I was now going to be able to watch my Iowa Hawkeyes take on the Pitt Panthers in Iowa City Saturday night.

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By the way … Iowa won on a literally last second 57 yard field goal (http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/iowa-hawkeyes-marshall-koehn-kirk-ferentz-091915). As the game winning kick was made my son Caleb and I literally screamed and Caleb immediately turned to me “keep calm dad, keep calm.”

The reason he said that was because earlier in the day I got very angry over a couple of know-nothing blowhard idiots on a Facebook page. i got so upset I started getting strong to severe chest pains. So strong they started going into my left arm and underarm. And despite walking away from the computer and sitting on the couch for a few minutes the pain only intensified. So intense I had to actually take one dose of nitroglycerin. And after 2 minutes it actually worked and the pain subsided.

I still didn’t believe it was anything more than stress or anxiety.

Saturday afternoon my good friend Susan McDonald stopped in to visit me and Eve. She wanted to make sure I was doing okay and taking it easy. She really calmed me down and made me and Eve laugh and was a great comfort.

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Another person who was a huge comfort to me was my good friend Maria Ingrassia. Maria happens to be a staffer for the Congressman for my district, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (http://seanmaloney.house.gov). But she has been my friend long before she started working for Sean. She is a fantastic staffer and asset to Rep. Maloney and his district team. But she is also a great friend and she gave me a great deal of information about St. Luke’s and their facility and the cardiac team I was seeing that was a huge comfort to Eve and I and source of mental relief. She made sure Eve had her cell phone number and wanted Eve to call on Monday if she needed anything at all while at St. Luke’s.

On Saturday and Sunday my father and brother harvested two of my fields of onions. It totally killed me that I could not work. My doctor ordered me not to work or exert myself at all. I love to work, I love my job, and most important … MY FATHER AND BROTHER DON’T DO MY JOBS RIGHT!!!! Boxes aren’t stacked straight or properly … no straight lines of onion bags, things placed all over the place …a argh! Eve would follow me out in the yard and chase me back to the house, literally at one point throwing stones at me.

(picture below is taken by Eve after she threw stones at me to get back in the house)

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Monday morning we arrived early at St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh, NY (http://www.stlukescornwallhospital.org/Pages/default.aspx). The procedure would be done in their well renowned cardiac unit (http://www.stlukescornwallhospital.org/clinical-services/cardiac/about-us/Pages/the-vision.aspx). The procedure would be done by Dr. Richard Gosselin:

When we initially arrived we had to sit outside the cardiac unit in a waiting area. A very friendly and chatty man started chatting it up with Eve. I took his pic and tweeted about him, unbeknownst to him:

We were finally ushered into the unit and I was ordered to disrobe … except my socks. Now, I was officially bummed out because I love getting those little socks from the hospital. It is the highlight of your stay. As I sat and waited for the initial prep stages to start I actually Periscoped from my bed.

Eve wasn’t amused and almost took my phone away.

I must admit though I wasn’t a basket case I was a bit nervous. A funny semi-exchange resulted when the elderly man in the bed next to me, who we couldn’t even see because a curtain separated us, offered his opinion. Here is the tweet that related this:

We met Dr. Gosselin, who along with Dr. Portelli, Eve and I liked and trusted very much. He was warm and sincere and very optimistic and told us not to worry. He then had the nurse give me a Valium and a Benadryl prior to the procedure. Those pills had absolutely no effect. Pic below was taken 15 minutes after I took them:

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They then wheeled me into the procedure room across the hall.

As I was set up on the table my right arm was extended out. They said that 85% of the time the catheterization (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiac_catheterization) are performed in the wrist, 15% in the groin area. They prep both areas in case they can’t do it in the wrist. The prepping process includes obviously shaving the region. As the nurses shaved my groin area I said “well, it’s my wife andI’s 25th next week and I was going to do that as an anniversary present anyway.” They laughed and one quipped “I guess your wife is going to have to reciprocate.” I replied, “that’s in negotiations.” They all laughed again.

They used a local anesthetic at the point of insertion in the wrist and some sort of other anesthetic. You are awake during the procedure but though you believe you are lucid, you really aren’t. I can remember watching part of the procedure on the television monitors above me (they left my glasses on for the procedure) and I think I made the nurses laugh some more, but I have no clue as to what I said. And to me it seemed like the procedure took only 10 minutes when it in fact lasted about an hour and a half.

When I was wheeled out I had pretty significant chest pains. The nurse asked how bad and I said “6.” Eve, who was waiting the entire time in the prep area during the procedure asked “okay, but what level for normal people?” I then said “8.” Eve knows I have a pretty high toleration for pain. I was getting nitroglycerin in my IV drip so the nurse then increased the dosage, At this point Dr. Gosselin emerged and told us that I had a 95% blockage in my left anterior descending artery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anterior_interventricular_branch_of_left_coronary_artery) and that he applied a stent in the artery to open it.

I was in shock. Total, absolute and complete shock. The only blockages in my life I have ever had to deal with typically involved this device:

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Even up to that point I was convinced nothing would be found and it was stress or anxiety causing my symptoms. According to the Wiki article above it was this same sort of blockage that killed former NBC newsperson Tim Russert. Dr. Gosselin gave Eve a document which had details on the stent, and it included a wallet size version I now needed to carry at all times. He then said either he or Dr. Portelli would talk to us tomorrow when I would be discharged. I forgot to mention, we were told prior that if nothing was found I could go immediately home but if a stent was placed I would need to stay in the hospital overnight for observation. Then Dr. Gosselin left.

As I was lying in the bed in the prep room the chest pains subsided due to the increased nitroglycerin in the IV, but, the increased nitroglycerin triggered a massive headache. A headache probably as severe as the headache that crippled me nearly a week before on Capitol Hill in DC. The nurses gave me a dose of cocktail of drugs I use for my acute pain relief. But they had absolutely no effect on the headache. What seemed like an eternity but probably was only a half hour or so we waited for my room to be ready. When they finally started to roll me out of the prep room to my recovery room I was hit with waves of pain in my head, chest and an onset of nausea that made me feel like I was going to vomit.

Within a few minutes we were in my room and by then I had totally sweated out my sheets. I was literally writhing in pain and I was unable to sleep or feel any relief. And this lasted for roughly 5 or 6 hours. After 6 hours my chest pains had lowered enough that the nitroglycerin drip could be shut off and I was given a 2nd dose of my headache relief cocktail. I then was finally able to get some sleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later to Eve quietly chatting with our good friend Brian who came to visit us in the hospital. His visit was so kind and it really made us feel much better.

A couple of hours after Eve eventually went home Dr. Gosselin came in to check on how I was doing. He then said that Dr. Portelli would see me in the morning and would clear me for release. I then tried to watch the Jets game on Monday Night Football but the woman across the hall was a bit of a distraction. As I tweeted:

Though her hands seemed to be wrapped up like a sock puppet she continued to set off the nurse call button every 2 minutes. It was like being in bed next to a firehouse with a arsonist on the loose.

Now, I must say this, the nursing care and related care provided by St. Luke’s was fantastic. All of the nurses were patient and kindly and extremely attentive and helpful. It was my first visit to that hospital and I must say the treatment and care was excellent.

Eve arrived as I was sleeping early Tuesday morning and patiently read a book until I awoke. She could see I still had some discomfort or pain and not a great night. At about 10:00am or so Dr. Portelli came to visit and put in motion my discharge from the hospital. He told Eve and I that my blockage was near 99%. His office had previously scheduled my initial follow-up with him for Tuesday September 29th. He said a dietician and a cardio rehab person would be at this appointment in New Windsor. Eve said she is definitely taking me to that appointment. I was put on a new blood thinning medication that I would have to take for at least a year connected with the stent and he also prescribed a high dosage of Lipitor. My bad cholesterol levels are always good but my good cholesterol is chronically low and my triglycerides are constantly high. My previous general practitioner had put me on an early generation statin drug years ago but I suffered horrible back pain as a side effect and immediately stopped taking it. I hope this doesn’t happen with the Lipitor. He also said I could not drive for a couple of days and that I should not work until the earliest Saturday. He also said there would be mild occasional discomfort due to the stent and my body getting accustomed to it. He knew it was our anniversary on Wednesday so he cautioned us to take it easy … if you get my drift.

My bed as we left:

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Eve on the way home immediately entered dictator mode as to what I was and wasn’t going to be able to eat and drink. “Hold on tiger, we haven’t even spoken with the dietician yet!” She was not deterred.

The past week I was not allowed to work by my doctor, Eve and my father and brother. That was hard. And Eve has already started to impose harsh restrictions on what I can eat and do. Over the week I have experienced occasional minor chest discomfort but on a few occasions I actually had very strong chest pains. We had a brief altercation on the farm where law enforcement was called. As I was standing around I started feeling moderate to pretty strong chest pains. So strong that I was doubled over and considered taking a dose of nitroglycerin. My dad turned to be, semi-nervous and said “walk away … just walk away.” But he then turned to me and asked “but can you fill out a ticket/receipt for the tractor trailer we just loaded.”

Me … clutching my chest and doubled over in pain … “uhm … NO!”

I watched enough daytime television to last me for at least 2 months. I didn’t have enough time to catch up on what was happening in what my grandmother used to refer to as “her stories” on the soaps.

On Tuesday September 29th I had my follow-up visit with Dr. Portelli. Eve and I really like him. We brought him a 50 lb bag of onions which he gratefully accepted and shared with the office. He went over my procedure and explained exactly where the blockage was and what the procedure did. He ordered a follow-up stress test and scheduled my next visit with him as well as pre-visit blood work. He then said that he wanted me to do cardio-rehab therapy. His office would contact them and they would contact me to set up an appointment. They would also have a dietician there to address some of my eating habits. The cardio rehab would help transition back to work more smoothy, though he cleared me to do light work starting today! I can work the forklift and the like, I just can’t do any heavy lifting or strenuous activity. And he didn’t mention any serious damage to my heart so that was great non news! Eve had a list of questions which he answered and the ones he couldn’t he said the dietician associated with the cardio-rehab group would be able to fully address.

As we were leaving the office I thanked him for saving my life. He hugged me. It was a nice moment.

I just can’t emphasize enough how fortunate I am. First, that I showed pronounced symptoms of a problem, when I lifted the water bucket and experienced the severe chest pains. Second, that my wife, all my friends on social media, especially Facebook, and my primary care person Vicki, all urged me to take it seriously and seek medical attention. And finally I happened upon a doctor who didn’t just go by the EKG but actually “practiced” medicine and correctly diagnosed my symptoms for what they indicated, a serious cardiac situation. If I had gone to an ER they might have simply done an EKG and took vitals, saw there was no problem and sent me home. And I would have continued to work and would have probably suffered a heart attack.

Very fortunate indeed.

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NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie visits Orange County, N.Y. to discuss agricultural issues!

On Wednesday September 2nd Soon’s Orchards (see: http://www.soonsorchards.com ) hosted a roundtable farm discussion, organized by Assemblyman James Skoufis, for NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (see: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Carl-E-Heastie/bio/ ).

It was a fantastic event. My hat is off to Assemblyman James Skoufis for getting the new Speaker to come to his district to meet farmers and discuss important agricultural issues (see: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/James-Skoufis ) and to Sharon Soons and James Alton Thomas for the marvelous job they did hosting it and speaking on various agricultural topics. Also in attendance was Dave ColeJohn Paul Ruszkiewicz and Lucy Joyce of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County (see: http://cceorangecounty.org ).

Some of the topics discussed:

* Farm labor legislation and related issues

* Ag research funding

* Wallkill River maintenance

* Regulations connection with craft breweries and wineries

Amongst others!

Well done!

Here are some pictures of the event:

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Our meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman!

The following is another brief excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” It deals with then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman meeting with Eve and I in 1998 in the U.S. Capitol.

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But a few days after the press conference Rep. Gilman’s office called Eve and me and to tell us a meeting had been set with Secretary. Glickman in the Capitol for Friday June 19th, 1998. They asked if Eve and I could come down to the meeting … we said “absolutely.” Ray Myruski was also invited to attend and he did as well.

Eve and I drove down to Washington, D.C. with Caleb. Caleb was only about 14 months old and we were a bit worried about how he would do during all this. We had a pre-meeting scheduled in Representative. Gilman’s office and the meeting proper was to be held in the actual U.S. Capitol building. We came well prepared. Prior to the meeting Eve created detailed spreadsheets which fully demonstrated how poor the policies were, especially the buy-up policies. We also had the insurance documents which showed how our expected market price was set at the absurdly low figure of $4.85 per hundred weight in 1996 (the 5-year Olympic average (’93-’97) for onions in New York, according to the marketing year average price data, compiled by NASS, is $12.93 cwt., the 10-year olympic average (’88-’97) was $14.96 cwt). Since we were forced to obtain a USDA Emergency loan (EM) after 1996 we had the loan application documents with us. Those documents included materials on what our onion crop should be valued at and those loan documents used a figures of over $21.00 per hundred weight. We also brought with us all of the letters that we had either received directly from USDA officials or indirectly via Congressman Gilman’s office. All of this material would come into play during the meeting.

At the time of this meeting Representative Gilman was Chair of the House International Relations Committee. He had been serving on the committee (and its forerunner) for years, and had numerous knick- knacks and other such items all throughout his office. Caleb, who was a walking toddler, had a big blue cooking spoon which was at the time his favorite toy. During the pre-meeting in Gilman’s office Caleb began to walk about, happily swinging the big blue spoon wherever we went.

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All Eve and I could think was “Oh my God … he is going to destroy some trinket given to the Congressman from the people of Botswana.” Gilman, and his staff, appeared to care less and thought Caleb was one of the best behaved children they had ever come across. Have I mentioned that Representative Gilman is one of the sweetest, nicest men on earth?

After the meeting in Gilman’s office we all marched to the Capitol. The meeting was held in one of the large conference rooms. Because a member of the cabinet and a member of Congress was attending the meeting the doors were guarded by both a Secret Service agent and a plain clothes Capitol Police officer. At times during the meeting Caleb got fussy and Eve had to take him outside. We have some pretty funny pictures of him being held by the Secret Service agent and running down the hall with his big blue spoon.

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The meeting was attended by Eve and Caleb and me, Congressman Gilman, his wonderful wife Georgia and his staff, and Ray Myruski, from our side. Secretary Glickman entered the room with a herd, including:

August (Gus) Schumacher, Under Secretary – Farm and Foreign Agricultural ServicesDave Carlin, Office of the Secretary, Congressional Liaison Richard Newman, FSA Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs John Newcomer, Program Specialist – FSA, Emergency & NAP Michael Hand, Director of Claims and Underwriting Services Division, RMA

And there were others from USDA. Also in attendance was Senator Al D’Amato’s staffer Peter Phipps.

The only people that spoke during this meeting were Eve and I, Representative Gilman, Secretary Glickman and Michael Hand. Eve and I knew of Hand but this was the first time we had met him in person. We now consider ourselves good friends. Eve and I had a nickname for him, “The Prince of Darkness.” He epitomized all the reasons as to why the federal crop insurance was so bad (farmers in Texas would refer to him, not so affectionately, as “Dr. No.” No matter what they asked him to do his response was always “NO NO NO!”). The meeting, though scheduled to be a half hour, went on for over an hour. As I said, if the June 6th press conference was my “coming out party” for the media, this meeting was my “coming out party” in terms of public policy advocacy.

After introductory remarks by everyone we got down to business. Essentially Eve and I for our side and Glickman and Hand did most of the talking. Hand started by lamenting that certain other individuals he had dealt with previously were not there….  I said to him “they aren’t here, I am.” We got into the meat of the discussion quite quickly. I first stated how irritated I was that USDA officials kept calling “CAT” coverage “free” and either outright stating or implying that because the onion farmers were too cheap to buy the buy-up policies we essentially got what we deserved. Glickman got angry and said, “CAT isn’t free, the taxpayers are paying for it.” I responded with, “that’s right Mr. Secretary, it’s part of a $2 billion dollar appropriation, we may just pay an administrative fee, but a premium is being paid, just not by us, but it isn’t ‘free.” He then asked, “well, who is saying this?” And I then pointed to about 3 people in the room and said “he did, he did, and he did. I have the letters with me … would you like to see them?”

The look on his face and their faces was priceless. Eve then jumped in and hit him on the buy-up issue. She produced her detailed spreadsheets, gave him copies and said, “look Mr. Secretary, can you see with “Stages” alone how valueless this policy is. In reality for every $1 paid in premiums the best you can do is get either $2 to $4 in coverage.” Glickman was stunned. I then asked him, “what kind of fool would buy insurance like this?” And he paused for a moment and said, “not me.” And I replied, “not me either. This is why I and virtually every other farmer doesn’t buy the buy-up.”

We talked about “Production to Count.” Eve said to Glickman, “Here’s the way to look at it, the policy subtracts from what it covers what it doesn’t cover.” I added, “it’s like this, if you get in a wreck with your car and your insurance company says, ‘oh, we can’t pay you anything because your other car is fine and its value wipes out your claim.’ And you respond, ‘but you don’t cover that other car’ and they respond with ‘too bad.’ That’s what is happening here.” Glickman had nothing to say. We touched on the absurd expected market price. We showed him how it was set at $4.85 per hundred weight in 1996, yet the same USDA in setting the value of our crop for loan purposes had a document in the EM loan packet that valued the crop at prices as high as $21.40 per hundred weight. And as I showed him those documents I said, “That’s a neat trick. For insurance purposes your USDA says are onions are worth $4.85 per l00 lbs but for loan purposes they are worth $21.00. Imagine if you walked in a car dealership and went to buy a car and they tell you for loan purposes it’s worth $50,000 but for insurance purposes it’s worth $5,000 … how would you feel about that?” He sort of mumbled something that he wouldn’t like it and I snapped “you’d have the person doing that arrested, wouldn’t you?” And he nodded his head in agreement.

But from our perspective the point of the meeting wasn’t a bitch session, it was to get stuff done, to make positive changes and improvements. And Eve and I had specific proposals, tangible, realistic ways to address and fix these problems. And as we started outlining Mike Hand would say, “oh no Mr. Secretary, you can’t do this” or “oh no Mr. Secretary, you can’t do that.” And he kept telling Glickman what he could and couldn’t do. And after 5th or 6th time I interrupted Hand and said:

Wait a minute, I thought you (I pointed at Glickman) were the political appointee … not you (I pointed at Hand). With all due respect Mr. Secretary, you sit there appointed by the President, it’s up to you to tell him what you can and will do, not the other way around. And heck, you are appointed by the President, you have the power to make the sun shine, to make rain fall from the clouds, if you so desire.”

I said it sort of with a smile on my face. Glickman chuckled and nodded in agreement. The meeting ended back talking about how inappropriate it was for USDA officials to characterize CAT as free or cheap and it was the onion farmers’ own fault for their current predicament, because they didn’t buy what we all seemingly acknowledged was a worthless buy-up policy. Glickman seriously pronounced that “I assure you that from this day forward you won’t have USDA officials saying or implying that.” We happily shook hands and the proverbial “politician holding the baby” pictures were taken. Rep. Gilman’s wonderful wife gave me a big squeeze afterwards and said something like “you’re such a good boy” and “you did a great job.” We ended with promises to continue to work on this problem and fix it.

The lawsuit and my “Dan Glickman is the human safety net piece” never came up … though I had it with me.

On the way home Eve and I wondered how long it would take for someone from the USDA to say “CAT was free or cheap” and blame us wrongly for being in the situation we were in.

We didn’t think it would take a day or two. We were, sadly, wrong.

Dc 98.4 Dc 98.5 DC 98.6

End of memoir except.

Addendum:

Back on April 8 2013 the U.S. Senate Democrats held a Rural Summit meeting on the Hill

http://www.dsoc.senate.gov/2013/04/08/senate-democrats-to-host-rural-summit-former-agriculture-secretary-glickman-to-keynote-3/

Each Democratic Senator got to invite two individuals and I was one of 2 people that Senator Chuck Schumer chose. I was there representing the State, our community and our industry. Glickman was the keynote speaker so at the end of the event I waited in line to speak with him.

When I got my chance the first thing I did was show him the picture of him holding Caleb back in 1998. When I showed him the picture he remembered and laughed. We chatted for a few minutes about that meeting and what happened afterwards. I briefly discussed the onion policy and how screwed up it was. We then parted ways.

Back in 1998 we both had more hair, but my loss was more substantial.
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The black dirt region hosts a mini tour for NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and staff!

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.

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After the discussion a walking tour of both the Alamo and the clinic commenced.

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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.

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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.

Wall montage lesser

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.

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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.

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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!

Governor Cuomo issues a very bad line item veto! (MEDIA REPORTS INCORRECT, APPROPRIATION NOT VETOED)

CORRECTION!

The media got it wrong. I have just learned that it was a different onion approp that was vetoed. The $50K remains. My sincere & humble apologies to Governor Cuomo!

Original post follows:

One of the items that Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed was the $50,000 for onion research. Growers in the state are utterly saddened and dismayed by this. Attached is an old piece I wrote about this appropriation many years ago that explains the purpose of this investment and the value of it. The Governor’s veto has not only hurt farmers but also Cornell University researchers.

Sad, very sad to see. It appears that Governor Cuomo has limited concern for upstate residents of this state.

See: http://www.fltimes.com/news/state/article_71209b8e-447d-5b73-8271-cbc820d9ddf3.html

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More pictures of the 2014 season (part 4)

This post concludes the 2014 growing season in pictures. Once we finished packing and selling our onions we moved on to field work and finishing insulating our barn.

Please enjoy the pics:

Nalan, who looks exactly like Hungarian porn star Eva Angel, now knows I’m a time traveler with temporal issues

Here is my 4th reply to Nalan … enjoy!

Subject: Re: Hello!
From: Chris Pawelski 
Date: January 26, 2015 at 12:24:18 PM EST
To: Nalan <gruzanangorg@yahoo.com>

Dearest Nalan,

First, thank you for sending me the new pics as well as the minutia of certain aspects of your existence.
My first question … are you cooking onion in the one picture? I sincerely hope so. They are extremely good for your digestive system!
You live with mom and dad? No way! Anton I hope never calls Gika a dingbat or threatens to send her to the moon!
Money is not the most important aspect of life. Though it is quite important, according to the British philosopher Pink Floyd. As Mr. Floyd once said:
Money it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team
Money get back
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off my stack.
What do you think about that poetry?
If you were to climb into a mailbox that has to be a pretty big mailbox … like this:
mail-theo
That one you could fit in for sure!
You concluded your e-mail by asking:
For what purpose do you start dating on the web to me? You just want to be friends or looking for your soul mate? I’m tired of being lonely and looking for a serious relationship, I dream of a good family with good loving husband, a reliable partner in life. Maybe I want too much? But I still believe in love. I want you to trust me and I think that we should be honest with each other. I’m waiting for answers to my questions. This concludes the letter. It is waiting for your answer.
First, you contacted me! Second, I too believe people should be honest between each other. I especially appreciate honesty from internet suitors that look remarkably similar to hot Hungarian porn stars! But … I digress. Why am I continuing to speak with you? Remember in my last e-mail when I said this:
Currently I am working on a very important/special project. You see, I fear that our entire planet and existence on planet earth is threatened by a dangerous temporal anomaly! You see, time travel research must take place so that centuries down the road we have trained time traveling soldiers and technicians who can deal with any threats to our current time line. To do this time travel research needs to be funded now. I firmly believe that I am the person that funds it. But I am currently broke. I needs funds to do this. So I am pleading with legitimate time travelers to get to me winning Powerball numbers, so I can amass a huge fortune and fund time travel research. This isn’t about me getting rich, this is about protecting the timeline and humanity being the dominant life form on the planet.
Well, here is the honest truth. I really am a time traveler. Here are pictures of me suiting up and prepping to engage in a temporal jump:
IMG_20140707_090446 IMG_20140707_090539 IMG_20140707_091432
When you successfully return from a time jump you typically land on the top of Ford Bronco:
IMG_20140705_152952
I am currently stuck in a very dangerous temporal paradox that threatens all of mankind … not just now but in the past and thousands of years in the future. You see, though I am currently making jumps in time, time travel research has not been funded now. That means with a lack of funding time travel research will not take place and not lead to the creation of the “Titor Device:
Do you get the import of this? I am in a loop and I cannot escape.
Further, I am now dealing with ravenous creatures from the Beta Quadrant. They are from our time but a number of parsecs away. They feed on human flesh, and Cheetos. They pose an incredible treat as well.
Do you know hand to hand combat and can you twerk? The twerking has nothing to do with this other stuff … just curious.
Please reply with what weapons and hand to hand combat training you have and how much working capital you currently posses and can obtain in the near future? Can you obtain technology that will allow you to scramble future transmissions? The National Security Agency has been compromised and is aware of some of these activities.
The following is a coded transmission for my friends in the resistance:
Lavender Blue, Dilly Dilly
Gordie Howe with the hat trick
Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids
If I kill all the golfers they will lock me up and throw away the key
To the Batcave
End of coded transmission
Anxiously awaiting your response!
C