Want to know what life is like on a working conventional onion farm, and the day to day musings of a real life onion farmer? That's what you will read about, plus posts for music, weird news clips, and stories about my lobbying in behalf of agricultural public policy!
In the article our farm was one of two farms mentioned that recently donated fresh produce to them! Pawelski Farms is honored by the mention and feel it’s a privilege to work with this incredible organization that does so much good on a daily basis for so many people! Down the road I look forward to work with them on an exciting new public policy proposal. More info to come soon!
From the October 5th blog here are some neat links that featured me in City Harvest related activities!
(scroll down and look for Chris Pawelski, New York Farmer)
The following is another brief excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” This small section of my memoir deals with the backstory to 3 different media pieces I was in back in 2000.
In late March of 2000 I was invited to go down to Washington D.C., to be video interviewed by the Senate Democrat Policy Committee (this was due to Brooke recommending me to the Committee). The video interview would be incorporated into a video that highlighted the committee’s positions regarding the upcoming Farm Bill. They needed “b-roll” footage of me doing farm work for the video so prior to my trip I got Cable 6 News to do a story about the trip, and to send their “b-roll” footage to the Committee, which they graciously did. In that piece I pointed out that in 1999 I had 50-100 buy-up coverage (50% of my crop, in theory, is supposed to be covered at 100% of the expected price) but despite in real world terms I lost at least 75% of my crop my insurance indemnity was $0 and we only expected roughly $6,000 from the ad-hoc crop loss program passed the previous year. The $0 indemnity was due to “Production to Count,” the facet of the program that subtracts from your indemnity what you salvage from your crop.
I was video interviewed in the atrium of the Senate Hart Office Building. What was fascinating to me were the questions asked by the video interviewer. I expected it to be very partisan, attacking the Republicans. But they weren’t at all. Instead the questions focused on how specialty crop farmers, growers of vegetables and fruits, especially in the Northeast are often shortchanged when it comes to federal farm programs and federal farm policy. I never saw the completed video but they did send me the raw footage of my entire interview.
(Cable 6 story)
Shortly after this event took place, in mid May, we were once again contacted by CNN. They wanted to do a follow-up story to the previous 2 stories about the drought. It had somewhat lingered through the winter into the early spring. We were happy to be interviewed again and on May 16th, 2000, CNN reporter Maria Hinojosa along with her crew arrived to interview Eve and me. She too was extremely kind and friendly. I immediately mentioned that I used to listen to her on NPR and she was taken a bit aback. She asked, almost incredulously, “you’re a farmer … you listen to NPR.” I laughed and replied that indeed I did, and rattled off a number of show, “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” “Talk of the Nation,” etc … and named a number of other public radio reporters and personalities. She was a bit in shock. I remember telling her I enjoyed Ray Suarez on “Talk of the Nation.” Suarez had just left, to go to be a correspondent for the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” and that he seemed a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera (he does quite well now).
The interview focused on the continuing drought and once again highlighted we personally lost $150,000 the previous season. I stated:
“We’ve had some decent rains recently and things are going well now, but if the spigot is shut off, like it was last year, we’re going to be in a load of trouble.”
The irony was that 2000 turned out being an excessively wet season. There was no specific storm or event, but it was exactly opposite of what happened the previous season. The excessively wet season caused an excessive amount of decay or waste with that season’s onion crop, and we once again took a devastating financial beating. That meant 4 out of 5 seasons were terrible years for the majority of growers in the Black Dirt.
One last humorous anecdote about the Hinojosa interview, after she and her crew departed, about a half hour later she called me on her cell and she asked:
“I was wearing open toed shoes … do I have to worry about ticks and lyme disease since my feet were exposed?”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that Maria, with the crap I spray you don’t have to worry about any ticks.”
You could almost see the blood drain from her face over the phone. I then laughed and said I was only joking, we hadn’t sprayed any insecticides yet and she was perfectly safe in the field. Heck, our 4 year old son Caleb was playing in that dirt (and a shot of that appeared in the news piece.) She laughed and was doubly relieved.
Yes, I’m a jerk, but I couldn’t help myself.
The story aired on May 16st and May 17th 2000. It was another example of how the federal crop insurance program was deeply flawed. We used it, and the previous pieces, to make our case to improve the policy and to secure additional disaster aid. On July 6th, 2000 we helped organize with Cornell Cooperative Extension a legislative tour of farms in Orange County. Representative. Gilman attended and we hit him hard in regards the need for disaster aid.
And as the rains continued to fall in 2000 it became evident that we were going to need a special supplemental disaster aid package. From this point on, Eve and I increased our efforts in regards to both goals. I can’t even accurately relate over the years, and especially from 1999 onward, how many phone calls, e-mails, faxes, posting on the internet, Eve and I did. Once, when Eve intended to call her parents in South Carolina she accidentally instead called Congressman Gilman’s Washington, DC number. And when Gilman’s Legislative Director Todd Burger answered she quickly realized her mistake and apologized to Todd. But since he was on the phone she quickly segued and said, “well, since you’re on the phone can you give me an update on the latest regarding the disaster aid?”
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 the backstory involving Eve and I’s first two CNN appearances.
As the 1999 growing season progressed a devastating drought began to slowly affect the eastern seaboard. By mid-August the effects and toll taken on all sorts of crops began to become evident. In late August Eve and I were contacted by CNN. I got a call from producer Frances Causey. She had come across some of my materials regarding crop insurance and asked if we would mind being interviewed for a story about the drought and the problems with crop insurance. We happily agreed. I sent Frances a ton of information, and then we spoke a bit about Ken Ackerman. I related all that had happened in our meetings with Glickman, how Glickman and his operatives knew how poor the onion policy was, and how the buy-up policy in particular was essentially a rip-off. And how USDA officials, and Ackerman in particular, would continue to state untrue things like “CAT was free” and the onion farmers of Orange County were in a situation that was their own fault, because the failed purchase the buy-up. This was despite Glickman saying this sort of thing would stop. I also told her what happened with American Vegetable Grower and how USDA put pressure on the magazine to pull the USDA official’s offending quote.
She told me that CNN planned on interviewing Ackerman as they interviewed Eve and I for the story. I told Causey that Ackerman and the USDA would certainly try to pull the same sort of stunt that they did with American Vegetable Grower a year before.
On August 17th, 1999, veteran CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman and crew came to our farm to interview us. Like Randall Pinkston of CBS Tuchman was very friendly and kind. They spent much of the day interviewing Maire Ullrich, the vegetable crop agent at the time for Cornell cooperative Extension, Eve and me. The piece was outstanding (it had one small error, it stated I had CAT coverage at the time but in 1999 we actually had the buy-up, despite how bad it was.) It was a pretty devastating indictment of the current crop insurance program. Ackerman was interviewed separately in Washington by a stringer crew. And Ackerman, predictably, placed the blame everywhere but himself and the Agency. The piece reported:
“’Our program is often very bureaucratic,’ said Ken Ackerman of the department. We have a number of legal restraints that make it difficult for us to respond to situations.” Tuchman then states. ‘But Ken Ackerman says that the current system of taxpayer-supported crop insurance, for which farmers pay just a small fee, often should be supplemented with so-called ‘buy up’ policies for extra coverage.”
So, once again Ackerman attempted to mislead the press and public regarding the true cost or value of CAT and wrongly blame the farmers for their current predicament. Though very pleased with the piece, which ran the evening of August 17,1999 and also multiple times on CNN’s Headline News channel, I was very angry about Ackerman’s quotes and implied blame. After the piece aired I spoke with Butch May at USDA and told him to tell Ackerman that “I thought his mommy dressed him very nice for his TV interview.”
You may wonder, even though it held such little value, why on earth did we buy the buy-up policy for the 1999 growing season? Because of Eve and my view that we did have a responsibility to assist in managing our risk. So, though a waste of money, we felt that the position of having bought it strengthened our ability to work within
the framework of the system to fix the policy. We figured, it would be kind of hard to argue for a “No Stages” program if we didn’t actively participate within the system. So, we bit the bullet and bought it. And to this day we believe it was a factor in motivating Grau to put so much pressure on RMA/FCIC and the various bureaucrats to get us that pilot and listen to our concerns. Of course Congressman Gilman putting incessant pressure on them helped.
As the summer progressed into autumn it quickly began to sink in how bad the losses from the drought were and how little even our buy-up policies were going to help. In early October, CNN producer Frances Causey called us and asked how things were going. We told her the drought was worse than even we thought it would be and the year was going to be a real body blow. She asked if they could interview us for a rare follow-up story and we happily agreed. She also said that this time she would be coming out with reporter Gary Tuchman and crew.
Causey, Tuchman and crew arrived on October 14th to shoot the 2nd story. Once again Tuchman was very kind, matched only by the warmth expressed by Causey. As we re-capped what had developed since their first story Frances, while laughing, detailed what happened with the Ken Ackerman interview. She was simply amazed that Ackerman and USDA did exactly what I predicted they would do, how he would imply CAT was free and the farmers were at fault for not buying the virtually worthless buy-up (we told Frances the one small error in the piece was that we did in fact have the buy-up insurance for the 1999 crop year but inexplicably they reported again that we only had CAT) and she confirmed that Ackerman and USDA were very displeased with the portions involving him in the August piece. “Ackerman and the USDA implied we took him out of context but look at this,” she then pulled out a document from her bag and continued, “this is the word for word transcript of his interview. He didn’t say what he said just once, he kept repeating it over and over again.” What a surprise … not.
The 2nd piece aired all day on October 15th and it too packed an incredible punch.
It was at this point that Eve and I kicked it into high gear in regards to not only fighting for changes to the crop insurance program but also for a special disaster aid program for the onion growers of Orange County. This was now the third devastating year out of four and we needed some sort of special assistance to continue to survive as an industry in our region. When we first started raising the possibility of such aid in 1998 we were told by Representative Gilman’s press secretary that it was an “unrealistic request.”
But when you are wiped out three out of four years you don’t accept such a rejection. In 1999 President Clinton signed a $1.4 billion ad-hoc disaster aid package passed by Congress. The structure and formulation of that ad- hoc disaster aid program was based on the very same federal crop insurance program which made necessary that aid package to begin with. Well, we knew we would need more targeted help. In the October 1999 CNN piece Tuchman reported our assessment that the aid package would only provide us with pennies on the dollar on our losses. And when it was eventually appropriated we learned that we were correct.
It has some informative … entertaining and just plain weird stuff on it. Some videos are fairly and not so fairly recent news appearances. Some are very old family movies that are also … just plain weird. Some are recent farming related videos. And some are college related videos. If you are a fan of Professional Wrestler Mick Foley …
… check some of them out … Mick appears in some of them (he was the teaching assistant for our studio production class at SUNY Cortland). Here is one example:
I have a really funny one that was a parody of the “Just Say No” campaigns but it has me saying some naughty words and Eve won’t let me upload it. One day ….
For an example of news pieces here is one … from WABC TV in NYC when they did a story about my $150,000 bag of onions on eBay (plus a free 5 gallon bucket of genuine dirt):
For funny and weird family movies check out my dad’s home movies from his Army days … this is priceless material:
I was also for 3 summers an instructor at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute or “Cherub” program: