“Keep On Rolling …Keep On Rolling ……..”

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Quick update on my Kickstarter campaign:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176629437/muckville-a-memoir-of-the-public-policy-life-of-a-0

33 backers … $1,397 … that’s 25% of my goal!

But we are down to 18 days to go and the clock is now becoming a factor! So if you can back that is fantastic and if you can encourage others to back … even more awesome!

Remember … if my memoir doesn’t get edited and then published … how will people learn all about the vegetable trees?

https://muckville.com/2013/11/26/if-my-memoir-muckville-isnt-published-how-will-people-learn-about-the-vegetable-trees/

So this holiday weekend let’s “Keep On Rolling …!”

On a nice roll ….

Wow … what a day yesterday was for my Kickstarter campaign! I picked up a bunch of backers, now up to 30 and $1,267! That’s 23% of my funding goal!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176629437/muckville-a-memoir-of-the-public-policy-life-of-a-0

But, I’m now down to 19 days to go and Kickstarter is “all or nothing.” If I don’t make my goal then I get zero funding!

We can do this!

Why is this important?

In yesterday’s issue of Politico current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was interviewed. In the article entitled “Tom Vilsack: Farming ‘under-appreciated'” It states in part:

As you look at your (hopefully) full plate this Thanksgiving, take a guess at what percentage of your annual income you spend on food. Whatever you guessed, you probably guessed too high.

“We pay as low as 6 percent,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, was telling me at a conference table in his office. “In most other industrialized countries it’s 20 to 25 percent.” And if you were spending that much on food in America, Vilsack asks, “How big a house would you have? How nice a car?” In addition to being a relatively small amount of our incomes, our supply of edibles is virtually guaranteed. “America does not really have to depend on the rest of the world for food,” Vilsack says….

Only 1 percent of the U.S. population actually farms. Though Vilsack and his wife own a farm in Iowa, nobody in their family has worked a farm since his great-great-grandfather. But, Vilsack says, one out of every 12 jobs in America is connected to agriculture….

“It’s tied to national security,” he says. “In 40 years, we will have to increase agriculture by 70 percent globally to feed the world.” But the amount of land devoted to agriculture is shrinking — think climate change and urban development — and because of that, farmers will have to produce more food with less land and less water.

“And if you think the world is unsafe today, wait until we have serious fights over food and water,” Vilsack says. Enter the American farmer. “Farming is under-appreciated and misunderstood,” Vilsack says. “It is a sophisticated business.” It is also a business whose practitioners are aging. The average age of a farmer on a commercial-size farm is probably close to 60, Vilsack says, and it’s hard work. “There are three times as many farmers over the age of 65 as under the age of 25,” he says.

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/tom-vilsack-farming-roger-simon-100360.html

(end of clip)

That’s sort of the point I made yesterday when I talked about the woman who believed vegetables grow on trees. They don’t, but, I don’t think she is the only person out there so clueless about farming.

My memoir talks about what is involved in being a farmer. It also talks about how Eve and I have gone about the past 17 years to educate the public and elected officials about what we are experiencing and ways in which the situation can be improved. And what’s detailed can be a road map for you to improve your situation!

Once again I greatly appreciate the support and humbly you ask for your continued help to get this done!

If my memoir Muckville isn’t published how will people learn about the vegetable trees?

Why do we need, “we” meaning our society, my memoir “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life” to be published and widely disseminated?

Allow me to introduce you to this young lady who back in 2008 testified before the Santa Cruz City Council on May 13, 2008. Much of her testimony focused on agriculture.

Please watch her testimony now. It’s only 2:35 long:

You’re laughing … I know. Stop laughing, or at least reduce it to a giggle please.

You see, if my book isn’t published and doesn’t become widely available how will people like her learn about the onion trees that I grow my crop on?

You’re laughing … I’m laughing … sort of … yes, this young woman might be equal parts drug influenced and a level of stupid of epic proportions but believe it or not … she is not unique.

Did you notice one person clapped at the end of her presentation? Did you notice you could see not one person on the floor laughing in hysterics at the end of her presentation? Yes, some, probably most, were just being courteous and nice, but I would bet not everyone was simply being courteous and nice.

I would bet there were others in the room that believed land is free and vegetables grow on trees.

As I said, she is not unique. I have come across via the internet, and in person mind you, many many many many many many many many many many many people that rival her in regards to her utter and complete lack of understanding of farming practices and our production realities. There are people that sincerely believe fresh produce is simply produced in the back room of the grocery store, the place the men and women that wear the aprons that scurry back and forth from, rolling the fresh produce out on those carts to put on the store shelf. It’s produced by magic, you know.

You see, we as a society are so far removed from farming we have lost much of our basic understanding and perspective regarding the simple facts as to how food is grown and the overall importance and impacts of farming in general.

The following is an excerpt from Muckville that discusses this:

Farming is one of the oldest, yet it is now one of the most unique professions in this country. Currently, though representing a mere 1.2% of the overall GDP for the U.S. economy agriculture represents roughly 9.2% of U. S. exports. Roughly .7% of the labor force is employed in farming, forestry and fishing and it is estimated that roughly only 2% of the U. S. population is involved in farming on some level. If you add processors, outlets and related industries the number increases to 15%. But, only 2% to 3% are really only directly employed or work on a farm. That means that every on-farm job helps create 5 – 7 related industry jobs.  That is a pretty impressive positive economic impact.

Of course, in some states agriculture is one of, if not the most important industry. This includes, surprising to some, New York State, where agriculture, outside of New York City, is one of the largest and most important industries in the state. But, times have changed. In Orange County where we live, agriculture is still the #1 industry, and its economic impacts are still very important on a local and state basis.

Even as recently as 1955 between 10% to 15% of American workers worked in agriculture. Today there are roughly 3.3 million U.S. farm operators but those farms produce enough food that U.S. consumers each year spend about a half trillion dollars on various food products that are produced on U.S. farms. What we don’t always understand is that we in the U. S. have one of the world’s cheapest food supplies. U. S. consumers spend just 10% of their disposable income each year to pay their food bill. For comparison that figure in France is 15%, China 33% and the Philippines it’s 37%. But for every dollar spent on food the farmer receives about 16% of it. The average age of a U.S. farmer is 57 years old. And today each American farmer produces enough food/fiber to feed 154 people in the U.S. and abroad. These are just some of the facts folks.

If you look at the figures above, that $0.16 of the food dollar that the farmer receives generates $0.80 to $1.12 in related businesses. To put this into perspective, one of the arguments for bailing out General Motors was that its demise would have a negative ripple effect across support businesses that would be as large as the funds invested in GM.  Agriculture has much less control over its own destiny than the auto industry.  And its ripple effect is much greater.

What does this all mean? Our nation’s history and roots are inextricably tied into farming. Farming is still a major part of our economy, including being a key part of our export economy, and everyone has to eat. Yet, it is an industry and vocation that few people today have a direct connection to. Nor do they have a good grasp of in terms of the sophisticated, multi-faceted production, marketing and economic realities surrounding it.

(end of excerpt … back to blog)

That’s one aspect of Muckville … informing people about the production realities associated with farming. But that’s only half of what Muckville is about. Muckville is also about informing people, educating people about what is involved in formulating smart public policy. Much of Muckville is all about the sorts of things Eve and I did to bring about positive changes, from the grassroots level, to laws, regulations and general public policies connected to farming.

Why is this important, or, more importantly, important to you?

First, if people like Eve and I and other farmers don’t do it, don’t work hard to bring our voices to the table in terms of formulating sound public policy positions on various farm related issues, well, more clueless people will fill that void and do it for us.

People like our friend who testified before the Santa Cruz City Council. Sad reality, I would actually count her as a “friend” of farmers. There are people out there, many people out there, who are virtually as disconnected and uninformed as her but are not benign in terms of their positions. They are not friends of farmers and they stake out positions, or are simply manipulated by people who are not as clueless, to back positions and policies extremely harmful to our industry.

This affects you, because you eat, daily (or at least you are supposed to) and I firmly believe maintaining a healthy domestic farming industry is not just wise public policy, it’s a matter of national security.

The second reason why Muckville should be important to you is that what I detail in the book you can use as a roadmap in terms of working on any issue of importance locally to you. In other words, what we did you can do. I spell it all out.

So, Muckville is about informing, educating and entertaining … it provides a great deal “behind the scenes” details as to how one can influence public policy. It enables you to make better choices in terms of supporting to backing various issues or positions connected with agriculture.

Please, back my Kickstarter campaign. Spread the word to your friends. Help me to be able to afford an editor, to get this work polished and get it to a willing and eager publisher.

Link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176629437/muckville-a-memoir-of-the-public-policy-life-of-a-0

Or face the potential consequence … a loss of farms and the eventual eradication in this country of all vegetable trees. When all the onion trees disappear how will you be able to enjoy local onions?

Just think about that.

A slight stall … but all we need is your help …. and maybe Chuck Heston’s as well!

Okay … we are stuck at 23 backers for my Kickstarter campaign … but so many of you have said you care about what happens to family farmers and how the word can be spread on good public policy and simply telling our story … so …

Please help if you can! Back if you can, spread the word if you can, via social media, word of mouth or carrier pigeon.

And once again, THANK YOU!

Don’t make me have to call in for Chuck Heston … he once told me he would only do this stunt once.

Kickstarter campaign update!

It’s the weekend and we are still moving forward. As of noon on Sunday I now have 23 backers and have reached 17% of my funding goal.

So, we are continuing to move forward but this is a huge weekend and week coming up!

A special shout out to all of my public policy and media/news friends. many of you are mentioned in the memoir! Very positively, for the most part, I might add. Hey, I’m just telling the truth as to what Eve and I have experienced over the years and so many of you have played a part in helping us help our community, either via your actions in your positions or via accurately telling our story and helping us get the word out!

Thanks again to all of you that have backed me so far and have spread the word! I greatly appreciate it. Just like years ago I just knew we would be successful in obtaining the eventual special earmark we obtained as part of the 2002 Farm Bill I see myself some day, in the very near future, talking about “Muckville” and sharing how others can imitate what we did in terms of grassroots activism!

This piece details just some of our public policy activities!

http://digital.turn-page.com/i/102943/3

This story deals with the 1 year anniversary of Irene, which really details what we have been struggling with:

And here is a story about Irene at the time:

Again, thank you all!!!!!

My prologue …

Back in September I posted my prologue and the note from Eve. Since I am in the midst of this Kickstarter campaign I think I should post them again. Sort of explains my book and why this project should matter to you:

PROLOGUE

Muckville.  I can see you asking yourself now

Why should I care about a book about farming? Or one about public policy advocacy and dealing with the media? Or a about a book that combines the realities of farming with agriculture-specific policy, advocacy and dealing with the media?

We all have to eat. Every day if possible. Day after day. Until we die we have to eat. Food, along with breathable air, clean water and adequate shelter is one of our most basic needs. Since there are roughly 3.3 million farmers in the U.S. comprising roughly 2% of the general population, odds are you have never met a farmer. Despite the growth in popularity of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and local farmers’ markets it is most likely you have never met, spoken, smelled or touched a farmer.  Or set foot on a farm.

Though the United States was once a primarily an agricultural society and even as recently as the turn of the previous century roughly 40% of the population farmed, since then, and especially since the advancements associated with Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” fewer and fewer farmers on less and less land space have produced one of the world’s safest, most abundant and cheapest food supplies.

And with that change has come an incredible level of disconnect between the people who primarily produce our food and the citizens who eat it. Sadly, when you mention the word farmer the first image that will pop into someone’s head will be Eddie Albert’s character Oliver Wendell Douglas from the CBS sitcom “Green Acres.” Or worse, some character from one of the various reality TV shows that keep popping up, and frequently aren’t so real.

Though farmers’ markets are exploding across the country and thanks to the foodie movement there is a strong renewed interest in agriculture, much of the information about farmers is not coming from us. Food critics and chefs will frequently pontificate about farming, and though some of them may have a small hobby farm, for the most part they are not farmers. They do not know what it is like, on a day to day basis, to be a farmer in the 21st century.

I simply don’t have enough heads for all the hats I have to wear. I have to be a soil scientist, a chemist, a financial planner, an accountant, a bookkeeper, a regulator, a marketer and frequently a public relations person and public policy advocate.

Farming today is governed by a myriad of laws and regulations that cover numerous aspects of our business on multiple levels. And there are so many groups, organizations and pressures out there trying to influence or change those laws and regulations on a seemingly daily basis.

In the mid 1990’s after leaving the farm a short time to pursue my graduate degree and after I married my wonderful wife Eve, I returned to the family onion farm. My brother and I are the fourth generation of the same family on a farm that started in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. As soon as I returned I started dealing with a variety of issues and crises, including weather disasters and various labor advocacy organizations. I was baptized by fire. Eve and I had to learn, for the most part on our own, how to fight for our farm and our industry. It wasn’t easy at first (for the most part it still isn’t now, 17 years later).  But, trial by fire typically isn’t.

So why is this all important to you? Because as I said, we all have to eat. It’s one of our most fundamental needs. You should know something about how your food is produced. Not from sitcoms, or from food critics or from chefs, no matter how well intentioned they may be.  You should know from one of us who produces it.

Now, there are some books out there written by farmers about farming. Many of those books are about the adventures of people who eschew urban or suburban life to move to the country and take up farming. They extol the benefits of a more simple life.

That’s not the point of this book.

Life is not simple, nor, quite frequently, very fair. A hailstorm that decimates your crop mid season or a hurricane caused flood that wipes virtually your entire crop away is not fair. And how you deal with those scenarios is anything but simple. I’ve dealt with those situations, sadly, more than once. I’ve also dealt with very stupid government programs and terrible proposed legislation. And over the years my wife and I have had a fair number of successes in dealing with such situations. That’s what this book details.

Though it is a memoir about my specific experiences on the farm and in front of a camera or on Capitol Hill, what I relate, the techniques and the tricks and methods of dealing with the media or developing grassroot strategies to fight for a given issue can be applied by you. No matter what you do, or where you live, or what problem you may be facing, my example can provide you with a roadmap to how you can successfully fight for your cause.

The system is messed up. It sucks, to  be quite frank. But my specific experiences show that if you are persistent and you have a fraction of a clue as to what to do, you can make a positive change for your community, too.

Why should you read this book? Because I need better informed end users of my product. I need you to understand why after a devastating hailstorm or flood I need your support and help. I need you to have a better connection with the people who produce the food you eat.  And, you need to better understand the people who grow your food, and how the policy decisions can affect every aspect of the food you eat.

Why should you read this book? Just as important as learning about how your food is grown, I want you to read it and to realize that you can get off the couch and fight for your family and your community. Though the deck is stacked against you, like it is against me, you can still effect a positive change. All is not bleak. There is hope.

I  want you to read this book so that the next time you walk into the produce section of your local supermarket you will pause for a moment and just think about what was involved to get those fresh vegetables and fruits on that shelf.

A NOTE FROM EVE

Muckville. That’s where we live, both literally and figuratively.

And every day something weird is happening on this farm. In the early years I kept waiting for it to end, waiting for calm. After 20 years I now realize that for better or worse, that’s just not going to happen.  Part of it has to do with who I married. I think he described it best one night when we were talking about how people react to adversity. He said, “People basically fall into one of two categories: sheep or wolf. And I’m not a sheep.” I think I am a sheep who hitched a ride with a wolf. When we lost our crop to hail the first time in 1996 and our insurance turned out to be worthless and I was pregnant and large amounts of debt loomed on the horizon, I was perfectly willing to throw up my hands, quit and go do something else. In that respect I think I am like most people. Life is just easier if you can go along with the flow and avoid the pitfalls.  But if everyone did that improvements would seldom if ever be made.

If I’ve surmised anything over the years, it’s that problems come about seemingly on their own resulting from a convergence of factors: a misinterpretation of a law or regulation, a quirky personality, a do-gooder who is just plain wrong, and/or a bureaucrat who refuses to do anything other than “the way it’s always been done.” The result is that change takes a lot of work but more importantly perseverance.

So what do you need to make a change? The first quality just about everyone has. It equates to “What the @#$% happened here?” The second quality many people have, “I’m mad. I’m going to complain to the proper authorities, and this will be fixed!” But there are a lot of problems out there and it is just as likely that your problem won’t be fixed. Sure some may complain for a while but at some point most people simply cut their losses and walk away grumbling. If you are really determined to make a change, it takes more than complaining. Change comes about because you can articulate exactly what is wrong and why, AND you have mapped out and researched what should be done instead. Only then do you have a chance.

Chris (God bless him) has chronicled several things we have fought to change. Some of it is humorous. a lot of it comes under “You just can’t make that up!” and parts of it I simply cannot read because it was enough for me to live through it. We hope that you will be entertained and learn a little about production agriculture along the way. But what we really hope is that maybe the next time you see a problem, you will have the courage to be a wolf.

How wonderful is my wife? Check out this video from back in 2001 when she called in to C-Span to talk about the Farm Bill and how vegetables and fruits are typically short-changed when it comes to federal agriculture policy:

The backstory on our first two CNN appearances

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.

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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.

(Note: Frances Causey is the Producer and Co-Director of the fantastic documentary “Heist: Who Stole The American Dream.” http://www.heist-themovie.com/theTeam.html)

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.

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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.”

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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.

Our meeting with Vice President Al Gore’s soft buttery hands and how I once got Paul Harvey to issue a semi-correction

The following is another excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” It deals with our brief meeting with Vice President Al Gore.

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In late 1999 our good friend Pat O’Dwyer arraigned for Eve, my brother and I to meet with Vice President (and presidential candidate) Gore at LaGuardia Airport. Now, I thought we had a friend in Gore because a few months earlier I had done him a solid favor. You see, Paul Harvey, in an October broadcast, reported that the Vice President at a White House ceremony, while presenting a national award to a Colorado FFA member, was told by this FFA member he one day planned a career in production agriculture. The Vice President, according to Harvey, then told this FFA member that there was no future for them in that career path, for production agriculture is being shifted out of the U.S. to the third world, thanks in no small part to a Vice President-assisted U.N. initiative known as Agenda 2000.

When I first heard this story my initial reaction was “urban legend.”

So, I started researching it and kept calling various publications and organizations that were supposed to be the source of this story. Bottom line, no one could verify it. It turned out to be an unsubstantiated and unverified tall tale.

I called the Vice President’s office in the afternoon of October 22, 1999 to ask about this story and if the Vice President had any comment about it. After 5:30 p.m. a woman from the Vice President’s staff called me back. She said Gore denied the story to the Iowa media on Wednesday and then faxed me a little press release concerning his denial of this really weird tale.

On October 27, 1999 I called Paul Harvey’s staff. I told them why I was calling, concerning that Gore story. Right away his staffer put the blame on Agri-News, identifying them as the source. I told her that yes, I contacted Agri-News, and then their source, the Wyoming Wool Growers, and bottom line, neither could provide any credible evidence or substantiation for that story. I pointed out that not even a date for the event can be provided. I asked her if she realized that the story prompted a denial on the part of the Vice President. She said that the Vice President’s office in fact did call them (SURPRISE SURPRISE) to deny the story and was supposed to send them something but never got back to them. I told her they got back to me and asked her if she would like a copy of what they sent me. She said she would. I told her how this story circulated like wildfire, thanks in no small part to Mr. Harvey, and I know some people that actually called their Congressional representatives  and Senators in outrage over it, who now look a bit like idiots. She kept saying what a shame it was.

When I sent the fax I wrote, in part, the following: “To Paul Harvey’s staff person, Here is what I received from the VP’s office on Friday. I’m sure if you call Ms. Ratcliff she could provide further details. I look forward to hearing Mr. Harvey’s retraction and apology to the VP for reading that story.”

Surprisingly, during his October 29, 1999 broadcast Paul Harvey commented that the Gore comments to the FFA students that was reported in AgriNews was denied by the Vice President. The Vice President thinks there is bright future for people in agriculture. Harvey took no responsibility for broadcasting misinformation. He only reported that Gore denies the comments as was reported. This still leaves folks with the opinion that Harvey’s report may have been factual and the Vice President was merely changing his story. But, it was the closest that Harvey would come and I later heard the Vice President’s team was very pleased with the work I had done with regard to this. I also published all of the details regarding this incident on a number of farmer related websites and discussion groups.

So, I thought we had a friend in Gore. When we met him at LaGuardia I actually got some press to cover it, including RNN news

The Vice President’s advance team were floored that the press was there. We had a whole bunch of information for Gore, including ways in which to fix the crop insurance program and legislative language for our disaster aid. We also gave him information how the Administration could give us our aid directly via discretionary money available in the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). We had maybe 2 or 3 minutes with him. I still remember how soft his hands were, like butter. And Eve and I both noticed how “fresh” he smelled. Quite fresh. My brother Brian used a joke I gave him when he reached to shake his hand. My brother said:

“It’s an honor and privilege to finally meet the man … that was once Tommy Lee Jones’ roommate (actor Jones and Gore were roommates at the University of Tennessee).

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It caught Gore off guard for a second, then he burst out laughing and said it was his “claim to fame.” I wanted to say how the years have been far kinder to him than they have to Jones, but thought better of it and bit my tongue. When I started to go into our problems and what help we specifically needed he put his hand up to cut me off and said something to the effect that we would discuss it another time and implied he would get back to us.

We never heard from Gore again. But, we did get some awesome pictures out of the meeting.

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PediSpin = Strange Family Activities!

The following is a series of photos taken on February 25, 2012 … it chronicles Eve doing PediSpin on my feet. Our youngest son Jonah saw it in the mall and said “ma, you gotta get this for dad.”

Check out the series of photos taken by our oldest son Caleb. Why don’t you add captions and text.

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My memoir and search for a publisher …

I have a number of new blog and Twitter followers so I want to post again about my unpublished memoir … so … it’s written and gone through one edit but I need a publisher! If you know anyone interested in a book not only detailing what life is like on a working farm today … but is also interested how real, down to earth regular citizens can affect real change and get real positive public policy enacted … then this is the book for them!

Below is the text of an article from a local newspaper that details it … enjoy!

By Ginny Privitar
GOSHEN — Chris Pawelski, a fourth-generation Orange County onion farmer, once offered a bag of onions for sale on eBay for $150,000. He didn’t get any buyers. But his stunt was picked up by other news outlets and drew attention to the need for an adhoc crop loss program for the Eastern Seaboard after Hurricane Irene leveled crops.

It focused attention on the plight of farmers like himself, caught between the havoc wreaked by weather and the sometimes bewildering agricultural policies of the government.

Pawelski makes two to three trips a year to Washington, D.C., to advocate for farmers. When he’s out in the field on the tractor, he’s just as likely to be on the phone to someone in government. He even sued the USDA in Federal Court over crop insurance policy. He’s been interviewed, filmed and quoted by diverse sources including Crain’s New York Business, The New York Times, CNN, the CBS Evening News, BBC World Service News, and Univision, and been featured in The Hindu, the largest English-speaking newspaper in India.

He’s lobbied lawmakers and cabinet members, including Senator Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and current Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. He was even quoted in an article in Vogue about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was at his farm for a farm bill meeting.

Now Pawelski can add another title to his resume: author. He’s written an often funny, readable, and informative book about his experiences: “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” He describes it as a memoir — “An inside look at a farmer’s fight to influence ag policy in Washington D.C., and the oddities of life that happen along the way.”

He manages to explain government policy madness in easy-to-understand prose that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.

After a severe hailstorm in 1996, when the Orange County onion crop was devastated and farmers wanted to destroy the ruined crop, the government insisted on continuing to maintain it until they finally gave the go-ahead to destroy it. Pawelski’s book details the folly:

“Roughly 2,500 acres were directly hit by the hailstorm and all of the farmers impacted wanted to quickly destroy the crop and minimize their losses. But, we couldn’t do that. And what prevented us? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)….

In fact, not only were the farmers in our valley told that we could not destroy our crop and cut our losses, which again would have been the smart production move, but we were told we had to continue to care for the crop, to continue to spray it with fungicides and insecticides, to keep it free from weeds, etc., and if we did not care and maintain our crop we ran the risk of voiding our insurance claim and payment. So, even though the smart production practice, the wise farming decision would be to destroy the onions and cut our losses the USDA said no, we had to do the opposite, pour more money into it, or else.”

He can tell you, too, how the large chain stores dictate what kinds of onions they’ll buy, even if the size they want is not suited to growing conditions here. He also wonders why onion farmers here get $7.50 for a 50-pound bag of onions — only a little more than the $6 they received 30 years ago, in 1983.

Thanks to the ravages of weather and the government, Pawelski is in debt. He’d like to get his book published, and would welcome backers or an interested publisher.

A background in broadcasting

Pawelski started out on a very different career path, but one that made him uniquely suited for his present.

He attended the University of Iowa, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in broadcasting and film studies. He taught there for two years and also taught some summer semesters at Northwestern University, back in the 1980s.

However, he found himself drawn back to farming, back to Orange County. He and Eve took up farming on 50 acres, alongside his father and brother’s land, in 1993.

But as he says, his degree has come into play in dealing with the media.

“I’m using it extensively for that, not the way I expected it to be,” he said.

He and his wife, Eve, have spent a good deal of the last 16 years involved with public policy advocacy on behalf of farmers and agriculture. He credits his wife with being an equal partner in bringing about some startling improvements in our agricultural policy.

“Nothing I’ve done has been by myself; everything is done jointly with my wife, Eve.” Eve works for the Chester school district, and her salary is an important counterpoint to the financial vagaries of farming.

“We’ve had seven 50-year floods in the last eight years,” Pawelski said, “I’m $250,000 in the hole due to those floods.”

Pawelski estimates that, since 1996, approximately 15 to 20 onion farmers have left farming in the county.

He would like to see the waterways dredged to avoid repeated crop destruction, including the Roundout creek and Hudson and Walkill Rivers.

“The last comprehensive study was done in 1983, and they recommended dredging,” he said. “At the time, Congress didn’t have the money. The Army Corps of Engineers said they’d come back, but they didn’t.”

The Pawelskis are responsible for a $10 million earmark specifically for Orange County onion farmers in the 2002 Farm Bill), changes in crop loss policy, and the creation of a new $50 million Conservation on Muck Soils program passed in the 2008 House version of the Farm Bill, but not the Senate version. It is currently under consideration for inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill. They’ve brought about changes to the onion crop insurance policy, including doubling the insured expected market price. Chris even testified before the US Senate Ag Committee on crop insurance reform in 2010.

One after another

In 2011, the Pawelskis’ onion crop was wiped out by Hurricane Irene, prompting the eBay experiment. But that wasn’t their first brush with disaster. In 1996, the Pawelskis’ crop was wiped out by a hailstorm. Other weather-related disasters occurred in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

In 1996 the couple began to work with elected officials to secure special appropriations for onion farmers in Orange County. Finally, after six years of hard work spearheaded by then-Congressman U.S. Rep. Ben Gilman, the $10 million special earmark passed in the 2002 Farm Bill. As Pawelski said, “The night we learned it finally would be included and passed I cried like a baby. But I also told my wife that I knew, all along, we would succeed.”

Pawelski is effective in the halls of government. He doesn’t just complain, he comes up with solutions. And he knows how to get things done. As legislator Tom Pahucki, when asked what makes Pawelski so effective, said, “His genuine concern for the betterment of the agriculture industry makes him who he is. He works very hard for the people in agriculture and is effective. If it weren’t for him a lot of the policies in place and on the drawing board wouldn’t be there, except for him.”

Maire Ullrich, Agriculture Program leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension has known Pawelski for years. She said, “He’s helped other farmers by providing information to legislators about the realities… His education is in communication, so he’s very adept at making an argument and [has] all the skills and art that go with that. He’s outgoing, willing to work with every legislator. He’s very knowledgeable about the government system and how it works. It’s his personality and intelligence that builds his effectiveness.”

Rick Zimmerman, former Director of Public Policy for the New York Farm Bureau, and now a private consultant and agriculture advocate, said, “He’s very passionate, very intelligent and makes it his business to understand the details of the issues he get engaged with and one thing that distinguishes him from others is that he comes up with solutions to problems; some of the issues are very complex but through his understanding he can formulate issues that are reasonable and solve the problems. He works hard to find solutions and advocates for solutions.”

But perhaps his best accolades were offered by his wife, Eve:

“Much of what Chris does heavily involves his day-to-day networking to educate local, state and federal representatives, as well as the media, on policies that will improve the conditions for farmers and their workers. It is Chris’s consistent, unrelenting dedication to help farmers that I see from very early in the morning ‘til late at night that I am most proud of. More than one person has asked me over the years when he sleeps.

“The amount of effort he has put into agricultural labor issues over the years on state and federal levels is phenomenal. Most recently, he has written a white paper detailing changes to the guest worker program, which are currently under consideration for inclusion in immigration reform. It takes years to effect change. It is Chris’s ability to conceive of realistic solutions to agricultural problems and then relentlessly work to see them implemented that consistently amazes me. Without him I would have grown tired and quit a long time ago. He never seems to tire.”

The Pawelskis plan to begin planting this year’s onion crop by the end of the week. Of course, that depends on the right weather conditions. If they plant and it stays cold and or gets too dry, the soil could dry out, and some of it can blow away. Pawelski monitors different weather blogs and websites. It’s safe to say that this week, as always, he’ll be keeping an eye out.

Editor’s note: Chris Pawelski’s can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/ChrisPawelski?feature=mhee or reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ChrisPawelski.

– See more at: http://chroniclenewspaper.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130404/NEWS01/130409992/Chris-Pawelski-stirs-the-muck#sthash.4IQQqZLL.dpuf