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!
The following is another brief excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.”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?”