He sniffs his hat …

The following below is an excerpt from my unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.”

Many years ago, during one of our initial disaster seasons (post 1996) my brother and I noticed our dad started sniffing his hat. Just like that. We’d be in our office, thinking about how bad the crop was due to the weather, and my dad would take his hat off and sniff it. A good, deep sniff, followed by a series of mini sniffs. Just like that. After a few dozen times, when it passed being a tic and was obvious now a codified and repeated habit, my brother and I asked my dad, “why the hell do you keep sniffing your hat?” So he said, “I can smell the stress.” “Huh?” “The stress, the trouble, the pressure, I can tell how bad it is by the smell of that smell.” “What’s it smell like” we asked. “Strong” he replied, it’s a bad year and I can smell it in my hat.” So, only mildly grossed out we said hey, whatever floats your boat dad, but, that’s weird we told him.

A few years later, in 2010, my Facebook friend Mike B. once got a fortune cookie that said:

“Never smell the inside of a hat.” 

I kid you not. He took a picture of it and e-mailed it to me. In 2009 my dad let me chronicle hat sniffing in a series of photos. They are now saved for posterity. And here they are:


So, my mom must call four five times a day, every day, asking “where’s your father?” She calls the barn, she calls my house, she leaves messages on the answering machine at the barn. I’ve thought about composing a Dr. Seuss like response but instead I’ve come up with a better idea … I’m going to microchip my dad and give my mom the code …


This comment of mine above, which was originally posted on Facebook, led to my creatively genius of a friend Donald W. to compose a response in the form of Dr. Seuss that touches on my dad’s hat sniffing, my mom’s eternal search for him, my love of 4 Lokos and Neurogasms and of course … onions!

The Dad Who Smells his Hat Comes Back, By Dr. WizSuess

This was no time for play. This was no time for fun. This was no time for games, for the time to harvest the mud grunions had came. Mud grunion harvest time was not a time to disappear like a jerk, mud grunion harvest time was a time for work.

All those grunions stacked in the bulk boxes so high had to have to go, have to go where the hellamumfifsis is that guy?

When our mother went to town for the day, she said, ”Somebody has to keep an eye on that guy, somebody, somebody has to, you see!”

Then she picked two somebodies it was Brian and me.

Well…. There we were. We were working pulling ends on the field just like that when who should appear but Ol Hat Sniffin Cadillac Jack!

”Oh-oh Brian said. ”Dont take you eye off ol Jack, if we lose him again mom’ll give a wack!”

I said ”Oh nooooo Jack not this time you hear, I watch you and watch you like Skin Head watches his beer!”

”Disappear!” laughed ol Jack. ”Oh no, no, no need for alarm, Im jus gonna go check the four lokos back at the farm!” ”You two keep your mind on the mud grunions and the Zong Wokets we hired, Im gotta go check on the pressure in the forklifters 5th & 8th tires!”

Then ol Hat Sniffin Jack grabbed this throat mimicking a person who is so parched they can spit and pronto he was gone just like that lickety split!!!

It was then that Brian and I hatched a plan, a plan to help mom keep track of her man. We’d buy a device a GPS and inject em…well we would inject it right up his….

Solar Plexus…when he was sleeping of course so he’d never suspect us!

So I ran to the barn and was taken aback, for there was ol Jack just a sniffin his hat. Thats when I got mad and screached at my dad…we no time for hat sniffin you disappearing curmudgeon there’s work to be done harvesting grunions!

Now get out of this barn we dont want you about….I’ll take the dammed Four Lokos and dump them all out!

It was then when my mind got a nudge to think like a think like a Hollywood judge! Id get a ankle lock not one but two to be exact and just like Lindsay Lohan I lock his ass in ankletracking Lo Jacks!

Well Brian and Mom and all the Zong Wockets rejoiced and regailed and sang songs of celebrunion…… as we hauled and hauled and gradzooted the mud grunions….for it was no longer a worry to look for Ol Hat Sniffen Cadillac Jack with his disappearing spasms now if only I could thinkafy a way to get Eve to drink the Neurogasms!

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

Say hello to Boris, the maybe vampire peddler who wants back fat from pig!

The following is an excerpt from my yet unpublished memoir, “Muckville: Farm Policy, Media and the Strange Oddities of Semi-Rural Life.” This little vignette is about my encounter with an Ukrainian peddler named Boris who might be a vampire and was in great need of large quantities of back fat, from pig.


Excuse me, do you sell back fat from pig?”

On August 17th, 2010, we were harvesting onions. I was working the big field lift on the yard. My brother was driving the harvester and my dad was out and about for some reason. Between one of the army truck loads of onions, a guy pulls in with a van. He is obviously a produce peddler. I say “obviously” because we deal with these types all the time. They usually sell to small markets and specialty stores and bodegas in NYC. They are of some foreign origin, either Korean or Russian or something else, where you have an extreme difficulty in communicating with them. Universally, they want everything cheap, and they are mostly a pain in the ass.

The guy gets out and he starts to talk to me. I’m too far away to hear at first clearly so I have him repeat what he said. His accent is thick and he sounds Russian. I later learn he is Ukrainian. He sticks out his hand and says “I am Boris” and then asks about onions and butternut squash (he sees a bulk box of squash next to the door.

And then he asks for something I have never been asked for before: “I need 2,000 lbs, every month, of the back fat from the pig.”

Excuse me? That was a new one. I paused for a moment, and without cracking a smile, because he wasn’t, I bit and asked “what for?” He was a little cagey on that detail, and never really gave me an answer. I prodded, “to barbeque?” He laughed and said “no, no, no, you don’t barbeque back fat from pig.” He then kept emphasizing,

in his thick Russian accent he needs lots of back fat … from pig. “And it must be 2, 3 inches thick, you understand?”

I responded with, “dude, I grow onions, not pigs, I really can’t help you there. Did you try the Quaker Creek Store next door?” “Yes, yes, they only have a little, I need 2,000 to 3,000 lbs, every month. And it MUST be 2 to 3 inches thick.” “Of course it must, who the hell thin slices back fat from pig,” I responded with. I had no idea what the hell we were talking about.

He then asked me for some cucumbers and other greens that I don’t grow so I suggest he call my neighbors, Ray and Gary Glowaczewski, who grow all sorts of stuff and sell them at various greenmarkets. I gave Boris their office phone number that he immediately calls on his cell and he starts talking to their mom, Ceil. He doesn’t preface the call with “Hi, my name is Boris and I like to buy produce from you” in his thick Ukrainian accent but instead says this in his thick Russian accent:

“Hello, I want to come visit and speak with you. Tell me where are you? What is your address that I may come visit with you now?”

Their mom was not disclosing anything to Boris. So Boris handed me the phone and I had to tell her that he was a guy interested in produce, and I added “he appears to be harmless.” Boris nodded in agreement. I left out the part about the back fat from the pig. She thanked me and then told Boris where their farm was located at (about a mile down the road).

Before he left we started talking about the back fat again. He repeated that he could move 2,000 pounds a month, easy. I asked. “Is there, like, a back fat holiday season coming up or something?” He looked at me quizzically and then smiled and said, “not really, but you would not like it, you have to start eating the back fat when you are this tall (he held his hand up about 2 feet high) in order to like it.” I didn’t question the veracity of that assertion. He then shook my hand and left to go to the Glowaczewski’s in search of cucumbers and presumably, “back fat from pig.”

But that was not the last that I saw Boris. Later in October my dad and I were working in our barns installing our own insulation in the ceiling. We were elevated by a very unsafe, if not dangerous, in my humble opinion, elevated platform constructed by my dad. It was a series of skids, boards and the like, elevated higher by two forklifts.

I hate heights as it is, I really hated this.  We were roughly 16 feet in the air. I hear him pull up and he starts calling out “hellloooo” in the barn, looking for us.

I yell down from my perch “Who is that? Is that you Boris?”

Boris responds, “yes, it is me!” I ask him, “are you still looking for the back fat, 2, 3 inches thick?” He quickly replies, “from pig, yes!”

So I climb down and shake his hand. I tell him, soulfully, that I couldn’t locate any sources for his pig back fat, YET, but I’m working on it. He then asks if we have onions in 10 lb bags and we tell him no, just in 50 lb bags. My dad, always the salesman, then tries to sell him squash. Boris says, “I buy one bag tomorrow, to see what my customers say.”

We then talk about my fear of heights. He talks about some supervisor job he had somewhere in Europe “where he was many feet high” where he was scared at first then no more. I have no problem admitting I’m a wussy.

At this point I whip out my Droid X to take a picture. I tell him, “Boris, I need to take a picture of you and my dad. I always take pictures of my best customers.” I can truthfully say this, because he actually bought a bag of onions. Boris smiles, just a little. But my Droid X camera craps out 3 times!!!!!!! I can’t take his picture!

Frustrated I exclaim, “Boris, I can’t take your picture. Are you a vampire or something?” Boris pauses a brief moment and says, “nah, (short pause) I don’t think so, (another short pause) maybe.”

I thought about asking him if somehow is maybe being a vampire was related to his need for large quantities of back fat from a pig, but I was afraid of experiencing a real life “True Blood” moment and didn’t want to push it. He did mention again the back fat issue and for some reason he thinks I’m the local go to guy to get it. When we exchanged business cards outside he made sure to show me, with his thumb and finger, what a “good, fat 2, 3 inch” looks like, not 1 or a “pretend 2 inch.” I dutifully nod my head, in knowing agreement. We are starting to establish a genuine back fat bond.

If anyone out there reading this has any tips on locating some back fat, from pig, please pass them along. My almost vampire friend Boris from the Ukraine who is no longer afraid of heights would be very appreciative.

Fantastic article!

I forgot to post the link to this fantastic article in the Warwick Advertiser about Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt’s proclamation. I am still overwhelmed by it!


Thank you Annie