Wednesday, July 31, 2013

AGL Session 5, Part 2: Upstate New York

Day 5 of AGL Session 5 had us flying up to Syracuse, New York. At work, I always hear how people are surprised by how much agriculture we have in Georgia. It’s a great opportunity to tell them about the importance of ag and its effect on our State. I suppose they just assume Georgia is all like Atlanta. I fell prey to similar thinking. I know there is a lot of ag in New York, but it still surprised me when we were flying in how green and lush everything is—especially in July.
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Our first stop was the New York Ag Experiment Station in Geneva.
We met with four researchers to learn about agriculture in New York. It was interesting to learn that hops are starting to be regrown there. There was a massive disease that wiped out the crop many years ago. Because NY only allows breweries that use 70% or more local products in their state, many microbreweries are driving demand for hops. New varieties of grapes and hops are bred and tested in the field and then processed in the Viticulture & Brewing Lab on campus to determine quality and best practices.
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We also learned about the Food Venture Lab, where food safety tests are performed and there are new innovative food products generated there regularly. This part was extremely interesting to me because that is a lot of what I do at my job. They are a one stop shop for education about processing, regulation, food safety demonstrations, shelf life testing, and more.
I purchased a bottle of the acorn squash seed oil, which was a product of the research conducted there to determine value added products from waste streams. Our oil tasted very strongly of peanuts.
Our next stop was at Fox Run Vineyards to learn about the Finger Lakes wine industry. The Finger Lakes area is full of beautiful views no matter where you are. Mr. Scott Osborne, owner, told the group about some of the issues the wine industry faces getting wine sales in grocery stores through the legislative process. He demonstrated the power of interest group lobbies and how the system can be influenced by those groups.
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Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was his commitment to supporting local businesses. He approached a local company to build his fermenting tanks modeled after European styles. As a result, he said many of the 40+ wineries now purchase their tanks from that company. His commitment to spend several hundred dollars per tank extra for local fabrication keeps his neighbors and friends in business and that money then stays in the community. Sometimes, food producers encourage consumers to shop local, but might often miss the message for their own inputs. It is a great model to follow.
Our next stop was Hansen Farms, where we were hosted by Andrew Wright, a graduate of the LEAD NY’s (a similar program to ours) most recent class. We learned that New York has the opposite problem that Georgia has; their crops are getting flooded in the fields, and you probably won’t find a productive corn field that doesn’t have drain tile installed. Hansen Farms’ cabbage operation was just getting ramped up. We learned that consumer cabbage is very different than cabbage used for further processing. These cabbages were very dense and as heavy as bowling balls, as evidenced by Tate below. Hansen Farms utilizes the current H2A program for their labor needs and seemed to agree with most farmers that it is a difficult program to work with, but it is what they need to get their crops planted, tended, and harvested reliably. This further strengthened the argument that workable immigration reform is required for our farmers to stay in business.
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Following Hansen Farms, we went to Bejo Seeds demonstration plot facility. Mr. Dennis Ferlito (LEAD NY Class 5 participant) showed the group their facility where they grow many of the hundreds of varieties they wholesale throughout the US.
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The next part of our session was one I was most dreading: home stays. We were all matched with alumni of the LEAD NY program to do home stays overnight. It is unnerving to have to stay with complete strangers in another state without ever having even emailed or talked to them over the phone. Steve Gibson and I were paired with Perry and Sue Dewey. Perry was a member of LEAD NY Class 11. He is a former ag teacher and is now a school administrator.
We started out our homestay touring some more vineyards in the Finger Lakes region and then made our way down to Madison, NY where they lived. Perry and Sue were both so hospitable and accomodating. We went through Ithica where Perry worked as the state director for Ag in the Classroom. We even made a special trip at the local grocery store to pick up some cheese curds (something I had never heard of before then). I told them they must have thought they had just adopted a pair of three year olds because Steve and I didn’t stop asking questions the entire 24 hours we were there except when we were sleeping. We spent the majority of the drive to Madison just seeing farms and asking questions about how NY compares to Georgia.
One of the most interesting things I had never thought about: most people in upstate NY don’t have air conditioners; they don’t need it for the most part. I thought this store sign advertising the fact that they have AC was hilarious.
When we got to Perry and Sue’s house, I immediately felt like I was at home. There was hunting gear everywhere, a very enthusiastic and welcoming dog, and taxidermied animals adorning the walls. I really wish my husband Justin could have been with me because he would have loved it all! We even have talked about taking our family vacation up there next year and plan to visit.
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On our way back to meet up with our group, we traveled up the hills/mountains and saw a wind farm up close. These windmills are used to feed power back into the grid. They don’t look like much, but they are 150 tall and each rotor blade is about 60 feet long.
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Obligatory note: our mornings were spent watching the news for the “Royal Baby Watch.” Tate kept us all informed and let us know when he was born.
The next stop was the Carrot Barn with Mr. Richard Ball. We learned about diversified ag production (mostly vegetables) and how their farm was flooded in 2011. Just before the flood, Mr. Ball worked with a group of investors from the Bronx, NYC to create a CSA. During the immediate time after the flood, members of that CSA, often those that were even too poor to purchase a full share, volunteered their time to help the families affected recover. I think this is important to note. Because those families participated in a fresh fruit and vegetable program, they were connected to a man they had actually never even met before and wanted to help. Ag is all about connecting people!
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Our next stop was Maple Down Farms II, owned by class participant Mark Risse’s sister Denise and her husband Dave Lloyd. Their farm produces 75% of its income through milk for the Cabot production facility. The other 25% comes from breeding and harvesting of eggs and embryos for breeding purposes. They were also negatively impacted by the flood of 2011. We got to spend some hands on time with the cows in the milking barn and learned about feed mixes, best practices, and animal health and welfare.
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Our final stop in upstate was at Crist Bros. Orchards. We met with Ms. Jennifer Crist who is the fifth generation of the family in the business. We visited the construction site for their new cooler and learned about the latest technology being used for their facility. We also got to see new orchards that have been put in of a brand new variety of apples that was developed in the Geneva research station. These trees are grown on high tension wires similar to those used for Georgia olive production. The idea is to have a wall of fruit that will speed harvest and create more uniformity. Another interesting thing on the farm is the use of high deer restricting fences. Jennifer said that the losses they experienced due to deer eating the apples in four or five years were about equal to the cost of the fencing and they have more than made their money back from the investment. Finally, we wrapped up the visit with a box full of fresh cherries that were fabulous!
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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

AGL Session 5, Part 1: Washington, D.C.

(Thanks to our Assistant Director Kristi Farner for her wonderful photography!)
AGL Session 5 got off to a great start at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. We all made it through security with little hassle and only a few overweight and oversized baggage fees.
We landed in Washington, D.C. and realized how wonderful Atlanta’s airport actually is. This was later reinforced by LaGuardia Airport as well.
Some of our group decided to use the metro and learned it was a terrible choice in Washington in July. Trekking half a mile with 50 pound suitcases will wear you out! Luckily, the group of women I was with hailed a cab and made our way to our hotel with no trouble. We had a delicious lunch in Washington’s Chinatown and made our way to the American Farm Bureau for our afternoon session.
Throughout the entire trip, we were looking at federal government and national issues that affect agriculture. There were several themes that rang true no matter if we were in Washington, D.C., upstate New York, or in the heart of New York City: immigration repeal is necessary for a stable agriculture workforce; affecting national issues begins at the local level; and we must all continue to be vocal advocates (“agvocates,” if you will) about the power of the American agribusiness sector and its importance.
We met with representatives on both sides of major issues, including those from the Animal Agriculture Alliance as well as the Humane Society for the United States. It was interesting to see how both sides of the coin could present seemingly logical arguments and to see how those issues were presented in a pleasing manner to the intended audience. It was a good example of how facts could be manipulated to fit the audience and how passion and fervor can overwhelm the senses of even one’s toughest opponents.
Our group met with various members of Georgia’s legislative representation. Senator Johnny Isakson and and Senator Saxby Chambliss met with the entire group and echoed the sentiments that we heard all along. They strongly recommended local legislative involvement to eventually influence our state and federal policymakers. Each AGL participant also made individual arrangements to meet with their State Congressperson while we were there as well.
Congressman Austin Scott’s office interns provided a wonderful tour of the Capitol.
Other speakers included Captain Bob Watts of the US National War College who taught us about U.S. national strategy, Mr. Randy Nuckolls who taught us about federal ethics issues, and Ms. Krysta Harden, from small town Camilla, Georgia who is awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Senate to become the next USDA Deputy Secretary, who taught us the importance of ag advocacy.
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Session 5 in D.C. was enlightening and a whirlwind of policy, national issues, and constant movement, but it wasn’t all business. Class participants took in the sights and sounds of D.C. at night. We visited monuments, museums, caught Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, and even squeezed in a Segway tour!
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Very center of Washington, D.C. in the Capitol building.
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Segway master- people kept asking me for directions to tourism attractions because I suppose they thought I was a cop.
Okay so maybe I lied about being a Segway master. I lost control of my Segway twice and actually fell off of mine and got a bit of road rash at the Lincoln Memorial. I still have the marks almost two weeks later.