On Monday, I had the chance to deviate from my normal routine. Sure, I reported to my desk in The Evening Sun newsroom at the requisite time and, as usual, scrambled to meet deadline. But following that, I had a reprieve from my typical day – which usually involves a lot of tapping away at my keyboard and juggling phone calls, interviews and the all too frequent school board meeting. Instead, I had the all-too-rare opportunity to get out of Dodge.
Or, more precisely, Chenango County. And it was all thanks to the Chenango County Farm Bureau.
Two years ago, CCFB President Bradd Vickers dragged me to Albany for the New York Farm Bureau’s annual Lobby Day. I spent two days in the state capital with farmers from across New York, all there to advocate and educate on behalf of our largest industry: Agriculture.
It was my first experience with what is derisively called “Tin Can Tuesdays,” where special interest groups clog the hallways of the Legislative Office Building and Capitol with constituents all bent on the same thing: garnering legislative support and funding for the cause du jour.
I’ve made that sound a little sleazy, I realize. But actually, it’s not. For these aren’t the slick, suited business-types which grease the political wheel (and a few campaign war chests along the way). Nor are they the among the slew of protesters bussed in from the inner city intent on clogging up those same wheels with their catchy catch phrases and poorly-worded demonstration signs.
No, these are every day people like you and me. They are business people, educators, professionals, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms, laborers, doctors, nurses, and more. They all have one thing in common: they are citizens and taxpayers of the Great State of New York with real concerns about how our elected officials are doing their jobs, and how the state in which they live, work and raise their families is being governed.
And they think their concerns are important enough to take time out of their busy lives and schedules to travel to Albany and meet with legislators face to face on the issues which matter to them.
I witnessed it all first hand two years ago, and it was eye-opening to say the least. I learned more about the legislative process, the real workings of our government (not to mention the myriad of forces, policies and issues our agricultural producers and farm families are up against!) in that 36-hour period than I had in my preceding 30-mumble years on this planet.
So, when Bradd called to ask me if I wanted to go again this year, I jumped at the chance. Hence my drive to Albany on Monday.
I wasn’t able to stay for the entire two-day event, but the time I was able to spend with the Chenango County contingent was well worth it. The first item on the agenda was lunch, which gave me the chance to both catch up on the activities of our very active county farm bureau and meet Drew Piaschyk – who was the only member of the group I didn’t know.
Then it was off to the capital for the issues briefing. It’s overwhelming really, all the pieces of legislation which have ramifications on agriculture. It is the NYFB’s job to stay on top of them all, and then try to bring legislators around to their way of thinking. When it comes to elected officials who represent rural districts, that’s not usually a hard sell. But, let’s face it, the lions share of those calling the shots in Albany are from downstate. In far too many cases, they have little understanding of where there food comes from, or what it takes to produce it.
That’s where all these farmers come in. Because they can give these legislators and their staffs real life information based on their personal experiences and practices. Not hypotheticals.
For me, clearing my schedule took a couple of emails and phone calls. (And some strong arming, since I had to “encourage” Brian Golden to cover Monday’s Norwich School Board meeting.) But for these ag producers, imagine the arrangements they had to make to ensure their livestock, crops, etc. were taken care of so they could travel to Albany. Their very willingness to do so is testament to how critical, how important these issues are to them. I hope that fact wasn’t lost on our legislators.
It certainly wasn’t lost on me.
I considered it an honor to be invited along for this year’s Lobby Day. My sincere thanks to the NYFB and the entire Chenango crew – Bradd, Rainy, Annette, Harvey, Marge and Drew – for allowing me to accompany them again this year. The event isn’t typically open to the press, but thanks to Bradd, Rainy and my honorary membership in the CCFB, I was afforded the privilege.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout out to Keven Bucklin, Cassie Stanton and Sara Talcott of Agro Farma, who helped Chenango County put their best foot forward during Monday night’s Taste of New York reception by distributing countless cups of Chobani.
I did, indeed, feel like I tasted my way across our great state during that reception. And I have to tell you, I love New York even more for the experience. The true diversity of our state’s agricultural industry – and the quality products they produce – are something of which we can all be proud.
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