More on the Iowa Democratic Caucus

R. T. Rybak in Iowa City

R. T. Rybak in Iowa City

Last night I attended a local food exhibition at Montgomery Hall on the Johnson County Fairgrounds, hosted by the county supervisors. Lots of people I know were there, including some mentioned in my last post.

It was an hour to catch up, caesura after the intense final week of working on turnout and planning for our Iowa Democratic caucus.

The caucuses produced a maelstrom of social media commentary in both parties. Because the Democratic caucus was a statistical tie, all kinds of claims are being made. My thoughts on this tempest in a teapot is it’s over and the state party has certified the results.

Since all of the people who led the more than 1,600 caucuses reported their delegate counts to the party, it would be easy to count them again and compare them with what candidate precinct captains reported to their respective campaigns. There’s no reason not to. In my case, I listened while our caucus chair phoned in his results and they match mine. The Sanders and O’Malley precinct captains were offered the same opportunity. At the same time, it was not a straw poll or election that can be audited. There was no voting even if some in the corporate media want to characterize it as such.

I am neutral about whether Iowa is first in the nation or not. There is plenty of good work to do outside politics if we aren’t. Nothing lasts forever, including Iowa’s first in the nation status.

George McGovern did Iowa a great service after the 1968 Democratic convention when he led the effort to revise a broken nominating process. Back then, presidential candidates were decided in smoke-filled rooms. How could we forget Chicago Mayor Richard Daily’s suppression of protesters outside the convention? That was the year Harold Hughes ran for president and I’ve discussed the convention with someone who was with Hughes in Chicago. The nominating process was controlled less by votes and more by aging white men behind the scenes. Eventual nominee Hubert Humphrey was the last of the old-style nominees, and McGovern’s work produced a superior process.

I don’t think the Iowa caucuses are broken, as some have asserted. Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan suggested people don’t understand the process, and I agree. As a precinct leader for Hillary Clinton, I must have explained parts of the caucus math and delegate process to people in our corner a dozen times. They still didn’t get it. The tactics of caucuses require a bit of arcane preparation and execution, as I described previously. Most important to party building is getting the turnout and having the conversation.

The close result between Clinton and Sanders this cycle, combined with consistently great Democratic turnouts in 2008 and this year highlight a need for the Iowa Democratic Party to fix its outdated process. Caucus yes, but continue to make the process more accessible and less byzantine.

Party leaders should focus on party building. That means continuing to bring people into the Democratic party, a purpose the caucuses are serving well. It also means developing funding streams less reliant upon the presidential nominee and grounded in the people in Iowa. The latter is tough to do in this donor poor state, and tough to do with the rise of the paid political class of organizers, consultants, advertising agencies, data crunchers and logisticians wanting compensation.

Can volunteers drive the election of a president, federal offices and governor? I’m not sure if that is a nostalgic filter on life, taking the current reality out of focus, or a real possibility. In any case, I continue to believe the coordinated campaign, in which presidential resources come to Iowa to prop up the donor poor Democratic party should be blown up.

I know change is possible and needed. I also know I’m not the only one in the party that thinks so.

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Local Food and the Face of the Farmer

First Tomatoes Ripening

First Tomatoes Ripening

Locally produced food is everywhere we look.

Local food may be what’s grown in a backyard garden, herb jar or patio pot. It may be heirloom livestock raised in grass paddocks, supplemented with carefully selected feed, and served in a local restaurant. It is definitely vegetables and fruit, increasingly available at farmers markets and roadside stands, from community supported agriculture operations, and even in chain supermarkets.

The local foods “movement,” is less coordinated than what media make it out to be. However, there is a consistent theme: it is small scale, farmers are interdependent, and the face of the farmer is visible in every apple, tomato and ear of sweet corn.

Many of us notice the increased availability of local choices when stocking our kitchens, a sign the food system is changing. After leaving a corporate job in 2009, I had a chance to work on half a dozen farms and gained a closer view of what local food farmers do. It is hard work made worthwhile by a network of cooperation among producers.

I met Susan Jutz, who operates Local Harvest CSA when two of her children were in 4-H with my daughter. Twenty years into the operation, Jutz has about seven acres in vegetables, pastures rented to local livestock producers, a large field in the Conservation Reserve Program, and a set of paddocks for her flock of ewes and spring lambs. Walking around the farm, you’ll find beehives, a greenhouse and a high tunnel, all adding to the economic structure of a farm using sustainable practices to produce shares for a medium-sized community supported agriculture project.

I began working at Local Harvest in March 2013 when I swapped labor for a share in the CSA. The work was physical, and I enjoyed it enough to return every spring since then. It was the beginning of understanding a local food network.

My first job was soil blocking in the greenhouse — making trays of small, square starter soil blocks where seeds are planted. In March, the ground is usually still frozen, yet I have to take off my coat and shirt in the warm workspace. The labor is physical, and a good opportunity to follow seeds turning to seedlings and then to crops with the season. Susan shared her greenhouse with other farmers with whom she cooperated to produce the contents of her member shares. Over time I worked on most of their farms.

One was Laura Krouse, owner/operator of Abbe Hills Farm near Mount Vernon, Iowa. Laura uses part of Susan’s greenhouse space in the spring and provides potatoes for Susan’s fall shares.

Because Krouse’s potato operation is large, she gains economies of scale. Using a tractor with a potato harvesting attachment, along with shared labor from other CSAs, and a large number of volunteers, she can harvest a field quickly. We harvested potatoes and washed them using a specialized root vegetable cleaner, bringing a load of potato-filled buckets back to Local Harvest for storage and distribution.

This is just one example of the cooperative ventures among farmers which include squash, eggs, carrots sweet corn and other vegetables for CSA shares.

While Susan and Laura have been operating for decades, since the local food movement got started in Iowa, the increased interest in local food is encouraging more farmers to enter the market.

I met Lindsay Boerjan who returned to her family’s century farm in Johnson County in 2011. To supplement family farm income, she used leftover material from a razed barn to construct raised planting beds. With manure from the cattle operation she runs with her husband and aunt and uncle, she planted the beds in vegetables for a CSA she began in 2015 with seven members. She hopes to grow her number of customers. Boerjan said she faced challenges as a female farmer.

“It’s predominantly an older male thing or career,” she said. “Should you want to make a career of it, it’s harder to wrestle in costs now the way they are.”

Boerjan is an example of a minimally financed operation, able to get started because she owns the land and is part of a larger farm operation. That Boerjan’s family owned the land and already farmed helped get her CSA going.

In January, Wilson’s Orchard in rural Iowa City announced it was entering the CSA market with a partnership with Bountiful Harvest Farm near Solon. Dick Schwab’s involvement in Bountiful Harvest is an example of a well-capitalized CSA start up. Schwab is a local entrepreneur who is involved in a variety of financial investments, including a timber business, an auto repair shop and more. He already hosted another CSA, Wild Woods Farm, on his acreage in rural Johnson County.  He has experience, owns the land and equipment needed to operate a farm, and has a network of marketing contacts that include Wilson’s Orchard.

Knowing the face of the farmer has been part of the local food movement. Today, people want to know more about where and how food is produced. Getting to know a farmer was important at the beginning of the local foods movement in Iowa, and still resonates. At the local supermarket, buyers stock the produce aisle with locally produced items, along with a daily count of local food items on hand and a life-size photographic cutout of the farmers who produced them.

Driven in part by mass media, consumers are concerned about a wide range of food issues that include contamination with harmful bacteria; dietary concern about consumption of carbohydrates, fat and sugar; the way in which plant genetics are modified to improve them; and more. Partly in response to media campaigns, annual sales of organic food exceed $30 billion in the U.S. (USDA). The increase in organic market share from national advertising campaigns is significant. If you get to know your local food farmer, what you may find is they benefit from this marketing, but their customers come and stay with them because of a personal relationship with the farmer.

Whether you grow herbs on a kitchen window, belong to a CSA or garden a plot in the backyard, it is all part of a local food movement that is just getting started and depends on knowing the face of the farmer.

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Iowa Caucus in Big Grove

With Hillary Clinton Jan. 24, 2016

With Hillary Clinton Jan. 24, 2016

Iowa Democrats did their job at the Feb. 1 first in the nation political caucuses.

The field was winnowed from six candidates (Chafee, Clinton, Lessig, O’Malley, Sanders and Webb) to two (Clinton and Sanders), giving Hillary Clinton a narrow, historic victory.

Our precinct played a role, and not an insignificant one, in producing that victory.

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to win the Iowa caucus — another glass ceiling broken. The caucus results are close. How close? It’s a matter of a couple of delegates with all but one of the state’s 1,683 precincts reporting, according to the Iowa Democratic Party. It is unclear whether the Sanders campaign will request a recount, but I doubt it. There are bigger fish to fry.

Iowa also played a role in setting which issues would be front and center in the 2016 presidential election. Even the anti-billionaire money in politics candidate Bernie Sanders gave an unintended nod to billionaire Tom Steyer’s advocacy to put climate action on the front burner of the contest. While issues aren’t the same as the horse race, they matter and Iowa matters in defining them.

The caucuses will be analyzed in great detail in the next 48 hours, so I have only a couple of things to add.

I begin with the lesson learned while attending the Democracy for America training in elections: winning an election is getting 50 percent of the vote plus one. The DFA method puts what happened in our precinct into higher relief, as through planning and competent execution of the tactical plan, our team for Hillary turned out more voters than expected, and provided Martin O’Malley his only delegate from Johnson County, and one of the few he got in the state. By giving O’Malley a delegate, it was taken from the Bernie Sanders group, giving Clinton a 2-1 victory over Sanders in Big Grove precinct. In a tight race, that one delegate mattered.

Here are the numbers.

Big Grove turned out 165 voters this cycle. We turned out 92 people for Clinton, the same number Obama had in 2008. In 2008, there were 75 Clinton supporters, a tie with John Edwards, and Clinton won the second delegate that year with a coin toss. For perspective, we turned out 242 during the six-way race Obama won in 2008. Our turnout last night was 69.2 percent of 2008’s record. Clinton had 56 percent of people at the caucus last night compared to 38 percent for Obama in 2008.

At the first alignment I reported these numbers to the Clinton campaign:

Clinton – 92
Sanders – 57
O’Malley – 10
Uncommitted – 6

This count would split the delegates two for Clinton and two for Sanders, with O’Malley not being viable. At the second alignment we sent our negotiating team to talk to O’Malley, with the Sanders representatives standing next to ours.

To get a third delegate we had one option. We needed to take people from Sanders and they were holding firm except for three people who moved to O’Malley. I did the analysis, ratified it with our team, and determined that by giving O’Malley 12 people their team would be viable and the delegate would come from Sanders.

I explained our proposal to the Clinton group and it was easy to get 12 volunteers to go to the O’Malley camp, since they understood the logic, if not the byzantine methodology. We executed the tactic, producing the following report to the Clinton campaign.

Clinton – 80
Sanders – 56
O’Malley – 25
Uncommitted – 0

Standing next to my neighbor and caucus chair, he phoned in two delegates for Clinton, one for O’Malley and one for Sanders to the state party system. This was our fourth presidential caucus working together and we were the last to leave the Middle School.

I haven’t digested everything that happened last night, although I was proud of the effort team Hillary put forward in our precinct. We ended up door knocking our entire precinct on Sunday, and that last minute extra effort had to have made a difference in turnout and the final result.

From here, let the pundits, bloggers and news reporters tell their story. The 2016 Iowa caucuses are in the books, and it is up to the remaining 49 states to decide who our Democratic nominee will be.

Whoever that is, I’ll feel comfortable going back to this year’s caucus attendees to ask for help in the general election campaign. No unity party needed here.

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Juke Box — Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall

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Rural Door Knocking

Saint Mary's Church, Newport Road, Johnson County, Iowa

Saint Mary’s Church, Newport Road, Johnson County, Iowa

There is plenty of time to think about things when door knocking a rural precinct. Houses are spread out, and typically there is a long walk from the road to the dwelling. Sometimes you can’t even find where people live on a farmstead, or the family moved away.

I had a finger wave and waved back.One couple stopped to ask me what I was doing at a friend’s house. Society is palpable even if there aren’t many people around. Politics here is more about the county than the president.

Rural Newport Precinct

Rural Newport Township

One woman saw me coming from the street  and said to the elderly man sitting on the front porch, “tell him you can’t hear.” Turned out I’d bought straw from this farm several years ago and we had more in common than expected. We had a good chat although I never got to speak to my target, the octogenarian mother inside. “We’re not caucusers,” one said. They dislike the party business part of the caucus and would likely vote in a primary if there were one.

Everyone has made up their mind on this walk list. I’m glad I went out. What I thought about most is how personal politics was to most of the people I met today. It’s like fresh cut firewood one person was burning in an open pit, the smell permeating my clothing and getting into my lungs. It would be a mistake to say we aren’t all connected. And that’s a hope we should share for getting through these turbulent times.

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On Our Own Into 2016

Garage Sign

Garage Sign

“Publishers are not accountable to the laws of heaven and earth in any country and regardless of my opinion, editors and publishers will print what they will.”

I wrote this in a letter to the editor of the Quad City Times in 1980 reacting to a popular feature section called Soundoff.

“(It is) little more than a vanity press for many of the writers,” I wrote. “It gets pictures, letters and opinions into print as a final goal; shouldn’t there be more to public voicing of opinion than that?”

This is more applicable today than it was three and a half decades ago.

What I learned in graduate school is the same statement can be applied to almost everything written in public. Reflecting on the Times experiment to make their pages more open to comments and retain readership, chaos reigned. What has changed since then is the emphasis on viewpoint in media — corporate, social or self published — which has been formalized. It’s not all good.

As I turn to the hard yet fun work of writing this year, I plan to journal my experiences in the food system here. Four years from full retirement, there are bills to pay and a life to live. I may pick other topics from time to time. I need to make the best use of every moment.

I’m writing off line as much as I can. While I don’t like to work for free as long as there is less cash than budget, I may occasionally post about those creative endeavors.

Thanks for reading this blog. Check out the tag cloud for your interests. I hope readers will be back often.

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We’re Going Home — Hamburg Inn No. 2

Hamburg InnWith yesterday’s announcement Hamburg Inn No. 2 is being sold by 68 year-old David Panther, another chapter in the long exodus of sixty-somethings from Iowa City’s public stage is closing.

With growth and a burgeoning new population, long time aspects of Iowa City iconography have changed and are changing. Old is giving way to new.

I more miss Hamburg Inn No. 1 on Iowa Avenue than any changes at No. 2 on Linn might bring. Arriving in Iowa City in 1970 to attend college, I had a notion I could experience every business and cultural institution in town and become a part of city social life. Hamburg Inn No. 1 was part of that. Like so many others, I left after graduation from the university, but remember fondly what the city was then.

My recent awareness of the exodus of sixty-somethings began with closure of Murphy Brookfield Books and the retirement of Riverside Theatre co-founders Ron Clark and Jodi Hovland. Hamburg Inn is another among many changes from what Iowa City grew up to be after the 1960s. Some businesses, like The Mill, made a successful transition. Others have not.

Why should we care? After all, change is the only constant in a transient city like Iowa City. It is made so by the University of Iowa: a primary driver of almost everything. It is partly nostalgia driven by personal memories and change in the world which increase in importance as we near the end of life’s span. There’s little reason to cling to the past instead of embracing the new. Opportunity also belongs mostly to the young, so some of us are going home.

I’ve never ate a pie shake at Hamburg Inn, and until recently wasn’t aware they served such a dessert. It has been breakfast with our daughter or a friend that drew me there of late. The last political event I attended at the Hamburg Inn was with Chet Culver during his last campaign. Culver didn’t appear to have a clue how to get re-elected and the stop did little to enhance his chances.

Life will continue with the best intentions, which is what I’m reading in the news. The operation will continue at Hamburg Inn No. 2 and importantly, people will keep their jobs. I read Panther will be retained by the new owners for a year as a consultant. According to the Warren Buffett playbook for business acquisition retaining current managers is important to a smooth and profitable transition. I wish everyone well.

Details of the sale aren’t quite worked out, according to news reports. We should embrace the change and give the new owners a chance or two as they continue the effort in its new form. If new management focuses on the quality of food and customer service they should be alright. A different, and new chapter in the life of an aging Iowa City scene being reborn.

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