Big Grove Political Update

Burning Brush, Nov. 8, 2019

Since signing a caucus commitment card for Elizabeth Warren on Sept. 15, all campaign activity increased in the state’s most Democratic county.

Traveling to Des Moines for the Nov. 1 Iowa Democratic Party Liberty and Justice Celebration was beyond the ken of my life in Big Grove. The event did kick off a final phase of the race to the Feb. 3, 2020 Iowa caucuses — campaigns are getting more serious because it’s now or never.

I favor doing well in the general election over a caucus victory for Warren. After all, there are 49 other states plus territories to weigh in by next summer’s Democratic National convention. Super Tuesday looms just ahead of the caucus when a quarter of the delegates will be selected. As the likely temporary chair of my caucus, it is important to be equitable in approach to candidates, keeping an eye on the bigger picture. The long haul to the general election is what matters most on Feb. 3.

Big Grove precinct went for Obama in the 2008 general election, and then for him again (just barely) in 2012. In 2016 Trump was a favorite here, winning by 54 votes. With effort, Big Grove precinct can swing back to support the Democratic presidential nominee and hopefully down-ticket candidates like U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative as well. There are primaries in both federal races which will garner more attention after Feb. 3.

The initial canvass of my precinct began. The first people contacted either don’t know for whom they will caucus or support Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar would be my second choice. There was also a lone, vociferous Biden supporter.

I attended the county central committee meeting on Thursday and was surprised to see an organizer for Senator Michael Bennet still pitching his campaign. While there is surge capacity among campaigns, if a candidate doesn’t already poll at five percent or more, it is difficult to see their path to winning the Iowa caucus, let alone winning the nomination. Pete Buttigieg is arguably the only candidate who thus far surged to rank in the top tier of Democratic candidates. I’m just saying if candidates are not registering among voters there is no path to the nomination.

I’m also thinking of John Edwards who placed second in the 2008 Iowa caucuses but hadn’t built adequate campaign structure in South Carolina and Nevada. He couldn’t compete in Super Tuesday states. This cycle’s March 3 Super Tuesday may not decide the nominee, but it’s hard to see how candidates who go all-in in Iowa to get a ticket out, like Castro and Harris, can ramp up quickly enough to gain momentum by Super Tuesday. Anything is possible, but is it realistic?

I’ve been under the weather for several days, focused on getting better. My walk list rests on the steps waiting for healing. I worked outside during my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store and burned brush yesterday. Outdoors work has been needed time for reflection and healing.

Kale continues to grow despite overnight temperatures in the 20s. I brought it inside, cleaned it, and added some to a pot of soup. For lunch I plan kale and black bean tacos with chili sauce from New Mexico peppers. I’ll soon return to a hundred percent, ready to continue the canvass, and return to work toward the general election. Politics isn’t everything in my life. It is something.

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Working Through a Local Food Learning Curve

Sunrise on Another Hopeful Day

I didn’t know where bartering labor for local food would lead. In retrospect, it was not about economics, but learning, access to a greenhouse and participating in farm life.

This Feb. 1, 2013 email to Susan Jutz, one of the first organic farmers and community supported agriculture farm operators in the state got things going.


Hope you are staying warm. I have an interest in developing a deeper relationship with producing local foods. While our kitchen garden is doing well, I want to explore the possibility of doing more with local foods to provide a source of income. This is a long range project, and if you offer it, I would like to exchange my labor for a share of your CSA this season.

I think you would find this a cheap and reliable source of farm labor, and what I would get out of it would be a deeper knowledge of how you do your work.

What do you think?
Regards, Paul

She accepted my offer and I’ve been working at Local Harvest ever since. When Carmen Black bought the farm and CSA operation from Susan, I stayed on. I plan to return next year.

In seven seasons I’ve learned a lot about food production. This year’s garden was the best ever, and if I had more time it could be better still. The education I gained has been valuable and I’m ready for next steps.

I engaged with three farms in 2019: Sundog Farm where Carmen lives, Wild Woods Farm where Kate Edwards leases land, and at Wilson’s Orchard owned by Sara Goering and Paul Rasch. Before tax income was $2,423.08 in cash with another $861.75 in bartered goods comprised of vegetables, greenhouse space, and soil mix for home use. I scheduled my work to do soil-blocking at Sundog Farm and Wild Woods Farm beginning in March, finishing in June. That gave me a month off before working at the orchard sales barn where the season runs from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31. I plan leave work at Wild Woods Farm in 2020 which frees up a day a week for gardening.

What else can I learn? Having a place to ask questions about vegetable and fruit growing is important to a gardener. The greenhouse space remains important, although eventually I’ll want to do this at home. Perhaps most valuable is participating in farm life, getting to know young farmers, workers and volunteers and the challenges they face in farming and in life generally.

Our home freezer and pantry are loaded with produce and that’s one measure of success of what began as a barter arrangement. As winter approaches there is a lot to consider for 2020.

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Solon School Board Election Results

Big Grove Precinct Polling Place Nov. 5, 2019

Incumbent Adam Haluska and newcomer Jami Wolf bested the field of six candidates for director of the Solon School Board.

Preliminary vote totals released by the county auditor show at least 1,174 voters cast a ballot, although the final numbers won’t be available for a few days.

Voter turnout was more than double the last school board election in 2017. With six candidates active, their campaigns boosted turnout by activating networks of friends and family who didn’t vote in 2017. That combined with the aftershock of this year’s contract negotiations with the teacher’s union increased the size of the electorate. That’s good for our governance.

Unofficial Results

It’s about time a woman was part of the school board again. Jami Wolf ran a solid campaign and had a unique personal story and message seeking inclusion of all families and their students in the school. Her hashtag #ForAllFamilies proved to be a winner.

If poorly executed contract negotiations with the teacher’s union drove a high number of candidates, the message from the electorate was that Adam Haluska’s explanations of board missteps were accepted and could be forgiven. That will likely hold true in 2021 for whichever of the three board members whose terms expire run for reelection. In the life of Solon schools, it was a bump in the road, one I believe will fade in memory by the time of the next school board election.

There was no shortage of qualified candidates. I hope Ortega, O’Neil, Stahle and Wear consider running again in 2021 when three board seats will be up. With this election in the books, our attention now turns to the 2020 general election less than a year away.

I congratulate the winners and hope board directors learned a lesson from their mishandling of contract negotiations.

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What’s Next in Mitigating Climate Change?

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Republican U.S. presidents don’t like international climate agreements.

George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty we ratified, and yesterday Donald J. Trump notified the United Nations of our intent to withdraw from the global climate agreement signed in Paris when the mandatory one-year waiting period finishes the day after the 2020 general election.

The two Republicans said the agreements would hurt or restrict the U.S. economy.

If Democrats re-take the White House in 2020, there is a lesson to be learned from these agreements. A broader consensus is required for international agreements to be sustained over time. They can’t be subject to the vagaries of U.S. politics.

What then?

The answer is in engagement — in society, with friends and family, and with government. We can no longer survive alone in the context of these networks.

The sooner we realize it the more likely will we be to better implement solutions to the climate crisis. We can’t rely on government alone as its strengths wax and wane with political tides. We must use broader societal tides to our advantage, eroding recalcitrant shorelines when we can, and flowing back to the sea when we can’t.

From Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.

If my heart’s dear love—

Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.” Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! As sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast.

So it is, and so it should be. Now back to figuring next steps as Republicans ditch the work leading to near consensus on how to mitigate the effects of climate change.

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Health Care for All

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

A colleague at the warehouse club had it right. When he was ill enough to require treatment he went home to Mexico and walked into a clinic. Afterward he returned to work.

The distance between Iowa and rural Mexico notwithstanding, that’s what local health care should be. A person should be able to walk into a nearby clinic seeking treatment without cost or worry.

Instead we have an impossible discussion of how health care needs of Americans should be met.

Is it the responsibility of government to make sure every person within our borders gets health care they require? According to Gallup, after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law, the percentage of people who told pollsters government should not be involved in health care increased to a majority. After the inauguration of the 45th president, the trend changed with 57 percent of poll respondents saying government should make sure all Americans have health care coverage. Voters are divided.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found an answer among Democrats as to how government efforts to ensure people have health care coverage should change. 39 percent of poll respondents said the ACA should be replaced with a Medicare-for-all plan, 55 percent said the government should build on the ACA. The simple truth is many Democrats don’t favor a candidate who supports Medicare-for-all and have concerns such support will result in losing the general election.

In the Democratic primary contest four candidates are emerging as leaders: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. If any one of these candidates were the Democratic nominee for president I would support them in the general election. There could be surprises in the time leading up to the March 3, 2020 Super Tuesday primary election. However, it is a safe bet saying the nominee will be one of these four people.

Each has addressed health care delivery and the approaches vary. Biden and Buttigieg favor a method of health care delivery that allows continuance of private health insurance. Sanders and Warren favor Medicare-for-all. Here’s a brief statement about each position:

Joe Biden: “As president, Biden will protect the Affordable Care Act from these continued attacks. He opposes every effort to get rid of this historic law – including efforts by Republicans, and efforts by Democrats. Instead of starting from scratch and getting rid of private insurance, he has a plan to build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate.”

Pete Buttigieg: “We must ensure that everyone has an affordable option for health coverage that guarantees access to care when they need it.” To differentiate himself from Sanders and Warren, Buttigieg calls it “Medicare for all who want it.”

Bernie Sanders: Medicare for All. “We say to the private health insurance companies: whether you like it or not, the United States will join every other major country on earth and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right. All Americans are entitled to go to the doctor when they’re sick and not go bankrupt after staying in the hospital.”

Elizabeth Warren: “Elizabeth supports Medicare for All, which would provide all Americans with a public health care program. Medicare for All is the best way to give every single person in this country a guarantee of high-quality health care. Everybody is covered. Nobody goes broke because of a medical bill. No more fighting with insurance companies.” On Friday, Warren released her plan to pay for Medicare for All.

Democrats appear to enjoy candidate debate over health care coverage, but here’s the rub: nothing, and I mean nothing, will happen on any of these plans without consent of the Congress.

Dial back for a moment to the inauguration of Barack Obama. If there were a way to create a public option for health care, the 44th president would have done it. There wasn’t, even with a filibuster-proof, Democratically controlled Senate. In a best case scenario this cycle, Democrats can hope for a Senate majority numbering in the low fifties. The master of delay, avoidance and obfuscation Mitch McConnell will kill any efforts on the part of a Democratic president to dream big and work hard to implement any of the proposed changes to government health care. For this reason it is critical to focus as much on the U.S. Senate races that are up this cycle as the presidency.

Like most Democrats I will support our eventual presidential nominee regardless of plan for health care programs. It is good the four leaders have a plan. What matters more is how hard they will work to implement some part of it. Equally ranked in importance is the primary election for Iowa’s U.S. Senate race and regaining a Senate majority. This is no time for distractions as much as we Democrats may like the debate over health care.

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Hard Break from Autumn

Corn-rice casserole for the annual orchard potluck dinner.

A hard break from autumn accompanied last week’s snowfall.

Outdoors there is garden clean up, raking leaves, and another mowing to be done, however, we’ve turned mostly inside.

A main issue has been determining how to get exercise without an active garden and walks along the lake. Yesterday I cleaned and set up the NordicTrack ski machine. This morning I tried it. It will serve for a while and, in any case, seems more focused than walks along the lake and yard work.

As orchard season ended I took an eleven day hiatus from carb counting. The point was to see the impact formal training and weeks of habit had on daily food consumption. Some things were easy: eating only one slice of bread at a meal, portion control, and selecting snacks that had less than 15 carbs in them. What was harder was dealing with cravings. I was mostly, but not always able to do so. At the end my average weight remained unchanged at a 15 percent loss. Clothes still fit and if I exercise daily indoors, I may have to get pants a size smaller. I went back to carb counting this morning and return to the clinic for more tests in three weeks.

The time between harvest and year’s end has been for reflection and for making plans. After a struggle when I retired in 2009 our situation stabilized with adequate income to meet short term needs and engaging work in the community. I feel fortunate to be approaching my 68th birthday with an ability to think beyond it.

I expect to continue to write short posts, although a format change at On Our Own is overdue. Before changing the look of the blog I want to print out past years for the book shelf. Financial constraints held me back from making a paper archive every year so I’m behind.

There is other writing to do. I recently ran into a former editor at the Iowa City Press Citizen and we discussed freelancing. It would take a compelling reason for me to seek publication more than I get in letters to the editor of the Solon Economist or an occasional guest opinion in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. If anything, the next period will be one of working on an autobiographical work. Whether that has import beyond family and close friends seems doubtful. It’s what an educated person does or at least that’s the paradigm through which I view it. Our daughter might appreciate the effort of culling old papers and artifacts so there is less for her to deal with when we’re gone. I don’t plan to be gone anytime soon.

Perhaps a few more autumn days lie ahead. The forecast looks dry through the end of this week. I took a vacation day from the home, farm and auto supply store to clean up the garden. If all goes well we’ll be able to turn inside when winter arrives in earnest.

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Farmers Came to Town

Gold Rush and Snow Sweet apples purchased on the last day of the season, Oct. 31, 2019.

The soybean harvest was disrupted by snowfall.

Several inches fell in the last 48 hours. Farmers came to town, including to the home, farm and auto supply store.

It will be a wet crop, propane prices are already higher. The main worry is when will farmers be able to get soybeans and corn out of the field. There’s no clear answer.

Farmers sought things to help deal with unexpected winter weather: boots, gloves, salt, sand, feed, bedding, shovels, and the like. We do a fair amount of trade during and after snowstorms.

Employees who farm called in asking for an additional shift because they can’t get in the fields. Our pay is meager, but off-farm income is important in the financial calculus of small-scale farming.

In the nearby county seat there is little discussion of the daily lives of row croppers and livestock producers. Those city folk come to our store, but to purchase pet food, shovels for the walk, disposable hand warmers, and ice melting compounds less harmful to pets. We cater to everyone.

After my shift I diverted along the Interstate to visit the orchard sales barn on the last day of the season. While there, I was recruited to work an event in December. Details are sketchy but why wouldn’t I do it?

I picked a dozen Gold Rush apples for storage and another five Snow Sweet for fresh eating. There were still a lot of apple varieties available.

Hurrying home, I made final preparations for Halloween, which included sweeping and salting the front steps, preparing a bowl near the door for treats, and baking pizza for dinner. Our visitors during the two-hour window for trick or treating were neighborhood children, many of whom made a previous costumed appearance on their parents’ social media accounts.

Regarding the Nov. 5 election, I’m settling into choices. I asked around about the election of our trustee on the Kirkwood Community College board and plan to vote for the incumbent, Tracy Pearson. For school board my decision is not final. I’m leaning toward Carlos Ortega and Jami Wolf. I also like Lauren O’Neil. If she doesn’t win this time I hope she runs again in 2021 when three positions are up. I’ve written so much about the school board election I thought it important to communicate where I’m landing. It seems doubtful most of the hundreds of post readers will find this obscure reference to the election. I’m okay with that. It’s not about me.

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