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This afternoon, thanks to an old college friend, I got an invitation to meet and speak with Soon-To-Be Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) at a local organic farm, to talk about food and agriculture issues. Now, I'm interested in food and everything, but it's not exactly my area of expertise.  So, not wanting to get caught flatfooted, I thought I had better get caught up on these issues quick. Who would you turn to for help on food issues? Me too! OrangeClouds115, so charmingly introduced to us just yesterday, was kind enough to take several long hours after a long day at work to brief me on all the hot food and agriculture issues of the day, and to email back and forth all weekend, so that I could show up today, armed with a printout of of the Netroots Nation platform & a head full of our shared vision of what sustainable agriculture could do to build our communities and make our children healthier.  I'm pleased to say that Udall has that same clear vision in his head.

To set the scene: I bicycled over to the meeting place, Los Poblanos Farm, a historic farm that now offers an organic CSA program, participates in local growers markets, and supports an inn and cultural center. The Rembe family, who owns it, have done a tremendous amount to build community in our little neck of the woods.

I arrived right on time, which meant I could watch everyone else arrive. The girlfriend who invited me has been organizing for local food issues, and introduced me to a lot of the people there, who ran the gamut from educators to economic development people to one hoary old farmer who drove all the way from Las Cruces to talk to Udall about water issues and development.  The crowd was typical of New Mexico progressives-- lots of Tevas, piercings, tattoos, long frizzy gray hair, beards down to navels, and one really fancy turquoise suit. Like smart desert folk, we all huddled in the shade of the cottonwoods until the organizers announced that Udall was arriving and we had to sit down, at which point the friendly farmer from one of the community farms took a look at the seats baking in the hot sun, and led a total revolt. We all moved the seats way back from the "stage" (a wagon parked in front of the silo where the tractor is in the picture), and got comfortable just as Udall arrived. No fool he, he quickly realized that he had the "hot seat," and adjusted accordingly, with a great deal of humor, and kept his stump speech brief.

He began by reminding us of the Udall family motto: "Do what's right, it will please some and astonish the rest."  Tom Udall has stood on the right side of so many issues, from the AUMF to the PATRIOT Act, and he continues to fight for jobs, education, and healthcare. Then he got into the "meat" of the issue, reminding us that energy conservation demands a return to a more sustainable food distribution system, starting with people growing their own food. He suggested a return to the kind of unified effort made during World War II to plant victory gardens, resulting in Americans growing about 40% of their own produce. He challenged us: "Everyone needs to be part of the solution. Growing food closer to home is part of the key to solving the energy problem." Score one for local food!

He began taking questions, insisting that the questioners come stand in the sun right next to him, which occasioned a lot more laughter from the smugly shaded rabble.  First question, GMOs- Udall answers he will continue fight GMOs every inch of the way. Next up, can we have a bracero or guest worker program? Udall: we need "serious immigration reform" to "bring everyone out of the shadows" and then we can talk about guest workers.

Third up, a mom asking about the Farm to Cafeteria program, and the lack of suppliers who can qualify to sell to the schools, also about reducing the caps on payments to large agribusinesses for commodity foods (that outcompete the small farmers).  Udall answered the second part first, said he had fought for a cap of $250K for commodity payments to the corporate farms, but had to compromise at a $1mil cap on payments. So far so good. Then he did something interesting that I saw over and over again all afternoon. He said to the mom, "if you help me with this, I can get more details about what farmers are lacking to qualify." He gave her a card & asked her to set up an appointment with his staff to work out the details. Wow! He was listening! Final question, about funding more programs to support youth education through school farms and gardens. Udall: Yes! We must teach the kids, they can't be healthy without a connection to the land & their food. Families should not get their farms taxed, so they can pass them on through the generations. Soaking his nice (green) shirt at that point, so he asked if he could talk to everyone one by one, in the shade.

He came down off his wagon and spent a good hour circulating, chatting everyone up one by one, taking time to listen, make comments, and get a lot of hugs (this is New Mexico after all).  He directed several people to schedule appointments to follow up with him later, and also directed a few people to the right person at some other level of government to help them with their problems.

At Jill's gentle urging, I took my few minutes to talk with him about the National Animal ID System. As it turns out, based on his fact sheet and his speech, that was the only part of his Food & Ag platform that does not follow the NN platform that all the great Recipe for America folks developed.  so I gave up the chance to talk about noxious weeds (the bee in my bonnet), to ask him where he stands on NAIS, and to point out that it is an ill-advised fix for a system (e.g. centralized food production & distribution) that is broken from the start. He glared at me a little. "I've voted against those provisions every time they've come up," he says. "We don't need invasive laws that hurt small farmers."  Couldn't have said it better myself.

It was no surprise to me that Udall is so solid on Food & Agriculture issues. As a Representative, he has done almost nothing I have disagreed with; unfortunately, I've never had him represent me.  What did surprise me today is how comfortably he moves among the freaky folk of New Mexico. He listened just as intently to the high school administrator with the ZZ Top beard and the tattoos up to his knees as he did to the young Sikh farm girl, or the energetic long-haired dude from the barrio who was bubbling with excitement over his work "with farms and kids, yo! I expaaaaaand their minds with the miracle of life!" Each one got respectful attention and direct answers. As his aides started to hassle him to leave, he looked around with great concentration, counting in his head. "I think I talked to everyone here," he mused. I think he did, too. He even petted the ubiquitous dogs.

I went to this meeting expecting to be knocked out by how cool and progressive Udall is (I'm very susceptible to progressive "crushes") and of course I was. But what knocked me out even more was the realization that all those people there—Xers and boomers, Anglos and Hispanics, hippies and freaks and at least one really straight person— we ALL have that vision in our head, of what Albuquerque would look like with sustainable local agriculture, fresh food in the school cafeteria, neighbors coming together to produce our food, families passing on farms to their children, a clean food supply, and a renewal of cultural traditions that are beginning to die out in New Mexico, on land that host Matt Rembe pointed out has been farmed for a thousand years.

There is a moment that happens for creative professionals, when you've thought over something so much, and then suddenly everything gels and takes on a life of its own. At that point, your work is over; the rest is just production.  I felt that "gelling" today. We all share this vision, and we all have the will to make it happen. Maybe we'll take different approaches, and work at different speeds, but we're not going to give it up.

Meanwhile, all you progressive foodies out there, give it up for Tom Udall! I know you want this guy to be your friend in the Senate!

Originally posted to BoogieMama on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 07:44 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks again to OrangeClouds115 (4+ / 0-)

    Who turned me on to the big wonderful world of sustainable food! Jill, you rock!

    •  Thanks for this diary BoogieMama (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peraspera, BoogieMama

      Tom Udall is right about so many things - I'm glad that he's right about sustainable food.  I just wish that he would take the Udall family motto to heart when it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons.

      "Do what's right, it will please some and astonish the rest."

      You see, sustainable food and ending nuclear weapons production are both subjects near and dear to my heart.  And while Tom Udall's rhetoric on building nuclear bombs is quite good, his actions do not match his rhetoric.  We don't need a shiny, new (expensive) building to ramp up nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos National Labs - but because of Udall's (& Dominici's) efforts - we just might get it.


      •  Right there with ya, peace voter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peace voter

        It makes my heart very heavy that so many in New Mexico are so beholden to DOD/DOE interests. I know so many good people here who are 99% progressive and enlightened, but then they somehow manage to justify working at or for the labs. To me, it doesn't matter how much organic produce you buy, if you're paying for it with dirty nuclear weapons money.

        If you look at it from a cash in the pocket perspective (good jobs for new mexicans) you can see why it makes sense for a politician to support it, but from any other POV it's reprehensible.

        Be that as it may, give me 99% progressive senator Udall over Pajama Pete any old day.

        •  I agree (0+ / 0-)

          Tom Udall is the obvious choice over Pete Dominici or Stave Pearce.  It's just quite sad that Mr. Udall has been unwilling to come clean with his constituents about his support for the $2.6+ billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at LANL.  A building that would translate into a majo ramping up of nuclear weapons production.

          Representative Tom Udall has so far refused to answer questions from the Los Alamos Study Group and his other constituents about his support, or lack of support, for plutonium pit production and the controversial Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility, a $2.6+ billion addition to LANL's pit factory complex.  Tomorrow he will be forced to vote publicly, or abstain, on these and other highly consequential nuclear weapons questions.  In the event of a voice vote, he may make a statement.  

          Los Alamos Study Group Action Alert #88
          June 24, 2008

          the House cut pit production funding dramatically last year, and this year the House Appropriations Committee voted to halt pit production altogether, with only one dissenting vote – Tom Udall.  The House has been trying to kill the $2.6 billion new pit factory at LANL for 5 years

          Los Alamos Study Group Action Alert #89
          August 17, 2008

          How can you simultaneously work for ramping up nuclear weapons and sustainable agriculture?  I just don't get it.


          •  Jobs, jobs, jobs (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            peace voter

            These are the jobs in New Mexico that have create a large, stable, educated upper middle class, whose money trickles through the economy in all kinds of ways. Voting against the labs is political suicide on the right or the left.

            Like I said, I know plenty of nuclear weapons scientists who go shop at the grower's market in their priuses every week, or donate heavily to environmental groups or what have you.  For some reason, there's lots of good people running around out there who can reconcile a career dedicated to developing nuclear materials with a moral life.

            •  what's a moral life? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              and again BoogieMama, I agree that many (if not most) of the folks who work on nuclear weapons production fancy themselves "environmentalists" and donate heavily to environmental groups.  It was nuclear lab workers' domination of the NM Sierra Club that was more likely than not translated into the Sierra Club failing to join in the struggle against putting thousands of shipments of plutonium contaminated nuclear weapons waste in a facility (WIPP) in Southern New Mexico.  A facility that lies under an aquifer which is periodically flushed into the Pecos River - and as you must know, the Pecos flows into the Rio Grande which in turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

              But the Sierra Club is not the only environmental group influenced by the nuclear weapons crowd - sadly, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is now suing to move a nuclear weapons factory to Albuquerque.

              For some reason, there's lots of good people running around out there who can reconcile a career dedicated to developing nuclear materials with a moral life.

              — BoggieMama

              Of course they could not live with themselves if they were not able to rationalize putting their energy into developing and building weapons of mass destruction.

              Just know - that when you donate money to, and promote the candidacy of Tom Udall, you are also championing an individual whose actions may lead to the ramping up of nuclear weapons production.

              And I don't know about you, but I'd prefer my poblano chiles without trace amounts of plutonium.

              If you have another opportunity to visit with Mr. Udall I hope you'll advise him to drop his support for the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility at LANL.

              And I hope you'll advise him to support Democrat Jeff Merkley for Senate - and drop his support for Republican Gordon Smith.


              •  Whew, that's a Big Question (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                CalifSherry, peace voter

                And I don't know if I can answer it here. For me, it's certainly trying to align all aspects of my life in line with what I believe is moral (social and economic justice, testimony to nonviolence, and environmental stewardship), and certainly not giving money to or taking money from the organizations who are destroying the planet.

                I've been working for nuclear disarmement since I was a little kid, and after half a lifetime in NM, I've realized that the problem of nuclear weapons development is a many-headed hydra. Here is an example: my sister in law, a nice, non-political kind of geek genius, got a doctorate in high-velocity particle physics. Most jobs out there for her kind of professional are working for the DOD or DOE. She didn't want that, but also felt like in the end it would be "just another job."

                So the schools are educating nuclear scientists, who want jobs, so they get some of the blame. Nuclear scientists who want jobs get some of the blame. The support industries (including service industries) want the nuclear scientists to live here and spend their generous salaries, so they get some of the blame.   And the politicians end up having to support the labs, although (if you recall) under Clinton, the labs started up with a lot of "swords to ploughshares" programs, which were ended after 9/11, along with allowing the scientists here to collaborate with other scientists.

                All of which is to say, please don't blame all of New Mexico's nuclear love affair on Udall, or paint him as a nuclear weapons warmonger because he cast a dissenting vote against funding cuts for this program (if I read the article right, the program got cut anyway? No harm no foul?).

                And please don't throw this progressive  baby out with the bathwater. Since you feel so strongly on this issue, why not talk to Udall yourself?  When I stopped by his office, they told me they didn't need volunteers that afternoon, but they are looking for input on issues important to New Mexicans.

                •  the program is not dead yet (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  One of the biggest components of what you refer to as "the program" is the proposed $2.6+ billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility - an addition to LANL's pit factory complex.  The CMRR would allow for the ramped up production of plutonium core's (a.k.a. "pits") for a new generation of nuclear weapons.

                  All of which is to say, please don't blame all of New Mexico's nuclear love affair on Udall, or paint him as a nuclear weapons warmonger because he cast a dissenting vote against funding cuts for this program (if I read the article right, the program got cut anyway? No harm no foul?).

                  I certainly don't blame it all on Tom Udall, but you should know that the final cut has not yet happened - you read about a committee vote - but Udall may still be able to bring the vote to the House floor - that's where the danger lies - even though the appropriations cmte voted against funding the shiny, new $2.6+ billion nuclear bomb factory - the funding can still be restored by the House.

                  Wouldn't it be great if your s-i-l could redirect her considerable intellect towards devloping clean, renewable energy technology?


                  •  Yeah, it would be cool if everyone was cool (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    CalifSherry, peace voter

                    FWIW my SIL chose not to pursue a career in her field and got a job in computer programming instead.

                    I do believe that if the sources of the funding for nuclear research dry up-- yes, congressional sources, but also corporate funding of academic research-- then scientists in general will be happy to put their talents toward working on something that doesn't threaten to destroy the earth, or contaminate it for the next, oh, 10,000 years.

                    So if we get progressives in the senate... and the white house... who all want to put funding into renewable energy research & so forth.... we'll see a giant shift in what kids are studying in college, and the kind of research the professionals are doing....  there are very few politicians who are "pure" no matter where you stand on the issues.  I know that Udall would rather see the labs working on that high yield fusion reactor they have than making more bombs... sigh

  •  Fantastic diary! And a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peace voter, peraspera

    wonderful candidate!
    I am hopeful he will give Pearce a major-league "whuppin".


  •  the foundation for my solar home (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peace voter, BoogieMama

    is going in today, almost all dug already!

    We did a small organic garden this year, but next year we'll be doing a few acres :)

    typos are often serendipitously appropriate + HowOd

    by lightnessofbeing on Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 08:22:46 AM PDT

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