Monday, November 27, 2017

Am I really going to Morocco?

I am. I am flying to London at 9 o'clock tonight and then taking a flight to Rabat, the capital, tomorrow morning.

I might not be able to blog until I get back on December 6th.



Why am I going to Morocco?

For fun of course. But the real reason is that i am an editor for a stunning new Pittsburgh-based magazine called

iGeneration Youth. (Be patient, the link can take a few seconds to load.)

The magazine, a print version of which was distributed this month to 50,000 teens, is the brainchild of a brilliant writer, editor and teacher named Lori Cullen, who is a friend and former student of mine. She pulled off this 64-page magazine with the help of a gang of energetic and very talented young people.

I will let Co-Editor-in-Chief Caroline Molin explain why a new magazine for young people is so crucially important:

"Every time I pick up an edition of Seventeen or a Teen Vogue, I see articles written by journalists working for large companies. It's clear when an article is written by someone who hasn't had the experience of being young in 2017. The teenagers I know are not thinking about the latest Kardashian news. Instead, they're going to protests and meetings to improve the state of the world. They're speaking out against gentrification and transphobia, voicing their opinions and striving to advance their education...What I want the most in a magazine is to hear the stories that I don't hear every day. I want youth magazines to represent the diversity of our generation."

Well, so, what Molin and her young colleagues have produced is chock full of diversity. The piece I edited was by a fabulous writer named Samikchya Rai, who was a Bhutanese refugee born in 1999 at Khuduabari, one of seven refugee camps in southern Nepal. Here is her opening:

"When the rays of the sun passed through the bamboo wall and hit my face, I knew the day had begun. A rooster crowed and -- so annoying -- wouldn't stop. Old people listened to morning religious music on a radio station, which lost its signal now and then."

So why Morocco?

iGeneration Youth -- their motto is "the future of storytelling" -- included a special section devoted to Islam; the section featured stories by students who either are Muslim, or who are visiting Muslim countries.

On Wednesday, Lori and I will be meeting with a Morocco-based cultural exchange organization in Rabat.
Called AMIDeast, the group is participating in the production of the new magazine.

So. Here we go. I will celebrate my 65th birthday in Morocco. I only know what I know about Rabat from the travel guide. I know only a few words, including "Atini noos noos" (that means "I would like half coffee, half milk." Hey what's important?)

I am hoping to ride a camel on my birthday.

Meanwhile, I hope you will check out iGeneration Youth. It's a fabulous endeavor.










Thursday, November 23, 2017

"Ooh, gross, he just put his hand up my skirt...That was Donald Trump"

WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW TO READ THIS POST! Keep Thanksgiving Day Dump free!

I thought I had heard it all. Somehow I thought I knew most all of the disgusting details of Donald Dump's outrageous behavior toward women.

But no.

In the video below, a woman named Kristin Anderson describes in graphic detail how Dump groped her in 2005. She didn't know him when he sat down next to her at a bar and stuck his hand up  her skirt and touched her vagina.

UNBELIEVABLE...or maybe not. It's all too believable!

So watch it.

(But don't do it today. I really mean it when I say you should focus on your family today, as I intend to do as soon as I finish this post!)

The video appears as part of The Washington Post's story on the "complete list" of Dump's abominable behavior towards women.

After you read it, share with as many people as you can. How can we possibly keep our mouths shut about this creep who absolutely does NOT belong in or deserve the dignity of the White House!!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Appalled by the Roy Moore Scandal? Read this...


An LA Times op ed suggests that certain evangelical circles encourage older men to "court" and marry teenage girls!

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-brightbill-roy-moore-evangelical-culture-20171110-story.html

Just when I think I have heard it all...

Thursday, November 09, 2017

BEHOLD BEHOLD WE ARE ALL THE DREAMERS!!!!!


Note: This piece appears in today's Huffington Post.


We are the dreamers
We are all the dreamers
We are all the women
the men the children
all of whom are dying to dream

BIG

all of whom are yearning to live
in freedom and
dignity.
No matter our races
Our sexes
colors and 
faces

We are the all the dreamers

BEHOLD US!

Let us who share the USA 
have OUR way
AS IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN!
See the STATUE IN THE HARBOR
THE LADY IN A SHADE OF GREEN
HOLDING FORTH THE LIGHT

My grandparents 100 years ago
came through that Harbor
that Ellis Isle
To make a new life for

MY GRANDFATHER 

Claude Rotondo,

was 16 years old when he came
to America

He never returned to ITALIA
He never saw his mother 
again in that tiny
town of Costello in a region called Aquila

(in the GRAN SASSO, gorgeous landscape!)

If my family came,
why not all those others
millions of families
who beg plead

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
LET US IN!
LET US STAY!

ALL THEY ARE ASKING FOR

these immigrants
is a way forward
a ray 
a path 
a carnival of hope

What happened to our melting pot? WHO THE FUCK ARE WE IF WE AREN'T WELCOMING THE NEWEST WAVE OF LIFE SEEKERS!

Why have we got a fucking racist misogynist homophobic jackass
(a snake of a con man) in the white house
Why would we let his despicable behavior rob us of
our SHARED DREAMS? 

SORRY FOR ALL THE SWEARING

ANYWAY,

BACK TO THE BOOK:

Give us the room
The food
(COCKROACHES?????)
The school
NENI: "I WANT TO BE A PHARMACIST YOU SHITHEAD DEAN!"
The job
JENDE CARRIED A BRIEFCASE AS HE DROVE CLARK EDWARDS around NYC
16 HOURS A DAY
(YES HE DROVE HIM TO VISIT HIS HOOKERS ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK!)

PLEASE

Take
a
Look
at
This
Magnificent
Book

READ IT READ IT READ IT YOU NEED TO READ IT

And see feel 
what it has done
what it can do
To you
Me
AND EVERYBODY who reads it

******

OH GOD, CINDY TOO WAS A DREAMER!!!

DESPERATELY SHE WANTED SHE SO DESPERATELY CRAVED THE LOVE SHE DID NOT HAVE

HER MOUTH CRUSTED WITH BLOOD AND SPITTLE SHE WAS A DESPERATE FOR THE LOVE OF

NONE

MOTHER SONS HUSBANDS FATHERS -- ANYONE?

YES, she TOO WAS a dreamer -- 

and how many of those millions of Americans who are today

OPIOID ADDICTS
lack what we all need so desperately:

A DREAM!!!!
A JOB!!!!
HOPE!!!!!

CINDY taught people how to eat well  to live better

Consider Vince, the sweet boy a lot like my son, finding his way his joy

His TRUTH HIS DREAM in India
HE SPOKE WORDS AND WORLDS ABOUT HIS BELOVED
MOTHER

*******
12:54 A.M
from somewhere comes the memory the momery
of such intense nausea I had for
NENI ACTUALLY HAD A PREGNANCY THAT WAS
SO MUCH FUCKING WORSE THAN MINE

Just one of the things I adore about this book is that it speaks
VOLUMES
In loud volumes
About WOMEN’S LOVES LIVES AND DREAMS
Separate from men!!!!!!
Jende for chrissake get a life
Going home is the stupidest idea
Well so I get it, he’s exhausted
BUT WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T HE LET NENI GO BACK TO WORK?
Why didn’t he choose to let the family use the cash
FOR CHRISSAKE NENI GOT THE MONEY ITS HER MONEY

THE ONLY THING I ABSOLUTELY HATE ABOUT THE BOOK
JENDE ARE YOU LISTENING, NENI SIT UP AND LISTEN:

I HATE THE ENDING, AND with my students, we will REWRITE IT

SWITCHING GEARS HERE HERE

HEAR THIS:

Do you realize that 15 Republican assholes got booted out in the Virginia elections
            ALL WERE REPUBLICAN WHITE MALES
And that they were replaced
BY WOMEN!!!!!!! YAHOOOOOOO!!!!!

This comes from MY OWN HEROINE RACHEL!

ON ANOTHER TOPIC SEXUAL HARRASSMENT

IT'S ALL OF A PIECE

HEAR: The “me too” campaign is 
HERE
HERE
HERE
WOMEN ARE COMING OUT OF THE WOODWORK

TO SPIT OUT THEIR MISERY WITH SO MUCH MYSOGY!!!

HEAR THIS MEN, if you can't treat a women with respect

FUCK YOU TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

And that includes you Jende! You know very well why I write this your SOB

I thought I loved just loved your character

until page 341, virtually at the end of this fabulous book

YOU TOOK OVER YOU TOOK OVER

So here to stay
is ME TOO!

Say whatever you can to support
Women’s voices women’s power women’s subjugation
SSHOUT IT OUT LOUD

YOU  ARE A MIGHTY ASSHOLE TRUMP!!!!!!

You are going to get your ass kicked and dumped into the Potomac

by ROBERT MUELLER

and/or the voters thank God we are almost 2018

*******
what about the book?
Oh. I love it so much I am going to teach a class using just that book
A class that will read the book and use it for all kinds of writing
Would you want to read this book
You would want to take this class?

email me at claudiajricci@gmail.com

You need to read it to decide
Whether you want to take it.

12:59 a.m.

YAWN


I am finally getting sleepy
BUT I LEAVE YOU WITH THIS INCREDIBLY HOPEFUL THOUGHT;
AFTER SEEING THE VOTERS TROMP THE TRUMPITES LAST NIGHT
I AM SINGING OUR DEMOCRACY!
BEHOLD THE DREAMERS
WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE WE CAN IF WE STAND UP AND COME
TOGETHER IN PEACE AND LOVE AND SUPPORT FOR
BROTHERS AND SISTERS
EVERYWHERE

And vote their asses out of office.
Women won across the country
And we will continue to
Win and win and win and win and win.


“Behold the Dreamers,” won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner fiction award for 2017, and was an Oprah book club pick this year. 


Monday, October 30, 2017

Hopelessly addicted...

I vowed this week I would leave the TV off.

That's because I was going absolutely crazy watching the White House crackpot try to lay the Russia probe in Hillary's lap.

Every time I saw dump appear on the screen I would shudder. I kept wanting something terribly violent to happen to him.

Similarly, every time Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on the screen, I wanted either to:

1) strangle her, or

2) do something worse.

These impulses scared me.



I wrote a post last week, quoting NYTimes columnist David Brooks, who was advocating that we should try to love the fanatics that we want so much to hate.

For the record, I plan to reread that post as soon as I finish exploding here.

Back to the TV...I was doing pretty well keeping it off all weekend.

It was off until about 8:30 this morning when news of the Manafort arrest and indictment hit the NPR airwaves. It was then that my husband (who is trying to help me with my TV news addiction) walked into my study where I  had been meditating (earlier) and told me what was happening.

I felt like an alcoholic who had just been served a sparkling glass of chilled white wine.

In two seconds, I was back at it, glued to MSNBC (which btw had much better coverage than CNN).

I was marveling as lawyers, including MSNBC's own Ari Melber, laid out the charges against Manafort, dump's former campaign manager. He laundered $18 million, the indictment alleges. No wonder he didn't need a salary for the dump campaign.

But now, now I've shut the TV off again.

Until tonight.

Or...until something else happens.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Love Thy Neighbor -- Even if She's a Trump Fanatic?


Yes, says New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has encountered more than a few "nasty" fanatics in his day.


In this insane world, when it seems like things can't get any worse, and everybody is screaming at everybody else (at least on TV), it is comforting, instructive and enlightening to read what Brooks has to say.


"[The] more I think about it, the more I agree with the argument Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter made in his 1998 book “Civility.” The only way to confront fanaticism is with love, he said. Ask the fanatics genuine questions. Paraphrase what they say so they know they’ve been heard. Show some ultimate care for their destiny and soul even if you detest the words that come out of their mouths."


"You engage fanaticism with love, first, for your own sake. If you succumb to the natural temptation to greet this anger with your own anger, you’ll just spend your days consumed by bitterness and revenge. You’ll be a worse person in all ways.


This is not to say that you don't have passionate thoughts about what is right and wrong; it's that you look at the "other guy" with compassion. You turn things around and try to see the situation from the "other girl's" point of view. It takes determination, but it's worth the effort.

"[Y]ou greet a fanatic with compassionate listening as a way to offer an unearned gift to the fanatic himself. These days, most fanatics are not Nietzschean supermen. They are lonely and sad, their fanaticism emerging from wounded pride, a feeling of not being seen.If you make these people feel heard, maybe in some small way you’ll address the emotional bile that is at the root of their political posture."


"You engage fanaticism with love, first, for your own sake. If you succumb to the natural temptation to greet this anger with your own anger, you’ll just spend your days consumed by bitterness and revenge. You’ll be a worse person in all ways.


If, on the other hand, you fight your natural fight instinct, your natural tendency to use the rhetoric of silencing, and instead regard this person as one who is, in his twisted way, bringing you gifts, then you’ll defeat a dark passion and replace it with a better passion. You’ll teach the world something about you by the way you listen. You may even learn something; a person doesn’t have to be right to teach you some of the ways you are wrong."





Thursday, October 19, 2017

How a piece of American history happened right on my road!


It isn't everybody who can say that a vital piece of American history took place in her front yard.

I'm not the sort of person who brags, but I will boast about this: General Henry Knox marched right past my driveway in North Egremont as he led troops and heavy artillery to Boston to help drive the British out of the city during the Revolutionary War.

This information comes via a wonderful history book about North Egremont by Great Barrington writer Gary Leveille. Eye of Shawenon presents a rich and well-researched history about how this area of the Berkshires came to be.

My fascination with Henry Knox started even before my husband and I moved into our new home last December. On one of my first strolls down to the village store, I noticed a large stone marker standing near a couple of picnic tables. (The store is on Route 71.) The marker read:                                   

“General Knox Highway - Through this place passed General Henry Knox in the winter of 1775 and 1776 to deliver to General George Washington at Cambridge the train of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga used to force the British Army to evacuate Boston.”

I’ll be honest; my knowledge of Revolutionary War history is pretty thin. But the marker sparked my curiosity. After all, I was living on General Knox Lane, a dirt road that is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other.


Leveille’s book expanded on this piece of history.

Henry Knox was a Boston bookseller who had developed some expertise in artillery and military planning. Ambitious and charming, pleasant and portly, at age 25, he befriended George Washington, and sold him on a very risky plan: he could move tons and tons of heavy artillery and munitions through the winter snow some 300 miles, from Fort Ticonderoga in New York State to Boston, where the Brits were ensconced in the harbor.

“After some discussion,” Leveille writes, “Knox [who wasn’t a general then] convinced Washington that he had the skills necessary to move approximately 59 cannons, cohorns, mortars and howitzers…He convinced himself as well as Washington that he could accomplish this nearly impossible task.”


He had never moved anything more than boxes of books, but still, Knox informed Washington that he would travel to Fort Ticonderoga and transport the artillery on heavy-duty sleds led by oxen and horses. He expected to make the trip in a matter of weeks.

Writing in his book about the Revolutionary War, 1776, author David McCullough quotes from Knox’s diary:

“It is not easy to conceive the difficulties we have had.” And that was after only part of the trip, moving the artillery down Lake George on three giant rowboats, weighed down by a gargantuan cargo. One boat struck a rock and sank, but somehow the soldiers managed to resurrect it and row on. 

At the southern tip of Lake George, there were 42 sleds waiting to transport the artillery overland to Boston, but alas, Knox was delayed because there was no snow. Then a blizzard struck, leaving three feet of snow on the ground.

Crossing the Hudson River, a large cannon fell through the ice and sank, leaving a hole 14 feet in diameter. Once again, Knox and his crew pulled off the impossible, pulling the cannon out of the river. 

It was January 10, 1776, when Knox and his entourage passed through North Hillsdale, Alford, North Egremont and then past Great Barrington.

Further east in the Berkshires, Knox faced steep mountainsides and deep narrow valleys. Moving the sleds through this terrain was arduous work. McCullough writes: “To slow the descent of the laden sleds down slopes as steep as a roof, check lines were anchored to trees…when some of his teamsters, fearful of the risks, refused to go any further, Knox spent three hours arguing and pleading until they finally agreed to head on.”

On January 24th – nearly two months after leaving and some 242 years before I had the good fortune to move to North Egremont -- Knox finally arrived in Boston, where General Washington was in a stalemate with the British.

McCullough -- who calls Knox's voyage “mythic” -- writes:

“Knox’s ‘noble train’ had arrived intact. Not a gun had been lost. Hundreds of men had taken part and their labors and resilience had been exceptional. But it was the daring and determination of Knox himself that had counted above all. The twenty-five-year-old Boston bookseller had proven himself a leader of remarkable ability, a man not only of enterprising ideas, but with the staying power to carry them out. Immediately, Washington put him in charge of the artillery.”

In another gargantuan effort, the Patriots installed the artillery in the Dorchester Heights of Boston, where it threatened British ships in the harbor. Soon the Brits pulled out of the city.

Henry Knox went on to become a general, and a true hero of the Revolutionary War. He remained with George Washington through the remainder of the war.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pay a visit to Egremont’s town history museum, where I read a piece suggesting that Knox had left two cannons here in North Egremont, which at the time was called Little York. 

Supposedly, one of those cannons was for many years displayed at the village store – over 200 years old, the store has always been the hub of life in town. The other cannon was – again, supposedly -- left on Prospect Lake Road, a stone’s throw from my house. Some believe that the cannon at the village store eventually was hauled away (because kids were playing with it and firing it occasionally!) and then buried in a stone wall. The other cannon just disappeared.

But Leveille laughs at all of this, dismissing these stories as “rumor or legend.” Like North Egremont, he says, “Most every town on Knox’s route claims to have had a cannon left behind. It’s hilarious. If every town along the way had a cannon left behind, Knox would have had no cannons when he arrived in Boston.”  

For years, there has been lively debate about exactly which trail Knox and his crew followed when crossing from New York to Massachusetts. Leveille presents a detailed account of seven different scenarios!

But “there’s no doubt in my mind which one is right,” Leveille says. It is the scenario favored by former Postmaster and North Egremont village store owner (and informal “mayor”) Joe Elliott, a colorful man and self-taught historian who, before he died in 1972, knew all of the trails that Native Americans and early settlers used as thoroughfares in this area.

“No one on planet Earth conducted more research on the Knox Trail in the New York/Massachusetts border than Joe Elliott,” writes Leveille.

That route – which is the one that passes by my driveway -- was the “easiest, most level route to haul cannons.” And it partially followed an old Indian trail that, during the 1750s, was enlarged by General Jeffrey Amherst as he led thousands of troops through the south Berkshire region during the French and Indian War.

“Amherst wanted to avoid marching thousands of soldiers over the steep mountains into New York so he likely blazed a much more logical trail along the Green River,” which flows through North Egremont.

It turns out that trail also passes near the border of Austerlitz, New York, the town where I lived for 30 years before moving to Massachusetts.

One of the most interesting things about Gary Leveille’s book is how he came to write it. A native of southern Connecticut, Leveille first came to North Egremont when he was 12 years old. He and his family camped out at lovely Prospect Lake and the young boy was smitten.

“It was just heaven to me,” he recalls. “There was boating, swimming, water skiing and sailing. There was a waterslide and a juke box in the recreation center. There were cute girls and a beach.” And there was also that very friendly store owner Joe Elliott, who called Leveille by the knickname “Zeke.” Elliott sold two Indian arrow heads to “Zeke,” and Leveille has them to this day.

Leveille always wanted to write a book about the lake and the surrounding region, which was known to locals as Shawenon. Until Leveille came along, few knew why the North Egremont and Alford area had that name. After much digging, he discovered that Shawenon was named for a Mohican Indian who lived in what is now the Stockbridge area. Shawenon was a leader in the Mohican tribe, and his job was to set tribal boundaries and to decide which lands would be “sold” to the white settlers.

Originally, the Mohicans occupied much of the land that extended from the Hudson River in New York state to the Westfield River in Massachusetts.

Like so many white settlers, those moving into this region “treated the Indians poorly,” Leveille says. “The settlers would say, ‘here, you need all of this stuff, like tools, clothes and cooking utensils, and then say, ‘OK now it’s time to pay up, you have no money so you can give us land.”

In this way, the Native Americans were pushed out of Massachusetts and New York, eventually landing in Wisconsin.

Another contribution of Leveille’s to local history was finding the so-called proprietor’s records for North Egremont, the documents recording the minutes for all of the meetings the settlers had when forming the town. The records also show “who got what land,” Leveille says.

He was dead set on getting those records.

“I spent weeks going through the archives” in the second floor room of the library, where Egremont stores its historical collection. And then one day Leveille eyed a locked cabinet in the corner of the room. There was no key. He got permission to take the hinges off the door, and “lo and behold, there were the records! They were very very fragile.”

Hmmmm. Now Leveille has me wanting to go back to the Egremont archives to see those records too. Who knows where else my fascination with General Knox will take me!

This article appears in the October issue of  Berkshire HomeStyle Magazine.



Thursday, October 05, 2017

So excited, I have found the perfect publisher for my new book, "Sister Mysteries!"

I am making last-minute changes to Sister Mysteries, (otherwise known as the nun novel) because that is the nature of this book. It's fluid, it's all energy, it's alive and it has been in process for almost 135 years! (It's only taken me 23 years to write it!)

Meanwhile, I am about to sign on with a publisher that specializes in spiritual writing. And while Sister Mysteries is a "novel," it's like no novel I've ever read.  It is also a very compelling tale of a woman on a long and very rich spiritual and healing journey.

Here is the most recent tidbit I've added. You can read more bits and pieces at the Sister Mysteries blogsite. I am hoping for an April/May book release.

GINA

No warning. Here I am in the hotel bar, cradling Antonie’s bloody head.

          I look up.  I see the brass chandelier with its circle of white candles, the golden flames flickering.
         
         But wait.  How can this be? It is now 8:33 in the morning in North Egremont, Massachusetts, and I am sitting in meditation on my living room floor.

          No matter. The chandelier overhead begins spinning, so slowly I can hardly see it move.

          I close my eyes. I am trying to concentrate on my breathing, on observing my thoughts, on emptying my mind.

          Instead, I am in the hotel bar and Antonie's forehead is bleeding into the white cotton skirt of my nun's habit. 

          “Please, Tango, get the doctor!” I scream. He goes, but so slowly.

          After an eternity, Dr. Astorga is kneeling beside me, swabbing my cousin’s head with warm soapy water. He wraps the wound with a fresh white bandage that he passes beneath my cousin’s chin.  I smell iodine and alcohol and sweat.  I look up to see Señora with a basin and a rag; she is bathing Antonie’s feet.
         
          Señora and Tango and I carry him back upstairs.  Astorga has given Antonie something that has put my cousin to sleep.
         
          Tango leaves, and I tell Señora I will keep Antonie company until I am absolutely certain he is out.
         
           Señora leaves, and I settle in the chair beside his bed. I decide to pray the rosary.  I reach to my waist for my beads.  But then I realize my feet are sore, so I need to take off my shoes.
         
           I bend down to unlace the ties.  That’s when I eye the pale blue pages beneath my cousin's bed.
         
          I reach for the pages and begin to read. 
         
        “Bar Dancer.”
         
          How could my cousin, in his desperately ill state, still manage to write this filth about me?
         
          I read and read, page after page, and my head spins faster and faster.  I don’t want to be in that room anymore.  I want so much to be sitting in meditation. I don’t want to read my despicable cousin’s words.  I want to wash myself clean of his endless lies.        

         “Please, God,” I say, “let me go home.”

           I concentrate on the air passing in and out of the tip of my nose. I focus on the bed where my cousin is lying, inert. I observe the blue pages folded in my hands.

           And then it happens. I am sitting on the floor in meditation.

           Time passes. I decide to chant the vowels that correspond to each of the seven chakras in my body.
         
         The sound starts in my tailbone and it snakes up my spine to my mouth. My teeth vibrate. My tongue wallows. 

          The chanting seems like it goes on forever. It is loud enough to carry over into eternity, and certainly, into another century.





Talk about gun violence? Not today. Not tomorrow. How about never?

When Trump visited Las Vegas yesterday, he was asked if the massacre would prompt the nation to deal with gun violence.

Trump replied, "We're not going to talk about that today."

Terrific. So what day can we schedule? Will there ever be a day when we can talk about the guns that have caused so many atrocities in this country?

Appropos of that topic, The New York Times' editorial writer Thomas Friedman composed a stunning piece that asks the question,

What happens when the terrorists aren't Muslims, or ISIS operatives, but rather, very sick Americans who stockpile military assault weapons in hotels and houses and then turn them on innocent people?

Don't miss his piece.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Here is a farmer you will want to meet!

This piece appeared first in "Edible Berkshires," a magazine "celebrating food, farming and community" in Western Massachusetts.

There are jobs and then there are callings, and farming is definitely the latter.

Take Lisa MacDougall, owner of Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont. She works 12 strenuous hours a day, seven days a week. She worries endlessly about drought, pests, weeds, frost and disease. She has to get her product to market while it’s still fresh. She has every headache imaginable in running a small business, and she has to shoulder those headaches alone.


But don’t for a minute think she regrets her decision back in 2007 to become a vegetable farmer.

“It’s a dream come true.  I have worked countless hours to get to where I am.  It’s still a lot of hard work and long days, but I try to keep the big picture in mind.”

The big picture just got a lot bigger. After farming 20 acres on two leased parcels in Pownal, Vermont for ten years, MacDougall, with the help of the Vermont Land Trust, bought a gorgeous 155-acre farm last year. 

Previously a horse farm, there is still a lot of handsome white fencing on the property. The fields have been well maintained and the barn is in good shape.

MacDougall, who is 32, was moved to buy a farm because it’s not ideal to rent as a farmer. “You invest so much in the soil that you want to be able to reap those investments and energies.  The old farm in Pownal had very poor infrastructure, an inadequate land base, and my landlord was increasing my rent at an unprecedented rate.”

It was 2011 when she first started to shop for a farm. She offered bids on five other Vermont farms, all of which were rejected.  “It’s hard to find something affordable,” she says. It’s also hard to find the appropriate piece of land.

Standing in the middle of her new spread – flat open farmland on a high plateau with the Green Mountains peeking up at the horizon -- MacDougall is tan and her face is a bit sunburned. She smiles easily. Clearly she has landed in a spot where she and her farm can thrive.

Helping her are eight full-time and two part-time salaried workers (she uses no migrant labor.) Her property includes 90 acres of forest and a beautiful, four-bedroom house as well.

Ironically, MacDougall is now tilling 15 acres,
five fewer than in Pownal. She says she was over-producing for many years.  “This past winter I really dug deep into my records, sales, and production to try and pinpoint the right quantities for my markets. I don’t plan on expanding.  My goal is to increase yields and to have a higher net profit out of less acreage.”
Like most 21st century farmers, MacDougall relies heavily on computer technology to aid her in running the farm. “In the winter, I spend a lot of time crunching numbers and producing a lot of spreadsheets.”

MacDougall’s move has created quite a buzz in the Berkshire farming community. “Lisa is remarkable and inspirational," says Barbara Zheutlin, director of Berkshire Grown. "We are always very excited when a farmer like Lisa decides to expand. She is not alone. Her vision and ambition are at the heart of what is going on today in the Berkshires. This is a new generation of farmers inventing farming anew."

A survey of 142 farmers in this region conducted by Berkshire Grown in January of this year indicates that a majority of farmers responding are interested in expanding their businesses in the next five years.  Berkshire Grown provides support to farmers in a variety of programs aimed at supporting that expansion. These include education and outreach, increased community access to locally grown foods, and networking between farmers and food buyers.

"We are big champions of farms and local food. Berkshire Grown aims to create a strong local food economy that will help expand farmers' businesses," Zheutlin says.

Another organization helping to bolster expansion in local farming is Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, a new non-profit organization dedicated to providing financing and technical assistance to farms and food businesses in the region. In its first year, BAV has provided about $140,000 in financing assistance, and $95,000 worth of technical assistance, to 13 farms and food businesses in the region. Among them are Marty’s Local, North Plain Farm, Skyview Farm and Hosta Hill.
“One of the most rapidly growing and promising segments of our food sector is in the demand for sustainably and organically grown products, and especially those that are grown locally,” says BAV Executive Director Cynthia Pansing.  She adds that “demand often quickly outstrips the supply, creating a shortage.”

BAV takes a very positive approach to address this challenge: “We say, 'For every barrier in the local food system there is an opportunity for addressing it’ – and we help expand those opportunities and bring more local food to consumers."

Moving a farm to a new location is no small affair. For MacDougall it meant taking apart eight monstrous greenhouses, transporting them to Shaftsbury (she had help from a neighbor), and reassembling them again.

But the biggest challenge, of course, was how she was able to buy the farm. Mighty Food Farm submitted a proposal in a competitive bid process conducted by the Vermont Land Trust, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to making more land available to farmers.

MacDougall was chosen, and VLT raised approximately half the $640,000 cost of the farm. And with the help of the Vermont Economic Development Authority, she mortgaged the remainder. The bottom line is that MacDougall’s monthly mortgage payment is roughly the same as was her monthly rent back in Pownal.

Donald Campbell, of VLT, who worked with MacDougall on the acquisition, has nothing but praise for her as a farmer and a person. He says that MacDougall “made fund-raising easy.”

There were a number of good proposals for the property, many of which VLT would have liked to support. But Lisa’s was by far the best. This was an amazing piece of land and an amazing farmer. It was just a matter of bringing them together.”

Campbell says there were many reasons why MacDougall’s proposal stood out: her education (she was a Plant and Soils major at UMass), her extensive internship experience and her track record. Most importantly ­­– she demonstrated great tenacity.

“This person has worked really, really hard,” Campbell says. “She wasn’t born into” a working farm on an inherited piece of land.

Mighty Food Farm is supported by 200 local customers through the Community Supported Agriculture program -- this is a large number when compared to other CSA farms. MacDougall also supplies vegetables to three farmers’ markets and two Williamstown restaurants.

She has come a long way since she started farming in college. Her first job farming was the summer after her freshman year at UMass. “I fell in love immediately,” she says. She has been working on one or another farm ever since.

A native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, MacDougall’s mother is a psychotherapist and her father works in golf course maintenance. This may explain MacDougall’s love of outdoor work.

And work she does. The dirt is well embedded in her hands and fingernails, and her jeans are a study in mud. When asked if many people are wowed by what she has accomplished as a farmer, she offers a modest reply. “I think people see that I work hard and have respect for that.  I don't take compliments very well.  It makes me kind of uncomfortable.”

One thing that suffers when you are working non-stop is your social life. MacDougall says she took a day off recently to go to a concert. “That was my first day off in three months.”

But this is what happens when your job is your passion is your dream come true. MacDougall is philosophical about that: “It is what it is,” she says, smiling, and she wouldn’t give it up for the world.