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Farmers Challenge Monsanto CEO’s Definition of “Success”


“EPA and USDA must stand up for farmers, their families and rural America. Drift from dicamba is a growing threat to our security and prosperity. Our leaders must act with urgency to take Monsanto’s seeds and pesticides off the market,” said Dena Hoff, a diversified Montana farmer and vice president of National Family Farm Coalition.
According to state departments of agriculture, 2,200 soybean farmers in at least twenty states have already reported crop damage from dicamba drift this season — which scientists have linked to the introduction of Monsanto’s new dicamba-resistant seed line, “Roundup Ready 2 Xtend.” Fruit and vegetable growers neighboring dicamba-treated fields, as well as cotton and soybean growers planting non-resistant seeds, are particularly susceptible to crop damage or loss through dicamba drift. Organic farmers whose products have been contaminated by dicamba risk also losing their certification and markets.
Last week, Monsanto CEO Robb Fraley issued a press release that minimized farmer concerns and painted an inaccurate picture. “We are hearing that the overwhelming majority of farmers using Monsanto’s low-volatility dicamba product, XtendiMax® herbicide with VaporGrip® technology, this year are experiencing tremendous success,” he said.
However, Missouri farmer Wes Shoemyer disagreed. “Robb Fraley’s definition of success is totally different from mine, as he gives no thought to the farmers who are ill-affected. My neighbor whose spray damaged my crops waited to spray until the wind was in the opposite direction, but [the dicamba] moves. It wasn’t his fault, it was the technology’s fault. This is what happens when your seed company is also the chemical company. Monsanto does not listen to voices in the field or allow public testing,” he said.
The letters sent to the agencies, and shared with congressional agriculture committees, specifically call on EPA to cancel its conditional registration of Monsanto’s new dicamba-based herbicide cocktail, Xtendimax, and call on USDA to cancel the registration of Monsanto’s Xtend line of dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds.
“Today’s dicamba drift problem cannot be solved by label restrictions or formulation modification,” farmers wrote in their letter to EPA. “Precisely because Xtendimax is intended to be used on Xtend seeds throughout the higher temperatures of the growing season, this product will continue to volatilize and drift.” Farmers warned the agencies that allowing either Xtendimax or Monsanto’s genetically engineered Xtend seeds to stay on the market essentially guarantees the spread of dicamba drift across the Midwest and South, threatening American farms, livelihoods, and human and environmental health.
Dow’s 2,4-D and Monsanto’s dicamba seeds and pesticide products were introduced to combat the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate (Roundup). Without adequate scrutiny by federal officials, and with Monsanto’s denial of researchers’ requests to investigate its product’s volatility, new genetically engineered seeds and herbicides were rushed to market and into farm fields. Prone to volatilize and drift for miles, particularly in warmer weather, even small amounts of dicamba can be extremely harmful to most broadleaf plants.
Responding to the crisis, a handful of states have taken action to restrict use of dicamba, albeit temporary or limited. Arkansas, which has taken some of the most protective action, instituted a 120-day ban on the chemical, starting in August.
Denise O’Brien, an Iowa farmer and chair of the board of Pesticide Action Network, said, “States can and should take action to protect farmers and their communities from harmful pesticide drift, but we need consistent and comprehensive federal protections as well. The federal response to date has been reckless and inadequate. And the damage was preventable. We expect more.”
The letters submitted today come years after farmers and farm groups warned of the harmful impacts of dicamba drift. As early as 2010, farm businesses warned federal agencies about the threat to farmers’ livelihoods posed by dicamba drifting from dicamba-resistant crops. National Family Farm Coalition and allies also sued EPA earlier this year for approving the use of dicamba on genetically engineered soybean and cotton, citing the propensity for the chemical to volatilize, drift and damage many other crops.
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Contacts:
Quinton Robinson, National Family Farm Coalition, 202-543-5675 or QuintonNRobinson@nffc.net
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, 916-216-1082 or ptowers@panna.org

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A Word from Heather About Maine’s Food Sovereignty Law

As some of you may have heard the FSIS of the USDA is threatening Maine’s landmark food sovereignty law.   The Governor has called a special session of the legislature to deal with this threat.   Heather Retberg, one of the leaders of this movement in Maine, has written the following.   I would just like to add: don’t despair we have been in darker places before this, we will move forward and protect the people’s right to local, healthy, culturally appropriate food.

“Dear friends of food sovereignty,
The USDA (FSIS) has sent a letter to the governor stating that our food sovereignty law is ‘non-compliant’ and they will take over Maine’s Meat and Poultry Inspection (MMPI) making us a ‘Designated state’. There are a series of letters that have already been sent between FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection System) and the Quality Assurance & Regulation division of our Dep’t. Of Ag outlining details. We don’t yet have access to those letters.

This is the exact scenario that first led us to local governance and the necessity of asserting our food sovereignty at the local level for traditional foodways & exchanges between individuals. The USDA-FSIS was claiming jurisdiction over our lowest risk, direct-to-patron food exchanges, and we said ‘no’. 

We carved out the legal space to protect what had traditionally belonged to people, not governmental agencies run by corporate food entities. Now that farm patrons and small farmers have stood up together in communities all across Maine, and now that the state of Maine has recognized municipal authority to regulate those food exchanges, the USDA is threatening our state’s fragile meat processing infrastructure.
What can be said about it?  
I see it this way right now: when a bully threatens you if you don’t hand over your milk money, what do you do? Fight back.   

When the rules changed around poultry in 2009 and so soon afterward the policy changed toward small dairy farmers selling milk directly to customers from our farms, we fought back. We went on the offensive and kept the rule of law behind the work of our small farms and dairies and our customers’ access to foods our their choosing. The state re-instated our legitimacy by recognizing food sovereignty in June of this year.  

What do you do when the bully threatens to beat up your friend if you don’t hand over your milk money? That is more difficult. First and foremost, we need to find out if ‘Designated’ status WOULD harm our fragile meat processing infrastructure here in the state. And…just what the impact of a USDA takeover would be. Along with VT, we are the only 2 states in New England that still retain a state level meat and poultry inspection. It isn’t super clear right now, when states must make rules “equal to” the federal rules, how much different the practice of having a USDA trained state inspector would actually be. Under the steps outlined in the USDA guidance on becoming a Designated state, the USDA offers to train existing state inspectors. So…”equal to” federal rules are required, same person would potentially be inspecting, but different badge. It is likely, however, that the small processors would be required to add additional building infrastructure to be compliant which would pose additional expense. The USDA has thus shifted the pressure from small farms and farm patrons directly to the meat processors.

So…we’re learning fast and furious, working closely with our legislative allies and reaching out to legal resources within our food sovereignty/food freedom circles.

It is a tight, small place between a rock and a hard spot. That is where we are right now.
What can you do?
~Contact your legislator and let them know you want them to stand up for food sovereignty without harming our processing infrastructure. Encourage them to find creative ways to maintain our hard-won victory for small farms, while supporting our small meat processing infrastructure.  

~Why the rush? It is highly unusual to call a special session to amend a law right before it goes into effect. None of this information was brought to bear during the public hearings, work sessions, floor debates or the rest of the regular legislative process. Encourage your legislator to urge that this motion be defeated in the special session, but taken up under the regular session when a more careful, deliberative process can be undertaken by committee.  

~Write the governor urging him to do all in his power to not cede local jurisdiction of our food supply. We are the first state in the nation to recognize local rules for local food and other states are looking to Maine now to do the same. Thank him for his original support of the law ensuring the state recognition of local control of our food system and urge him to stay the course.

~Think about what you are willing to do as a movement to protect food sovereignty. If the USDA/Big Ag prevails, what are you willing to do to protect your access to farm-raised foods from farmers in your community?  
Stay tuned. We’ll need all of us reaching out, pooling our resources and networks, standing together for local rules for local food as this proceeds.

We need to line the halls on the day of the special session (not yet scheduled) to demand a balanced approach to this process.

The state of Maine has officially recognized local control of local food.  

The senate voted unanimously in favor, the house voted by a super majority in favor. Governor LePage signed the bill on June 16, 2017.  
Our entire legislative process is now under threat by a federal agency inhabited by the meat monopolies and Big Ag corporations. They stand to lose the most as more Maine communities (up until now ‘their’ market) ensure greater food security by growing and processing our own chickens, sheep, goats, beef, and pork. We know more states are looking to Maine to enact this in their states. The USDA is threatening our small meat processing infrastructure in Maine to put a stop to the spread of food sovereignty across the country as more people learn and re-learn how to pick up and use the tools of democracy and local governance to grow our own food security right in our back yards and farms.
yours, as ever,

Heather”

NOFA and NAFTA and Dicamba, oh my!

So it’s been a while. Not that we are that busy in the office right now, what with Congress being out of town and all…. but we do manage to find things to do: 

I have been on the road a fair amount lately. To the NFFC summer meeting in Gloucester (see photo below) and then to NOFA Summer Conference to meet with the US Food Sovereignty Alliance northeast regional group and participate on a panel about food sovereignty in action. So here are some stories and some links about that and some other things on which we have been working.


One of the main concerns at NOFA were the increasing threats to organic standards. From some in Congress who would like to see the NOSB “reformed” or scrapped to this who think that hydroponics should be allowed to be certified as organic. A ridiculous notion that demonstrates that there are some in Congress who completely lack an understanding of true organics. There is a whole movement “Keep the Soil in Organics” to push back against this non-sustainable form of growing veggies. 

The sad news from NOFA is that I have to give up eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. At least for the time being. They have refuse to sign onto the pledge to protect their migrant dairy workers and so no more Chunky Monkey for me until they sign on. Boo-hoo. 
And, of course, there was the ongoing lament about there not being enough young people going into farming. Although I have to say the crowd was not all white hairs, which was encouraging, there were a bunch of young farmer activists at the conference. We realize that in Maine we are fortunate. Our average of farmers is actually dropping. Thanks to support for organic and small scale agriculture in our state. Here’s an interesting article about what California is doing to make their numbers better. 

On the NAFTA front there is lots of movement. Our press release (see my last post) garnered a fair amount of media attention. My friend and office mate Karen Hansen-Kuhn from IATP was interviewed on NPR’s The Takeaway. We also were quite happy to read the speech by the Canadian trade negotiator. It gave us hope that there will be at least on reasonable person at the table although I do take exception to her calling local government procurement laws “junk food politics.” Buying local is exactly the opposite of junk food. Anyhow read her speech here, it may let you sleep better at night. 

Another issue that we have been working on here is the whole Dicamba herbicide drift mess. Read about it here. And here.
 

And Monsanto has been putting out fake news. What a surprise. 

Here is an interesting take on the new farm bill. Or you can go read a white-paper written by one of my new congressional heroes Earl Blumenauer from Oregon. It starts out with this premise: “Not only is the Farm Bill costly and expensive, its resources are misdirected. The legislation gives too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places.” Can you tell why I like this guy already?

And here is an interesting article about how all these new ways of eating (vegan, raw, paleo, etc. etc.) may just be eating disorders in disguise. 

And finally for this week here’s an article about a new 501 C (4) dedicated to helping rural candidates get elected. I think they really mean rural Democrats but I’ll wait and see. On a side note, when the researcher from The Nation called the office for quotes and pictures and she said the article was about helping the DNC win the rural vote…..well let’s just say it was my best laugh of the week. 

My little slices of the swamp

This week some vignettes from my time here in DC:

Socks
: I notice people’s socks, being a bit of a sock connoisseur myself. Back when I was in practice there was a Psychiatrist in our practice group who shared my passion for interesting socks. She had a pair of bright yellow socks that had little socks on them.  They were always my favorite!   Anyhow, I have noticed that the men here in DC are really stuck because of the need to always dress in suits. I mean if you’re not a bow tie or bolero type guy you have very few options for  expressing individuality. One way they do it is with socks. And there are some great ones out there.  I notice them walking downt the street, in hearing rooms and on the Metro.  I am not the only person in my family obsessed with socks. Check out my daughter-in-law’s podcast

The Frying Pan
: As the summer heat ramps up walking across in front of the Capitol has started to more and more resemble a trip across a frying pan. No shade and at noon the heat gets close to unbearable. However, there are always entertaining things occurring to keep your mind off the blaze. There’s the guy with the bullhorn. He pops up at various places around the plaza. I first heard him extorting the visitors in line for the Capitol Visitors Center. But have since seen him up on the lawn both on the House and Senate side. His ramblings are not always coherent. But sometimes they cut right to the chase and call out the hypocrisy and corruption of our government institutions. This week he has been supporting the disability rights groups who have camped out in front of the Russell Senate building in an attempt to save their access to healthcare and thereby their very lives. It is refreshing to hear someone one speaking real truth to power.    
On the frying pan this Tuesday the DNC contingent in the Senate had a pep rally after the disasterous vote on the Senate floor to open up the ACA for amendments from the floor. This floor debate will be a painful and shameful spectacle for us all. And for those of you who watched the vote I just have to tell you that the nurse in me wanted to run over there with a dressing to put over McCain’s wound. Talk about spectacles.  Maybe this is what was meant by “out of the frying pan…..”

Dogs
: Speaking of the frying pan I was walking across one day recently and noticed a very happy police dog running up to folks and sniffing their bags and backpacks. At the same time I saw a woman pulling a rolling suitcase across the plaza. When the dog alerted to this suitcase the woman stopped and took a tennis ball out of her pocket and tossed it for the dog. The pooch and his handler ran off to the grass for some play time. I was about to move off when I noticed another equally happy dog coming across the mall. And the scene was repeated. I stood on the lawn for several minutes watching this training exercise. My, oh my, they were happy dogs once they got their tennis ball. A few weeks later our intern, Allison, and I were walking back from a particularly horrendous hearing on “guest workers” for farms. We had noted a lot of dogs on The Hill that day but couldn’t figure out what was going on until we met Albie and his trainer. They were on The Hill, along with several other service organizations, lobbying service dogs for veterans with PTSD. So Allison and I got a little Albie time at a time that we both really needed a therapy dog. He rolled over and let us scratch his belly. It was soothing and nice for us all.

#rollingjesus
: So, not every day, most days, as you walk across the plaza sitting in the scant shade by the door to the House side of the capitol is an elderly couple and standing next to them is their rolling Jesus statute. Evidently this woman,Rita Warren, has been carrying this life-size statue of her lord and savior to the steps of the capitol for years. Trying to save the souls of the soul-less. Since her heart attack last year she has help and a dolly to carrying him on. Allison has a brief clip of them rolling the statue up the hill with the caption “another day on the hill.” I will try to embed it for you at a later date as soon as I figure out how. 



Explosions/Thunder
: The thunder bumpers have been fierce at times this month. I was standing out waiting for the circulator bus one afternoon and there was such a loud crack of thunder right over us that everyone jumped and speculated about explosions. On the way back from market two employees of the Library of Congress got on the bus and started talking about the truck that the police had “disrupted” that afternoon in front of the library and what they had done while they were sheltering in place. I checked with them and the bang that I experienced was not at the same time as the supposed “bang” of the truck explosion. I went home and watched the news thinking that surely it would make the evening broadcast if the capitol police had blown up a truck. Nothing. Then next morning in the Post Express was a small paragraph about a truck that had deliberately run over an officer injuring him. Here’s a news clip about it. Evidently they did “disrupt” the car’s trunk. And that is how the rumor mill works in the swamp. 

My House
: I found it. The house I will buy when I get elected to Congress. Here’s a picture (the one on the far left, where else?). Right on the hill. I’m sure it’s very affordable.



The Farm Bill
: And finally the Farm Bill, or as Michael Pollan suggest calling it the Food Bill, staggers along thru the multiple committee hearings that are required. We did see the final mark-ups on the House and Senate versions of the 2018 agriculture appropriations bills this week. Some funding has been saved. Senator Tester of Montana has made an attempt to save the Under Secretary for Rural Development position in the USDA. We are watching all the machinations and offering input where we can. We really, really need more people to realize how much this bill effects them every day, more than healthcare, more than defense spending. As I often say “We all eat, the lucky of us eat three times a day. And the people who produce that food are called farmers.” They need our support! Which makes me so happy that every podcast Marta does ends with a talk about food and farms. On a knitting podcast. How’s that for cross pollination?

Betsy’s Weird Week in Washington (Part Six of a continuing series)

So the continuing saga of my stay in the swamp. And what a week it has been. It has finally gotten swampy here weather-wise. But Tighe and Medea, bless their hearts, took pity on us and installed room air conditioners. We are trying to use them frugally but all the same it is a nice respite from the humidity outside. Guess I’m not as tough as I was 25 years ago living in the Marshall Islands without it.

Monday was another quiet day. We caught up on things in the NFFC office. Outside our office building we were greeted by this moving tribute to those lost to gun violence. Later in the week it became a bit ironic. 

On Tuesday we began our big event for the week. Over 20 farmers from around the country flew into DC to lobby congress about the proposed Bayer Monsanto merger. Tuesday evening we met with everyone and strategized about our meetings on The Hill. Friends of the Earth was the lead organization but here is the list of all the groups involved: Center for Food Safety, Farm Aid, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, National Family Farm Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Farmers Association Organic Seed Alliance, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Organization for Competitive Markets, Rural Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, SumOfUs. Honorary Cohosts: Representatives David N. Cicilline, John Conyers, Jr., Henry C. Hank Johnson, Jr., Chellie Pingree and Senator Jeff  Merkley.    

On Thursday we had a briefing in the Rayburn building that was so well attended that it was standing room only….in a big room! One of our teams met with the Department of Justice to discuss their investigation. All in all a great effort by the organizers and the farmers who, leaving their farms in the middle of the busy season, came talk to their congresspeople. Mike Weaver, the Executive Director of Organization for Competitive Markets, said this to me at the end of the second day, “I usually leave these things, and this place, and I frowning but today I am grinning. This was a well-organized, productive two days.”    Here is a picture of me and my team:


The Hill, however, was an armed camp for two days. As you have heard, unless you live in a cave, there was a shooting Wednesday morning. An unbalanced man with a lethal weapon decided to manifest the anger and resentment that many, many people are feeling in this current political climate and started shooting at the Republican Congressional Softball team as they practiced for a charity ballgame. There were several injuries including Congressman Steve Scalise and a Lobbyist for Tyson food, Matt Mika. Both were in critical condition at last report. That morning things were tense on the hill and we saw a lot of this:


By afternoon things had calmed down a bit as one of my lobbying team members pointed out. Next day, however, we were back in armed camp mode. Even the street by our office building was barricaded, which was a new one for me even though we are right across the street from the Supreme Court. We never figured out why. There were police BUSES! Lined up all around the capitol as if they were preparing for mass arrests. We saw no protesters anywhere. Not one.  And that in and of itself is a bit unusual.  When we asked one young police woman in front of the Supreme Court what was going on and she said “suspicious package”. Well, I want to know who had ESP and knew by 8 am that morning that there was going to be a suspicious package that afternoon. They should be paying that guy the big bucks!
Anyhow the shooting of the Congressman and the Lobbyist has opened the discussion, once again, about who should and shouldn’t have a gun. A friend of mine on the book of the face hoped that Congressman Scalise might have an epiphany. Maybe two, since one of the young officers who saved his butt is a married, black, gay woman. He’s against gay marriage, too.

So on it goes. We make two steps forward and one step back. I try to be cheerful and friendly to everyone I meet and am rewarded, 99% of the time, by cheerful friendliness in return. The only person who was curt and unfriendly to me all week was one of the guards outside the minority whip’s office. But I guess I’d be grumpy, too, if I was forced to carry a loaded automatic rifle and be suspicious of everyone.

And for those who know me, and know we had a HUGE victory in Maine this week, I am not forgetting it.   I will be doing a separate post about it.   Soon.   But congratulations to all the hard working food sovereignty advocates up home.   We won one!!!!

Ms. Garrold Goes to Washington Part 3

Third week in the swamp. Actually only a partial week as I had to fly home for a board meeting on Thursday (and the weather has not been that steamy.)   The good part of that hiatus being that I got to see my wonderful Child and his wonderful Fiancé and the progress they are making on their little cabin on the farm.

Otherwise a fairly uneventful week. Monday we talked with the intern who is coming into the office the beginning of June via Skype. Technology is a wonderful thing.
Tuesday we interviewed candidates for the Policy Director position at National Family Farm Coalition. More about that as it develops. The big deal on Tuesday was that the Maine Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the Maine Senate’s request for an opinion on the constitutionality of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The people of Maine passed a referendum question making RCV the law of the state last November but the two corporate parties are doing everything in their power to stymie that decision. You can go here to read the 40+ page decision and here to chime in and help the League of Women Voters defend the will of the Maine people. I will be doing what I can from down here.
Wednesday I was on a nationwide conference call about the impact of 45’s proposed budget. It ain’t pretty out there, let me tell you. Folks are worried. But also semi-confident that this budget is DOA in the Senate so we might be able to fix the most egregious, horrendous cuts.  Those that take an ax to the Farm Bill, the social safety net and everything else except the military industrial complex, of course.
Thursday I flew home to Maine for a board meeting I was dreading and it was every bit as awful as I thought it was going to be. Suffice it to say this is not a board that welcomes dissenting voices and I am nothing if not a dissenting voice.
Friday it rained in Maine. So I rested. But made a really nice supper for everyone who was at The Shire.


Saturday I planted the garden. How nice to dig in the soil with the help of my son and get the potatoes in so they have one less chore on their plates in this busy season.


Sunday I finished up by planting the cucurbits, peppers, basil, and tomatoes. The sauce plants I call them. That leaves only the beans and corn for the kids to get into the ground when they have the time. I arrived back at the Pink House and found the living room full of Veterans for Peace singing “We Shall Overcome.” I am so lucky to be living in this wonderful communal house!
And Monday was Memorial Day. But more about that later.

Ms. Garrold Goes to Washington Part One

Well, as some of you know (and many of you don’t) I am checking another box on the old bucket list. I am spending the summer as an “intern” in Washington DC. Well, not really an intern. I am going to be holding down the fort and doing the administrative work at the office of the National Family Farm Coalition, I am on the executive committee of NFFC and since the tragic loss of our long time Executive Director our acting ED has been staying in DC to run the office. It was time to give her a break and let her go on home, so here I am. I will scatter links throughout this post so you can fill in the background of all the events, people and places.
And here is my first week:
Monday: Came down on the train. I do love the train. Only had one incident of people being too loud in the quiet car and I think they may have been a little drunk. They quieted down eventually and I got some napping done and some work. Arrived at the Code Pink House where I will be staying at around 11pm. 


Tuesday: Hit the ground running getting oriented to the ins and outs of running the NFFC office.   Here is the view from my office window.  Yes, that is one of the Senate office buildings (Hart)!  Had lunch at Sweet Greens (thank you Lisa) and then dinner with my housemates and Medea Benjamin. Shrimp and Grits! [I promise not to give you the blow by blow of every meal but since my job/passion/activism is food oriented I am hitting the highlights of my first week as a foodie in DC.]


Wednesday: Took a call from a friend who is helping run a Green candidate’s campaign for Congress. Hope I gave him some good advice. Then took my lunch hour to join the Code Pink “Laugh-in” demonstration outside the Department of Justice. Great fun. Lots of cops, in fact I think at one point the cops outnumbered the protesters. What the hell are they so afraid of? Little old white haired ladies in pink t-shirts. Come on guys grow a pair!
Thursday: All day at the Friends of the Earth office participating in a Pollinator Protection Network meeting. Lots of great energy in that room and lots of interest in the current Farm Bill. Long day, however.
Friday: A somewhat lighter day. Had a call with a videographer who is going to film case studies with midwestern farmers around the bio-fuels issue. Had lunch at the Supreme Court (not that great). On my way back from the bank got stopped by a parade of cops on bikes. And cops on motorcycles. Impressive (and I don’t mean that in a good way.) Had dinner at a great little Ethiopian restaurant in the neighborhood.
Saturday: Farmer’s Market at Rhode Island Row. Staples shopping at the Yes market. Otherwise a quiet day. Oh, except for when I had to climb up into the attic to dig out Code Pink t-shirts for one of my housemates. That made my heart race a bit.
Sunday: To celebrate Mother’s Day I started the day by calling my Mom. In the afternoon, after a leisurely read of the Washington Post I watched a chick-flick and weeded the backyard garden. Then video called my wonderful Reason-I’m-a-Mother. He makes me prouder everyday. Now off to get some sleep and start again tomorrow with a farm credit crisis strategy luncheon.