We found out on Thursday, August 14, 2014, that not only had we received another VAPG grant but to honor the occasion, US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, was going to visit the farm in five days to announce the award. The Sec of Agriculture is not the President but, as part of his cabinet, is pretty darn famous. And of course a visit like this brings out the Secret Service, the USDA Secret Service. We had started stripping the house a week before the pending VIP visit and it looked like a speckled, run down farm house. The house needed the speckles primed and then a finish coat of gray paint. If we hadn't started stripping the paint it would have looked OK, but now that we started we had to finish. I completed the priming on Saturday night and we were working on the first coat of gray when the USDA Secret Service drove up on Sunday; tall, white men in suits and city shoes, not prepared for farm work at all. Ed and Tom, the agents, were chatty and friendly and even laughed at my jokes. On Tuesday, when the Secretary arrived, they were entirely different. They stood like statues and stared in a frighteningly way. I guess that's what they get paid to do but it was scary.
Besides painting the house we had clean up the grounds. We did about three weeks worth of work in four days including double mowing and raking the lawn, whacking all weeds within sight of the house, painting signs for the farm buildings, bringing the cattle home from remote pastures to be part of the festivities and making room on the porch for a round table discussion with Secretary Vilsack, Sen Jeanne Shaheen, Loraine Merrill and 10 other farmers.
On Tuesday the press started arriving at 2pm but the Secretary's plane was late. So while we waited the 10 farmers met with Sen Jeanne Shaheen and Loraine Merrill on our porch. The Secretary appeared at about 2:45 and the press conference started on our lawn. I didn't realize it then, but there was a large chicken – really a man in a chicken suit – at the bottom of our hill protesting something. NH Ag Commissioner, Loraine Merrill spoke first, then Sen Jeanne Shaheen, then Sec Vilsack, then ME! I guess I did alright because no one pulled the microphone away.
After the press conference the Secretary spent about two hours listening to the 10 invited farmers and answering questions followed by photo sessions with our farm workers and the invited farmers. So we all had our 10 minutes of fame and got the farm cleaned up to boot! That's a win/win from my perspective! Oh yea, we were awarded a grant as well. More about that in my next blog.