Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The moon was out just after mid-day in Licking County in mid-June after Lori confronted some signature gatherers at a Licking County Kroger.

Lori was leaving the store after getting some groceries when she spotted the two male 20 something paid signature gatherers roaming the parking lot. They were trying to drum up support for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) ballot measure this fall.

The group needed 402,275 valid signatures by June 29, which means they will likely need more than 500,000 actual signatures, to have enough legitimate names on the list to get their measure on the ballot in Ohio. The group was off to a surprisingly slow start earlier this spring with signature numbers that were far below what HSUS was hoping for.

To remedy the problem, HSUS sued the state of Ohio over a statute that was written to make sure only Ohioans could gather signatures to change state laws. HSUS won the legal battle and then let loose with paid signature gatherers around Ohio to make a major push for the November ballot.

This meant that for much of June, these signature gatherers could be found around Ohio working to strategically gather signatures in the counties that they most needed them. The signature gatherers are permitted to be present on any public property and it sounds as if they had a fair amount of success.

In many cases, though, they ran into folks like Lori who were not so supportive of their cause. As Lori left the store with her two children, she was approached by the signature gatherers who asked, “If you support the humane treatment of animals in Ohio, could you please sign this petition?”

She had a few words for them: “This is my county and my home and what you are doing will affect my farm, so get out of here.”

After putting her two very embarrassed children in the car and telling them, “Do not get out no matter what happens,” Lori went and confronted the signature gatherers, again asking them to leave. The two young men again refused to leave the private property (owned by Kroger), so Lori went and talked with the manager of the store. She found out that this was the second time in two days that the signature gatherers had been asked to leave, so the manager advised that Lori call the police, which she did.

Lori then called her husband who said, if needed, he would come bail her out. After that she went to again confront the two young men. For every person they would approach, Lori would explain that these people were not from Ohio and were trying to change our constitution in a manner that would cripple Ohio’s agricultural industry.

The two young men did not seem to like this at all. They offered Lori some choice phrases regarding her lips and where she should place them. Then, one of the young professionals proceeded to drop his pants and bend over to illustrate and offer clarity to his previous statement.

Shortly afterward, the police arrived and escorted the fine young men from the premises. Lori returned victorious to her car to find her not-any-less-embarrassed children waiting for her and seemingly ready to head home.

Despite the efforts of Lori and others, it appears that HSUS was successful in getting the necessary numbers for the ballot courtesy of the assistance of such fine young people trying to make a difference. Ohioans for Humane Farms, an affiliate of HSUS, expected to turn in more than 500,000 by the deadline.

Similar stories (minus the mooning) were popping up all over Ohio in town squares, DMVs, public libraries and other places. Only time will tell the end result this November, but either way, it seems that we have all lost a little something if tactics such as these are permitted to make a mockery of our laws and state constitution. If you don’t believe me, just find an HSUS signature gatherer and ask them where — top or bottom — they think Ohio’s agricultural voters rate. Maybe they will show you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From my childhood, I can remember John Denver’s catchy tune about an evening spent in Toledo, “Saturday night in Toledo Ohio, is like being nowhere at all…” I remember wondering if Toledoans resented the song or if they could chuckle right along with everyone else about their fine city.

Though clearly not a New York, London, Paris or Los Angeles on the hot world metropolitan scene, Toledo does have some global merit in the estimation of many who happen to reside there. For one thing, the highways and rails that run through the city give Toledo a legitimate claim to be quite a crossroads for Ohio and the country.

“Every city has a map to show people that they are the center of the world,” said Joseph W. Cappel, the director of cargo development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “I think Toledo can back that argument up.”

About 700 great lakes vessels and 80 ocean freighters visit the Port of Toledo’s 15 terminals every year bringing in steel, fertilizer and other bulk goods. On the way out, the monstrous vessels haul boatloads of corn, wheat and soybeans to feed a world clamoring for the bounty produced by Midwestern farmers.

“Grain is a big part of U.S. exports,” Cappel said. “We import a lot of things, but in Toledo, port-wide, it is a 50-50 mix of imports and exports.”

The Port of Toledo has three riverfront grain terminals served by rail, ship and truck operated by The Andersons, Inc. and ADM, Inc. that have a combined 22-million-bushel storage capacity.

“With soybeans, we probably average 20 million bushels going out for export every year and corn we probably average 25 million bushels a year, mostly grown in a 150-mile radius in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan,” said Don Wray, plant operations manager for The Andersons. “Just one vessel going out holds four 75-car train units.”

The Andersons’ two terminals are used for separate handling of corn and soybeans to improve the logistics for the company and the delivery for the farmer customers.

“We will dump 400,000 bushels of corn and 500,000 bushels of soybeans a day in the peak of the season during the fall,” Wray said. “Most of the beans go out on vessels, but the St. Lawrence Seaway basically closes in January. Then we are strictly rail to the East Coast or hauling corn to the southeast.”

When shipments go out the St. Lawrence Seaway, they often head north to Canada or continue east to Africa. The outgoing grain is also important to the shipping industry.

“It offers a boon to the economics by backhauling loads of grain out when they bring something in,” Wray said. “This opens up a way for us to be much stronger in the world market. The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Port of Toledo give us another important way to market grain.”

The Port of Toledo is going to serve a more vital role moving forward with improvements that are planned for the near future.

“The Port of Toledo has been really fortunate to get a lot of grant funding and we are adding two new cranes that will be two or three times faster than what we have,” Cappel said. “We’ll really be able to speed up loading and unloading with the improvements we have coming. The Toledo port will be the fastest at handling materials in the Great Lakes. With this new equipment we will definitely be able to play a bigger role than we have in the past.”

In addition, more rail access, dredging sediment and other quality-of-life/tourism-type improvements will add vitality and functionality to the area in coming years. The Port will also benefit from a general re-focusing of attention on the importance of water transportation.

“There is a big focus at the state and federal levels to work on improving marine shipping for the environmental benefits and to reduce the congestion with rail and trucking. More people are looking to utilize our waterways to their fullest capacity,” Cappel said. “As the world population grows, more products will need to be shipped and this is the most environmentally friendly way to do it.”

Toledo seems poised to work toward Cappel’s lofty description as the center of the world. Though for John Denver fans, I fear no amount of global shipping will make Toledo amount to more than being nowhere at all.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June is Ohio Wine Month and many wine drinkers will be flocking to their local wine shops to peruse the fancy-clad bottles adorning the shelves. Of course, like a book cover, the myriad of wine labels feature fancy artwork and lingo to woo potential buyers. But what do all of those fancy wine words really mean? Christy Eckstein, the executive director of the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, helped walk me through the definitions of some of those fancy sounding wine words to help us all become more fluent in vino-ese.

Legs: The ribbons of wine that cling to the side of a swirled glass are legs. The legs you see are related to the alcohol content of wine and sometimes to the sweetness level. In general, the higher alcohol content, the more legs there are. Thick, sweet wines often have more legs. Legs are easy to see and easy to talk about, but they are not necessarily connected to quality.

Vintage: The vintage is the year the grapes were harvested to make the wine. This is important to consider for a number of reasons.

“The vast majority of wines being made today are bottled to drink now. Our preservation methods are much better than they used to be. The percentage of wine that can be kept over a three or four year period of time is tiny,” Eckstein said. “Reds can age longer because of the tannins that break down and add new flavor with age. The flavor becomes more concentrated and pronounced. There are a few wines that are ageable, and most of them are reds. Ports, ice wines and sherrys that are very sweet can also be aged a few years.”

Reserve: This fancy sounding term means different things in different places. Spain and Italy, for example, have strict rules and qualifications for use of the term. The U.S. does not. In general though, reserve can mean a late harvest or grapes that are set aside for a specific product. Some Ohio wineries use the term for special wine that has been set aside.

Late harvest and ice wine: Late harvest generally means that the grapes are left on the vine longer than usual. With the ice wine, the grapes are actually frozen while still on the vine.

“The solids in the grapes don’t freeze but the water does, and that concentrates the sugars and flavors,” Eckstein said. “It could be Thanksgiving or Christmas before you get that freeze so you’ve got birds and animals going after the grapes, and it is more work to make.”

As a result of the extra production challenges and highly concentrated product, ice wines are sold at higher prices and often in smaller bottles.

Appellation: An appellation is a designated wine-growing region governed by specific laws. Ohio has five appellations including an island appellation with North Bass Island in Lake Erie, which is the Isle St. George Appellation.

Estate bottled: There are three main parts to this. The wine must designate an appellation and both the vineyard and the winery must be located in that region. The winery has to have management over the vineyard that produced the grapes. The wine must also be produced from crush to bottle in a continuous process without leaving the winery premises. Those seeking Ohio wines should look for estate bottled wines or Ohio Quality Wines that are made with a 90% minimum of Ohio-grown grapes. 
“If they are looking for truly local Ohio wines, the Ohio Quality Wine program will really help them find wines made with locally grown grapes,” Eckstein said.

As the international awards pile up and the standing of Ohio wines grows in world stature, more people are seeking out wines with Ohio appellations. The wine industry has been making dramatic strides in quality and quantity in recent years. The number of Ohio wineries has grown from 124 in 2008 to 143 in 2010, and wine production increased nearly 500,000 gallons from 2006 to 2008.

Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million. No matter what your fluency with wine lingo, those kinds of numbers in a struggling statewide economy add up to a definition of success that anyone can understand.

For more information about Ohio wine, visit www.tasteohiowines.com.