David Zuckerman first ran for office while he was still a student in 1994, losing by 59 votes. Two years later, while working on an organic farm and a few years before starting his own, he ran again for the Vermont House, this time winning. He served in the House until 2011. In 2012, he ran for the State Senate and held that seat until last year, when he ran and won the position of Lieutenant Governor. In both the House and Senate, he served on the Agriculture Committee, serving as Chairman in the House.
Owning a farm can be all consuming. So can being a politician. We asked Zuckerman why in the world he chose to pursue both. Here’s what he had to say:
“I just really enjoy the act of producing food, of juggling a lot of different crops. It was while I was in school that I got inspired by this guy named Bernie Sanders back in 1992 — maybe you’ve heard of him now? His incredible passion for justice and focus on issues versus the sort of high school nit pickiness of party politics, both were very inspirational for me. I felt issues are so much more important than the gutter ball that seems to go on between parties. The importance of parties over issues for some people is very frustrating.
“So seeing you could serve without being that kind of politician, that inspired me,” he says.
How He Manages Two Careers
When asked about juggling the two careers, Zuckerman pointed out the Vermont legislature is a seasonal job, from January through late April or early or mid May. It’s common in Vermont for members to hold other jobs.
“Where it started to more difficult for me was 10 or 12 years in, as my political clout grew, which also meant more issues and more responsibility and more people looking to me to help lead on different things,” Zuckerman says.
These higher demands coincided with the farm expanding.
“That’s when I really began hitting some of the challenges of the juggle. But I still love them both.”
Politics and Farming Have a Lot in Common
Farming and politics have a surprising number of parallels, Zuckerman points out. In politics, you plant ideas like seeds, which need patience to grow.
“Not everyone is ready to accept it, and you don’t usually introduce an idea and have it come to fruition at the snap of a finger. It takes time,” he says.
Another parallel is how quickly all your hard work can be upended.
“Either one can be completely disrupted, whether it be from a massive storm that destroys your plants about two weeks before you’re ready to harvest it, or whether there’s a some type of terrorist attack, or something outside of politics goes poorly, or a new idea gets tainted by some old action somebody else does.
“So you can have a lot of solid work destroyed. But you can also have a lot of hard work be rewarded over the long haul. Some bills I introduced took 10, 12 years to come to fruition,” Zuckerman says.
“So I think working with the land, and having the patience for how long it takes, and how much work it takes to succeed in producing a product is a really strong experience parallel and benefitting my political work.”
Zuckerman’s Views on FSMA and Other Hot Issues
Zuckerman has a unique perspective on issues like food safety, being both a grower affected by them, and a politician shaping laws.
“When it then comes to things like FSMA, or some of these laws around food safety, I probably have a little broader perspective of where the general public is coming from,” Zuckerman says. “Or I’m more used to that push happening, even if I don’t think it is right, and because I have a larger political voice, I can also push back a little more than the average farmer.”
But, he says, growers have a stronger, more respected voice than they realize.
“Their collective farmer voice, whether it be on the Farm Bureau kind of scale, or whether it’s in the more grassroots scale, farmers and their perspectives are pretty highly respected and valued by the general society. I mean, farmers and doctors — for very different reasons — tend to have pretty high level of respect from the community.”
But like all growers, he’s worried about the direction farm-related laws are heading.
“I do have a hard time, because I think that as more of the consuming public gets farther from the farm, the more we’re going to see these constrictive agriculture laws that push us toward a more industrial and sterile food environment. Which I don’t think is good for the land or the farmer. Or the consumer.”
Watch for a full profile of Zuckerman, Nevitt, and their farm Full Moon Farm, later this month.