Ochs hopes to add farming perspective to state Senate
ORWELL — Andrea Ochs was 13 years old when she and her mom moved to Orwell from Queens, N.Y. She at first wasn’t sold on the Green Mountain State.
“I promised my father that if I ever woke up and looked out my window and didn’t think I lived in the most beautiful place, I would move on,” Ochs said.
“I still wake up every morning and thank God that I live in Addison County.”
Ochs, 38, now wants to help govern her adopted state as one of Addison County and Brandon’s two state senators. Ochs, a Republican, is on a Nov. 2 ballot that includes incumbent Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, and fellow Orwell Republican Mark Young. In addition, incumbent Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, and East Middlebury Democrat Amy Sheldon have announced write-in campaigns for the Aug. 24 primary in an effort to get on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Ochs is an active member of Orwell First Response and does administrative work for Crescent Orchards, managed by her husband Peter W. Ochs, whose family has owned and operated the enterprise since 1965.
The couple met in 1996 under tragic circumstances. Peter Ochs was part of an Orwell First Response crew that raced to Andrea’s home to tend to her father, who had suffered a heart attack. Her father died a week later, after which Andrea vowed to learn first responder skills to help her better deal with such medical emergencies. She joined Orwell First Response and became reacquainted with Peter Ochs, whom she married a few years later. They have two daughters, Gabrielle, 10, and Riley, 8.
Ochs has added to her civic résumé during the past decade. She is currently chairwoman of the Orwell Planning Commission, is clerk of the town’s development review board and is chairwoman of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s Natural Resources Committee. She served on Orwell’s playground and school crisis committees, and is a substitute teacher for the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union.
In 2003, Ochs joined the Addison County Farm Bureau board, and currently serves as its vice president. She is president of the Middlebury Farmers’ Market, where she has been a longtime vendor. Andrea and Peter Ochs own 87 acres in Orwell on which they launched, in 2006, “Crescent Moon Farm,” where they raise some sheep, chickens and vegetables. Since farming is a big part of the family’s livelihood, Ochs has a lot of opinions on how to improve agriculture in the state.
Sweeping improvements in agriculture will require action from Congress, in the form of a new dairy pricing structure and other sweeping changes to enable dairy farmers to get a fair price for their milk, Ochs said. She also believes the federal government needs to relax its foreign worker restrictions in a manner that would allow farms to employ migrant laborers year-round. Ochs noted current federal laws allow orchards to bring in Jamaican laborers for up to 10 months a year, and restrictions are tighter on dairies.
“In order to make dairy farming work, you need workers and it’s increasingly harder to get local help,” Ochs said. “You can’t say to the cows, ‘We’re going to milk you for 10 months, and I don’t have any help for the other two months, we’re not going to do it.’”
Ochs supports the localvore movement and favors the push to get more locally produced foods into area homes and schools. She is pleased to report tremendous growth in vendors and customers at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market.
“People want to know where their food is coming from,” Ochs said.
That said, Ochs stressed the need for more inspectors and mobile processing facilities for local ag products — not just for poultry, but also for vegetables.
Ochs seriously considered running for the state Senate two years ago, but said her oldest daughter, Gabrielle, talked her out of it. She wanted to have mom around. But Gabrielle is on board this year.
“In April (Gabrielle) told me, ‘You need to get it out of your system now, because I’m probably going to need you in high school,’” Ochs said with a chuckle.
She does not plan on running a negative campaign, and said she likes the other people in the race.
“I’m not running against anyone, I am running for office, because I think I can make a difference,” Ochs said.
Like many other candidates this election year, Ochs is touting jobs (creating more of them) and jumpstarting the economy as among her top issues.
“I believe we need to grow jobs and at the same time make sure that our environment is not negatively impacted,” said Ochs, who believes she could draw from her experiences as a business person and as local planner and regional planning commission delegate to guide her as a senator.
“I believe there needs to be permit reform to help businesses be here, but not at the expense of the environment,” she said. While Ochs does not yet have a game plan on how to accomplish that task, she said she would network with people “with more experience” to find ways of creating jobs without hurting Vermont’s scenic beauty.
At the same time the state tries to grow jobs, it must also find ways of providing government services for less money, according to Ochs. She acknowledged state officials cut more than $150 million from the budget during the 2010 legislative session and argues more reductions are needed.
“I think there needs to be an in-depth look at all programs, and programs that aren’t working should be closed down and the workers either transferred to programs that are working or helped to find other jobs,” Ochs said.
She is encouraged by the work of a blue-ribbon tax commission studying potential changes to Vermont’s tax system. She is intrigued by the notion of reducing the state’s sales tax from 6 percent to 3 percent, but including services under its umbrella.
Ochs is reserving judgment on Vermont Yankee and whether that nuclear power plant should close when its license expires in 2012.
“I believe we need to look more at renewable energy — wind power, solar power and biomass,” Ochs said. “I think there are plenty of places where we can become energy independent and not have to rely so much (on foreign oil).”
On health care, Ochs believes the state should consider introducing more competition among insurers as a means of reducing insurance premiums. She noted her family is currently covered under Catamount Health, the state-sponsored insurance plan. Ochs called it a “great program,” but noted that under current conditions, it would cost her family of four $10,000 to $12,000 per year to transition to a private insurance policy with a $2,500 deductible.
“I can’t afford that,” she said.
Public education is another service that people are finding increasingly tough to afford, Ochs said. She supports a review of Vermont’s education funding laws and believes the state should consolidate some of its supervisory unions as a way of reducing administrative costs. Ochs does not believe the state should force small schools to consolidate, but should provide incentives to those that want to merge.
While Ochs said she would counsel a family member or friend against having an abortion, she supports a woman’s right to choose and added she does not oppose same-sex marriage.
“I have been fortunate to call Addison County and Brandon my home for 26 years,” Ochs said. “I just want to help. I think my background with the Farm Bureau, land use planning and as a rescue squad person would be a great asset.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].