by Emily Enger
The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) celebrated their 25th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 19 at The Carriage House in Oneonta, NY. The event included a catered dinner, live music, and speeches. Local band ‘Eleemosynavy’ — which means “pertaining to charity” — serenaded guests and concluded the night with country dancing lessons.
NYCAMH began when two men — Dr. David Pratt and Dr. John May — were working as pulmonologists together at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY. A young farmer came in with fever and coughing, among other symptoms.
“And we just could not figure out what he had,” Pratt recalled.
They looked into the man’s profession and found he had recently emptied a silo, which led them to do a massive study of area farms.
“As soon as we got out onto farms and described the illness, people would point out guys who had the same symptoms, and always right after emptying a silo,” said Pratt.
They ran air particle tests and diagnosed the illness as “Silo Unloading Syndrome,” speculating that the three-foot top layer of rotted silage contained mold that sickened farmers when inhaled.
It turned out to be a world-wide thing, and May and Pratt ended up in Sweden at a doctor’s conference to name it. The group settled on calling it ‘Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome.’
That was just the beginning. Neither doctor had background in agriculture, but the experience with Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome led them to found Bassett Farm Safety & Health Project, which became NYCAMH in 1988.
Today, NYCAMH tackles a variety of farm hazards. The organization performs safety training, hosts farmer’s clinics, and conducts research. They are regulars at trade shows, where they educate attendees and also run health tests. At the recent Tractor Fest at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, NYCAMH staff offered free screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol.
During the 25th celebration, many of the leaders shared memories and expressed appreciation for the support the group has felt. “We’ve all put in a lot of work, but none of this would have been possible without the help and appreciation of sympathetic farmers,” said Pratt.
Dr. Pratt left NYCAMH in 1992; he retired as Commissioner of Health for Schenectady County. Dr. May still serves as director of NYCAMH.
A standing ovation was given for Dr. May, in appreciation for the last 25 years. He also received an engraved plaque.
May thanked the audience but concluded, “This shouldn’t just be about me. It should be about all of us.”
by Emily Enger