A Long Day's Night

Thursday was the longest day of the trip. 

At dawn we headed to Todd Geisert's farm. 

He's a naturally talkative fellow, who's got a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the work he does. So it was a bit odd for the first part of the shoot, when we ask folks to work and pretend like we're not there. He often wanted to explain things as he walked by them, from the highway signs that are repurposed as shelters for pigs, to the solar pump that helps bring water from the nearby creek up into the pasture. It was a cloudless morning sky, which meant that we didn't have much time until the harsh light of mid-morning would make most of our shots harsh with long shadows. We walked through the mud of the just rained on soil, rain that has brought a collective sigh of relief to farmers throughout Missouri this week. 

He fed his hogs and whistled as he worked, often looking like a shepherd of pigs, walking along as his pigs followed behind anticipating feed shortly. 

We flipped a couple 5 gallon buckets over, backed an old truck out of the wood barn and started the interview. Todd seemed a bit anxious at first, but settled down as the conversation shifted into familiar topics. He talked about the farm stand that is open when the sun is up, and that admirably works well on the honor system, as people take vegetables, meat and eggs for themselves in a lockbox that is welded on. He talked about the impact of the drought, about cycles of crops and animals that ultimately takes care of the farm. Finally, he said that he's not the type to go to church, but that when he's walking through his fields in the moments before the sunrise, that's kind of like his church, and he sorts some things out. 

We said goodbyes and headed West after breakfast. We got to Kansas City Academy four hours later with a few moments to spare, and through good luck happened to be screening for a group of 15 kids that were reading the educational version of Omnivore's Dilemma, and we're just about to start the section on Polyface Farms. The middle schoolers were engaged and intelligent, and asked questions about agriculture, showing a broad understanding about how systems work, or don't work. We focused on ways in which things are interconnected, and we talked about the lack of awareness people sometimes have about food and the people who raise it. 

We headed North to Smithville where we were privileged to screen the documentary in the brand new auditorium of Smithville High School. AgEd instructor and farmer Johnny Viebrock was kind enough to host the screening, and we were thrilled to be in the state-of-the-art facility which seated well over 800 people. Our turnout was decidedly less than capacity- about 30 or so total- however, that only led to a more engaged and intimate conversation after. 

John, a restauranteur, talked passionately about the importance of life choices, about how having a job with benefits and financial security didn't work for him, because he felt like he wasn't having a positive impact on the community. To change this, John started a restaurant, Justus Drugstore, that sources locally, and where we ate afterwards thanks to John's generosity. Truly incredible food.

 Mario, of Paradise Meats, talked about the challenges of owning and operating a small meat locker. Him and his family have seen the market for local meat grow exponentially over the past decade, and they are trying to figure out the best way to expand their operations without compromising the quality of product. 

Fred talked about growing up in the city and then getting hooked on farming after working on the weekends. The cattle industry worked for a while, but then he had too much of it, and went back into row crops. He said that he sees conventional agriculture as a necessary way for food to be produced to feed the world, while acknowledging that the system was far from perfect. 

Some of the FFA students asked really intelligent questions, and there was a lot of passion and knowledge from the audience, making for an engaging conversation that extended beyond the customary half-hour. 

There was a positive energy following and we were lucky to share a meal with some new farmers and food advocates, Ganesh, Dan and Gabe, as well as John, who treated us to a truly phenomenal meal. 

We headed back East, and a couple hours later fell straight to sleep after the lights went out.

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-10-19 22:40:29 -0400