Graham Meriwether

published No Sleep 'Til Thornton in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:04:03 -0400

No Sleep 'Til Thornton

Up most of the night editing we headed to New Hampton bright and early on little sleep and no shower. 

The screening for High School Ag Students was at the Middle School, in a big spacious auditorium. At the end of part one, we broke the auditorium into about 7 groups of 10 students. Each group of students is in turn joined by community members, often parents, and more often than not farmers. 

We discussed the first section of the film by going over a few questions together in smaller groups, which has been working well because it allows more students to get to speak up and interact. Before, when we just had panelists in front of the audience, only the bravest students would speak in front of such a large crowd. 

After a second round of small group interaction, we had the adults go to the front of the room for a more conventional panel. It was good to hear the grown-ups speak, but I must admit that the best moments I witnessed came from the smaller group interactions, when students got a chance to share their thoughts. Too often, the panel doesn't allow the kids the opportunity to be actively engaged in the discussion. Passive involvement often leads to texting and squeaking chairs. 

After the panel wrapped, we met some more young farmers interested in being profiled for the Young Iowa Farmers video series, and hope to get the next one out to you in the next couple days. 

Heading South and West we arrived in Latimer at CAL Community with about 10 minutes to spare before the 1pm screening. We were greeted by AgEd instructor Sarah Beaver, as well as Phil Kramer of Niman Ranch and a big table of ham cube samples from Niman. Principal Meyer worked the sound, and the crowd of close to 200 took in the afternoon screening. Once again we had a wide range of farmers, many from Niman Ranch- one of our co-sponsors on the screening series, and many conventional farmers and representatives from Farm Bureau. Sure as fog in winter, there were differences of opinion. But there was a lot of respect, and never once was there any tension. Because of the large number of people in attendance, the small group sessions were a bit more hectic, with the sound reverberating off the walls. We got a surprise visit from a good friend- Paul Willis- who founded Niman Pork in the 1990s. He also generously offered up his farm as a place to stay. 

After sharing closing conversation with farmers, and saying goodbyes, we followed Paul to Thornton. We managed to stay awake long enough to share dinner with good friends Phyllis, Paul, Lisa and Dave before heading back to the farmhouse and uploading videos. Now it's time to sleep. 

published The Pokey at Coe in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:00:13 -0400

The Pokey at Coe

Saturday we had the pleasure to screen for the E-club (E stands for environmental in this case) at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

This conversation seemed to continually shift in a Libertarian direction, largely because of an old farmer named Roy who hated the government and loved Ron Paul. 

See this is how it works- each state determines what is allowable regarding slaughter. Virginia allows farms to slaughter chickens on the farm- only if it's under a certain amount annually-- but not cows or pigs. Washington state allows all animals to be slaughtered on farm. Iowa doesn't allow any to be slaughtered on farm, unless it's for personal use and not for sale. Due to Iowa's more stringent policies about farming, it's harder for small farmers to get their products sold. They often have to ship animals hundreds of miles to the nearest USDA certified slaughterhouse. Which leads to fed up farmers like the charismatic Roy, who used the old-fashioned term "pokey" when referring to "jail" about 6 times during the discussion to get mad as hell. Here's a quote typical quote from Roy: "They'll put handcuffs on a farmer for selling raw milk and put him in the pokey, when what we need to do is get the local sheriff to tell those regulators to get out or we'll put them in the pokey." Every time Roy spoke, laughter and applause generally followed. 

Until recently, Cedar Rapids residents couldn't legally own hens, but one of the women in the audience mentioned that she and a group of people had pushed through legislation to change that. 

One outgoing Coe student asked if the farmers were open to students visiting the farm, to which all replied yes, including our friends Doug Darrow and Justin Wade of Rapid Creek Ranch who stood on the front lines with us for yet another panel. There was an undeniable air of optimism at the small (about 30 folks) yet engaged screening, as people seemed focused on what was possible and empowered with the belief that change- swift and positive- would soon arrive. 

published First Videos Finished in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:54:27 -0400

First Videos Finished

We said goodbye to the infinitely generous Steve & Andrea, and their girls, and headed Northeast towards the Minnesota border. Halfway to New Hampton we stopped at a Sinclair gas station and cleaned the car, stuffing the less used stuff in the nether regions of the trunk, and putting the oft-used stuff in the back seat, or at the front of the trunk. 

We arrived at night at our third Super 8 motel of the trip. This one had an indoor pool, and a pool table, and was pretty much amazing. 

Hooked up the glyph drives and started editing, our first two videos of the trip. Late in the night, we finally finished and uploaded them today. 

We'll have two basic types of videos during the trip: 

1) The Young Iowa Farmer Series. 

2) Conversations led by Iowa AgEd Instructors

published Conversations in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:44:43 -0400


Another day, another fog delay. We were supposed to get started at West Dubuque at 8:30am, but fog once again pushed our screening back. 

Instead- we drove an hour back to DeWitt where we had the pleasure to spend some time with Patrick Diedrich, his father Steve, and his great uncle, who said we should call him great uncle. When we pulled up they were putting siding on a big building. We got the cameras out and shot some footage of them working together, and followed that with two emotional interviews, first with Patrick, then with his father.

Patrick is going to college, and is weighing his options about working the farm. His Dad misses his son very much, and his emotions were strong when talking about his son. 

Patrick is wise beyond his years and spoke with passion about FFA, and about a desire to one day have a teaching farm he could share with FFA members. 

At 11am, back in the car, we thawed out our hands and drove back North to West Dubuque, where we met up with a really inspiring and knowledgeable ag educator- Matt Lansing. Right after lunch we set up the screen and projector, and packed about 50 young farmers in. This time we tried a new educational method- we stopped the documentary at the end of each section, to talk in small groups about the issues that are raised in the film. The conversations that followed between the local farmers, students and Matt were really thought provoking. We're excited to try this new- more interactive model at future screenings. Thanks to Susan for this great idea :)

After lots of good conversation with Matt and his father Willy, we headed out, to Cedar Rapids. We're staying with a generous family-Steve and Andrea-who are hosting us before even meeting us! Really kind folks, a wonderful family. Iowans continue to extend hospitality and warmth to us on our journey.

Tomorrow we're gearing up for a screening at Coe College. There's rumors of a snowstorm, so we're leery of a third weather-related challenge in as many days... 

published jobs in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:41:53 -0400


Today started with a phone call at 6am from Jim. Fog. 

The fog in DeWitt was thick enough today to push the start of the school day back two hours. This pushed our morning screening back to 11am. Despite the tough weather, well over 200 FFA members crowded into the recently completed auditorium at Central High School, a great place to screen. The chapters were from Central, Northeast and Calamus-Wheatland. The sense of pride among rural communities is huge. And the sense of community is an example to all. 

The discussion after involved some big strong local farmers who have a cow-calf operation, a veterinarian named Jessica and a bright young farmer named Patrick Diedrich. Patrick talked with charisma beyond his years about the economic challenges facing young farmers, and pointed out that the low-infrastructure costs of grass-based systems makes the entry level easier for people coming out of highschool. From there, young farmers could decide to expand into commodity barns, or go further into direct marketing grass-based meats at farmers markets, restaurants and online. 

The fog having squished our schedule tight, we had to skip the lovely meal that followed our discussion- that the over 200 students shared at Central. Didi prepped fruit, and casseroles for an auditorium full of people. Awesome. 

An hour west we were greeted by the refreshingly upbeat Rhonda Clough, who led us to the screening room at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. A room of about a hundred 20 year olds about to graduate with degrees in agriculture sat in green movie seats. When we asked for a show of hands of how many grew up on farms, pretty much every hand in the place went up. 

The discussion following featured about 8 or 9 farmers, so there was a great diversity of opinion. Doug Darrow & Justin Wade, our friends at Rapid Creek Ranch, spoke passionately about the narrowing margins of row crop production, and of the only way to make a living on-farm for them was to get into niche markets. Jason from Farm Bureau spoke well about the importance of choice for consumers. Choice of price-point, and choice of production method. If people want the cheap stuff, they should be able to choose that. If they want no meat at all they should be able to choose that too. Makes sense. 

Another fellow, Arlen, I think, talked about the importance of business sense for young farmers to make it in a competitive post graduate world. Chris, a young farmer who just turned 25, talked about his families strategy to have a very diverse farm to help survive the inevitable ebb and flow of agricultural markets. 

Paul- a devout Muslim- talked about the disconnect between people and meat, and mentioned that he is proud to work slaughtering animals- with his particular niche being that of halal meat. 

I- finally- talked about the possibility of a major growth in the grass-based production- as the price of gasoline goes up- it's likely that more major companies- like Chipotle- will decide to locally source their meats and vegetables so that they won't have to spend a lot of money shipping it around the country. 

Around 5 or 6, the conversation came to a close and we packed up our gear and got word from our good friend Dale Gruis that there was an impromptu screening at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, so we drove an hour Northwest and talked to the college students that were there for an Ag-Ed conference. I caught an inspiring speech from a teacher at Aplington Parkersburg High, who convincingly pointed out that one of the most core American principles is that we have discussions with different viewpoints and then move on. As he put it, we have elections, we vote, someone wins and we move on. 

At the very end of the day, I talked a bit about the path we took in the making of American Meat, and then asked the room of young farmers if any of them were interested in being filmed by Andy and I- we brought our cameras- for a series we're starting tomorrow featuring young farmers. We were thrilled to get about 10 different farmers approach us, which means in the coming weeks we'll be able to share some inspiring- rarely seen footage- of young people working to feed our country. 

After twelve hours of screening, talking and filming we got in our car in Waterloo to find the entire area blanketed in fog. An hour east with tired eyes we pulled into our second Super 8 motel in two nights, and are getting ready for tomorrow's screening in West Dubuque. And for our first shoot in the young farmers series, with Patrick Diedrich. 

Why do we need people in rural America?

Today is the start of our month long journey around the state of Iowa.

We're doing screenings for thousands of young people interested in agriculture.


About 50 students packed into the smallish room. The students are in graduate school at Iowa State, studying “Sustainable Agriculture”.

We screened one chapter of our documentary- What Happened to Curlew?

It's about the disappearance of Curlew, Iowa. Larry Ruppert reminisces about a time when Curlew thrived, and when family farms were everywhere. As hog operations got bigger and bigger, less and less people were able to keep their farms going and had to move to cities to earn a living. Businesses shut down, families left. The school closed down. Today, the only thing left in Curlew is a post office and a grain elevator.

Curlew disappeared because of the incredible efficiency of commodity agriculture. Every year there's a technological innovation that allows one person to farm more acres. Since one person can farm more acres, it means less people have work, and ultimately- less families have a home in rural areas. Every year, homes get bulldozed down, and corn and soy get planted in their place. The latest invention is the drone tractor. In one month, a tractor will be released that doesn't require any people at all. 

As we began speaking about this development, one woman raised her hand and asked a question:

Why do we need people in rural America?

During the next weeks and months we will be in the heart of rural America, talking to the farmers who raise the food all of us eat. We'll start conversations about farming, and about this very question. 

New Video Project: Young American Farmers

The average age of the American farmer is 57 years old, and that number keeps climbing.

New technology has led to less jobs for people on farms and farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to make a profit. Under the current system, the hard-working farmers that feed America are producing more, but earning less. As a result, not as many young people have been up to the challenge of entering agriculture.

But we need young farmers! They are certainly some of the most important people in the country. The future of farming in America may be approaching a crossroads and much will rely on their decisions. So who are these ambitious young folk? What are they thinking? We’re going to find out!

We are excited to announce that we are embarking upon a new video project!

As we travel from town to town for screenings of American Meat, we are meeting fascinating young people. Many of them are FFA (Future Farmers of America) members or sons and daughters of farmers that plan to make living in agriculture. Our new project will feature a series of video profiles of young farmers from various locations in the U.S. — we’ll hear their thoughts, watch them at work on the farm, and gain some insight into the life of the young American farmer. A young person who aspires to be a farmer is a special story, and we want to share those stories!

published New Outreach Coordinator: Kirsten in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:30:22 -0400

New Outreach Coordinator: Kirsten

As the new Outreach Coordinator, I work with the American Meat team to distribute the film and its message, primarily by helping organize screenings across the nation. Getting people conscious about where the food on their table comes from and how it gets there is something that I care about very much. I spent the greater part of my childhood growing up in a small, rural town in Colorado that is heavily dependent upon industrial agriculture. After seeing the processes and products, both material and cultural, that are integral to large-scale commodity farming, I became very interested in the various complicated issues that accompany the American system of food production. I am excited to work with American Meat to be a part of changing agriculture in America for the better.

I am a junior at NYU, studying Environmental Studies and Journalism. I love to write, particularly about environmental issues. Working for American Meat is a great new opportunity for me to learn about documentary as a both a form of journalism and a way to create green awareness. Eventually I hope to combine my interests in environmental studies and journalism and become a magazine writer for a publication like National Geographic.

Food is something that is inevitably involved in the life of every person and organism on Earth. It’s important from so many perspectives — environment, human health, economy, culture, etc. As an avid distance runner, I am passionate about food, health, and nature. The three should work together in harmony. Films like American Meat are the first step toward creating the food and environmental awareness that will help bring that harmony back to America. I’m so glad to be able to contribute!

published Saxapahaw, NC Part Two in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:26:38 -0400

Saxapahaw, NC Part Two

Jeff and the chefs in the kitchen cooked up pulled pork, pasture chicken, mashed potatoes, greens and a lot of people filled their plates. 

All the meats and vegetables came from local farms, and most of the people who raised the food were there to eat. The pork from Eliza of Cane Creek - the chickens from Suzanne of Cozi- the garlic from Luther at Quarry Dog Farm. It's refreshing. Every one becomes connected on a personal level-> every one is accountable. Farmers take pride in the food they produce.

At 7:30, once the meal was finished and the plates composted, the documentary began. 

The projector spilled it's color onto the makeshift screen- a bedsheet Heather, Tom, Suzanne and I had helped to set up a few hours before. It looked deceptively secure hanging from a couple of steel girders we'd found backstage.

The promise of 200 people had been filled, and exceeded. People filled all the seats on the main floor, up on the second, and even the third balcony, with some sitting on the steps or even standing. I must admit to sitting in fear on the steps- imagining that the clear packing tape wrapping the bedsheet to the steel would give way and our screen would come tumbling down. Thankfully, it never did.

Johnny Glosson, one of the commodity chicken farmers featured in American Meat, attended with his wife Ann. Johnny raises chickens for Pilgrim's Pride. Their son- Chuck Glosson- was lost in a tragic accident while saving his sons lives. Johnny- now 75- continues to keep the farm in operation out of deep love and loyalty for his son and for the farm. 

Following the screening we had a big panel discussion. Bigger than we've ever had. Everyone introduced themselves- explaining how they got into agriculture, and often giving credit to their families for supporting them through the way. Casey McKissick of NC Choices  moderated the discussion, which featured V. Mac Baldwin who raises grass-fed cattle and commodity chickens, Kim who runs a farrowing operation (where female pigs give birth to baby pigs) as well as the aforementioned Johnny, Jeff, Eliza, and Suzanne. The biggest laughs came from the oldest farmers on stage, when Johnny Glosson talked of how tiring it was to artificially insemenate cows, and when V. Mac talked about how his mom tried to unsuccessfully talk him out of farming at the age of 10. Suzanne talked with great knowledge about the importance of soil health, Eliza and Kim talked of the pride in their work, despite the different ways in which they both raise hogs. Towards the end, Jeff responded to a question by talking about the importance of people to the future of agriculture- a point which deeply resonated in the room. Which brings us back to personal connections. 

One of the strengths of the local food movement is that people make connections. Farmers make connections with chefs, with customers, with grocers. These connections lead to friendships. And understanding. If there's a hailstorm that wipes out all the eggs at Cozi Farm, Jeff will understand, and he'll help Suzanne get through it. Jeff knows his customers and can tell them the story of the storm, and why there aren't eggs this week, and people will understand. Local food is about people. People we know. 

published Saxapahaw, NC Part One in Ruminations 2012-07-18 10:23:56 -0400

Saxapahaw, NC Part One

Personal connections. 

This local food movement is rooted in them.

In Saxapahaw, a shift started at a gas station. Or perhaps the better way to put it is with the people who owned the gas station. Jeff Barney decided to put a simple sign out in front of the gas pumps: "Local Food Wanted"

In addition to Doritos and Slim Jims, Jeff decided their Shell station would buy produce from farmers near the store- and cook up lunch with it.

The sign caught the attention of new farmer Suzanne Nelson who had recently started Cozi Farms. She began to produce some eggs for the gas station, and as the food coming out of the gas station got good reviews- things grew. What started out as a few dozen eggs- blossomed into a full compliment of dairy, vegetables and meat streaming into the gas station from many local farms. 

The gas station is now known as the Saxapahaw General Store. It's a place buzzing with good food and good energy. An example of what local food economies are transforming into.

Last night we had a screening of American Meat at the Haw River Ballroom  built from the remains of a dye factory. The venue is next store to/includes The Eddy Pub a gastropub which also shares its kitchen with the gas station (Saxpahaw General Store). The three establishments share people. Jeff- who put the sign out- is part owner of the gas station- and also chef at the gastropub. Another nice fellow- named Ron- works at both the gas station and Cozi farms. It's a little confusing- right? But after some reflection it makes sense... Places like Saxapahaw are building a new local economy, one that fundamentally changes the relationship between farmer, chef, gas station owner, bar, and of course, all of us customers. The buzz in Saxapahaw for local food is unmistakable, but when the town with a population of 1500 said they expected 200 people to show up for a documentary screening- we were optimistically curious.

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