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. 

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