Transformation, Thanks

Screenings are like the weather, and like anything else I suppose, hard to predict. 

We'd gotten only 3 rsvps through our website, and when we showed up at Memorial Hall at 6:40, there was about 4 people in an auditorium that seats hundreds. Despite the fear of a small turnout, we were very very pleased to see Richard Morris sitting at the entrance to the theater. Richard is one of the stars of our documentary, a man who decided to transform his life entirely, and has been so successful in this joint effort with his family. He's lost hundreds and hundreds of pounds since he changed his food, and his life's purpose. 

As the minutes passed, more and more students trickled in, until about 150 people were there, and the evening went from a potential bust, to a strong turnout, and thus, an increased sense of purpose.


Graham, Mike, Josie, Chris and Richard from left to right. (Photo A. Trimbach)

The conversation following was full of emotion. Mike Weaver, who is a conventional chicken farmer for Pilgrim's Pride, and also the president of the Virginia Poultry Growers Association, talked about some of the challenges that agriculture faces. He's got a number of children, and none of them are interested in farming at this point. The number one reason he could point to, was that there wasn't any money in it. Conventional farmers are often getting squeezed more and more, to the point where Mike said that if you go to the grocery store and buy chicken he's only getting 5 cents of every dollar spent. A remarkably low number, and one that makes it hard to pay for the things most Americans pay for. 

After a stirring applause, Richard updated the thrilled audience about his progress, with incredible news that his family now grows 80% of their meat, and about 50% of their vegetables. So inspiring, especially, if you've seen his story. 

Chris talked about how he got into agriculture, growing up working a number of different jobs until returning to his father's company which smoked meats without chemicals. After a quest started by one of their main customers asking where the meat came from, Applegate is now the largest further processor of organic and natural meats in America, with about 1,000 farms sourcing them. 

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Carroll County FFA's Growing Farm

Sometimes you discover something that makes so much sense you have to smile, and spread the word. Wednesday at Carroll County High School we were privileged to be hosted by Randy Webb and the good students of FFA, about 150 of whom joined us for a screening.


Dustin, Randy, Graham and Chris before the conversation. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Dustin Richardson, the president of FFA in the state of Virginia, joined us for a conversation afterword. Dustin talked passionately and effectively about the need for our culture to learn more about agriculture, about how the first step to inspiring new farmers is to have more people understand agriculture. The cycles of life, death and rebirth on the farm have been forgotten by so many of us. 

Randy talked about the program he's set up at Carroll County FFA. About 65 acres of land was generously donated to FFA by a local farmer. Students have turned this land into working farm- which we were lucky enough to tour later in the day. 

Chris talked about the sustained economic growth of Applegate over the past few years, and how their challenge is to find networks of farmers as demand grows. An inspiring thought when sitting in a room with hundreds of young farmers.

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Joel Just Making Sense

Science without morality. Powerful words. Science is an important and fundamental part of our lives. It got us to the moon, it took a rover to Mars and it will allow us to keep discovering and understanding wonderful aspects of life. In a perfect world that's the science we would always know and love. But there is a scarier side to science. Science without morality which is what Joel mentions in this video.

The fact that we can scientifically engineer food to withstand frost or produce cows and chickens that grow bigger, faster is astounding. Somewhere along the way though we became so caught up in whether we could do this we stopped asking ourselves whether we should. Factory farming is not a perfect system, it's not even close to being a perfect system. Upon the introduction of factory farming, the concept of being able to feed large numbers of people for very little money must have been very attractive. But we can see that there are numerous issues associated with this method of farming, Mad Cow being one of them.

The justification for factory farming was that it could safely feed the masses for little money, but as demonstrated by Joel that simply isn't this case. It's time to take a long hard look at the Salatin method and for the skeptics to strongly consider his alternative. 

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Kathryn Albright is an Architecture professor at Virginia Tech and on the board of the Farmers Market in Blacksburg. She'd never hosted a screening, but decided to try it.

It was another first, with the screening room being in the midst of a space cluttered with disheveled architects, designing and drawing plans for yet unbuilt structures. 

By the time all of the late-arriving crowd was seated, about 80 folks filled the smallish room, giving the screening an added sense of of size and purpose. 

The good people who came out to see the movie at Virginia Tech. (Photo A. Trimbach)

There was a lot of diversity in the audience. About 15 student/farmers who are part of the beef leadership council at the land grant university, Virginia Tech. Many of these young agriculturalists were also state FFA officers a few short years back. 

There were also a number of folks who were farming in pasture-based systems, and people who purchased their meats and vegetables from the Blacksburg Farmers Market. 


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Blacksburg to Radford

The day started out at Blacksburg High School, where teacher Steve Hulburt did an incredible job of getting as many classes that overlapped with the content of our documentary into the same room. 

The stop sign is not stuck to the top of the sign. (Photo A. Trimbach)

All told, it was about 5 classes and about 185 students in attendance. There were a few aspiring comedians in the audience, a chuckling reminder of my own days in those halls. We watched the documentary, with the lights half-on in the brand new auditorium. 

Students watch open scene (Photo A. Trimbach)

After, the conversation seemed to focus on the difference in taste between local, pasture-based meats and grocery store stuff. I'm not sure if that was an indication that students had missed breakfast and were eagerly anticipating lunch, although it was interesting to hear Chris, a chef by training, share his perspective on the matter.


Graham and Chris talk to students in the dark auditorium. (Photo A. Trimbach)

From there we lunched in Radford and then screened at the university with the Environmental Club, hosted by student leader Paul Fink, and Prof. Julio Stephens. We only had 75 minutes, so we screened a portion of the documentary, skipping the last third of the story and fielding questions from Paul and the audience. Most ofthe questions seemed to center around Chipotle's new local distribution model at Charlottesville and Harrisonburg locations. 

Paul Fink of Environmental Club of Radford, Chris & Graham. (Photo A. Trimbach)

We handed out burrito cards at the end to the 20 students who bypassed studying during final times to join us. 

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Where This Starts (Part 2)

We got caught in a combination of nonsensical left turning situations and 5 o'clock traffic, making us a bit later than we were hoping to be.

Chipotle burrito w Polyface Pork. Free. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Newcomb Hall was completely packed, hundreds and hundreds of people in line to get the free burritos from Chipotle and to get seats.  

The line. (Photo A. Trimbach)

We reconnected with our friend and many screening veteran Chris Ely, the co-founder of Applegate, who's joining us on the road for the next few days as we talk with young people passionate about food and agriculture throughout the state of Virginia. 

The estimated crowd of 350. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Joel Salatin, the main character of our documentary, was kind enough to join the discussion, which was moderated by Tanya Dekler Cobb. The whole evening was presented by the good folks of the UVA Food Collaborative, and Allison Spain, Paul and Lynda and many others made it all happen. 

After an introduction, the lights went down and 350 of us sat down together, eating burritos featuring Polyface pork and listening to the wisdom of the farmer who raised the food being shared.

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Where This Starts (Part 1)

Woke up and headed South from Waynesboro, the many rippled orange sky taking shape as we drove. By the time we got to Petersburg, a couple hours passed, and we were in one of many cars moving slowly in the morning's traffic on the paved roadways of Richmond. 

It was an optional 9am screening on finals week, which meant we had about 15 people there, most of them professors, and only about 45 minutes to present. What followed was an engaged conversation, with passionate questions, and a lot of both nodding and shaking of the head. 

Optional 9am screening on finals week at Virginia State University. Lesson learned- lol. (Photo A. Trimbach)

The time was over before it started and we made the u-turn, two and a half hours North and West. 

We shared lunch at Stone Soup in Waynesboro, a wonderful local sourcing cafe that is the life and pride of my cousin, Mary Katherine. Uncle Mason and Aunt Annie Laurie joined Andy and I for lunch, and we talked about food, politics and Alaska. About every 5 minutes, another person would stop by and say hello, the frequent and friendly disruptions of a small town. 

We headed back to Mason and Annie Laurie's where we rested up for tonight's screening at the University of Virginia. 

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Andy and I drove hours West and South, through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and into Virginia. Here on the East Coast, one can drive through many states in one day, whereas out West it is the other way around. 

We arrived in Farmville, VA, the home of Longwood University about 15 minutes before the screening at 6, just enough time to test out the DVD and figure out how to manage the lights. We were hosted by Environmental Ethics professor Eric Moore.

After the introduction, I went downstairs and exported some videos and responded to e-mails in the student union cafe under the hall. Groups of students hung out in study groups, as finals week starts tomorrow. 

Post screening discussion in Farmville, VA. (Photo A. Trimbach)

The 82 minutes went by and I talked with the 50 students who came out. Andy snagged the free burrito cards, and we handed them out after we talked about the production of the documentary, and about how the most important thing that people can do to change the food system is to pay money directly to farmers whenever possible.

There's a good energy in the air as we head North and West to stay with family in Waynesboro, with a big day tomorrow at Virginia State, and then at the University of Virginia with Joel Salatin and Chris Ely as part of the conversation. 


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An Epic Journey Begins

If there were celebrities in the farming world, this man would be at the top of the list. In actuality, for the people that know and love him, he is more like an icon than a celebrity. Joel Salatin has been a mover and shaker in the grass-based farming movement since he bought that fateful piece of land in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1961. The rest is more or less history.

Joel gets folks traveling far and wide to visit his farm buying meat or simply to hear him speak. His fans spread from California all the way down under to Australia. Of course his meat is delicious and raised the way nature had intended it to be raised, but there is something else that makes him so popular among his fans. It's his passion for what he does. Whenever Joel steps up to give a speech or lecture you can feel the conviction in what he says, and he doesn't just think he is right about what he says he knows it. He has devoted his entire life to farming and showing the masses that there is an alternative to factory farms.

Joel is at the forefront of the grass-based movement and we are certainly glad to have a man with his fervor for farming on our side!

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A Chef's Perspective

We hear a lot from farmers and food producers on grass-based agricultural methods so it's intriguing to hear from a person who actually prepares the food.

Chef Dan Barber delves into the importance of using the entire animal as well as preparing dishes that incorporate meat instead of focusing heavily on it as the main ingredient.  Americans in general tend to shy away from the more exotic cuts of meat that are often savored in other parts of the world. In this video Dan wants us to build more of a connection with the food we eat. We can't disassociate ourselves with what goes on our plate. In other cultures the entire animal is utilized when preparing various meals and dishes, because Americans have access to abundantly cheap meat we feel as though we can toss out what many others consider delicacies.

Dan is trying to instill in people the importance of connecting with our food. If we see a steak as the cow it used to be we might think twice about turning our noses up at the intestine or tongue. It is important to see that the cow's life was ended to put food on our plate. Eating is about connecting with others but it is also about connecting with our food.

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