Last Day in Washington

We got up, and checked out, a ritual that includes zipping up bags, finding the credit card like room keys and dropping them at the front desk with a nod and thanks. 

We essentially camped out at Main Market, having breakfast and lunch there. Andy edited Stacey's profile, and I took some phone calls, and sent out e-mails. Rarely in our travels have we had this much time without a shoot or a screening, so we accomplished much in the digital realm. 

We caught dinner at Chipotle before the screening, and then headed over to Gonzaga where we were greeted by Breanne Flynn, as well as Katy and Ellen, all of the wonderful group, EAT (Ethical Awareness Together) a recently formed student group that hosted us for the screening. The first 25 students that arrived got free burritos courtesy of the new restaurant in town, Chipotle. About 70 students made it out in total.

I introduced the film, stated our three core goals: 1) Thanks America's Farmers 2) Support Young Farmers 3) Food Choices Matter and thanked our wonderful sponsors. 

After the film, we had a conversation with the good folks who stayed, and our panel, a science professor, Hugh, Ellen, of EAT and Claire Cummings, West Coast fellow of our partner Bon Appétit Management Company. 

The conversation was short and passionate. Students wanting tangible solutions, asking about ways they can impact the food system, asking tough  questions, wanting to get at the heart of the truth. We addressed issues like the health of different foods. Claire pointed out that there are many many ways in which health is measured, mentioning the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed leads to the development of super bugs. Hugh said that there's no health difference between organic and conventional meats and vegetables, although he felt that the local food systems are better because they support local farmers and food systems. 

Ellen talked about her food epiphany coming as a freshman, when she saw the massive quantities of food coming through the meal plan, and realized that she didn't know much about the food system. 


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Sunday in Spokane

No alarm clocks Sunday morning, meant more sleep and a later start to the day. 

 Our room in the Spokane Hotel House was the cheapest one we could find, at $41 a night. The place reflected the cost, and yet every room looks the same when the lights go out. 

We had breakfast at the incredible, locally sourcing Santé, bright orange eggs, sausage and french toast. And it was under or at $10, about the same as what we'd pay at a diner for the hungry man breakfast. 

We explored Riverfront Park, a retro treat from the 1970s, with iMAX theatres, gondola, ice skating, carousels, and a ridiculously large radio wagon replica turned child's slide. The real attraction is the mighty Spokane River, which has a tremendous current, rocky bluffs. We spent a good hour walking across the many pedestrian footbridges, staring over the edge of the railing as much as we could stand, the heights and the consequences at times causing me to step back.

Thanks to the generosity of a barista at Thomas Hammer we worked in a room upstairs with wifi and calm. Andy edited Luke's profile, and I sent out e-mails and booked rental cars for upcoming Virginia. 

They closed at 3 and we then stumbled across the Main Market, a local co-op featuring local and/or organic foods. They also have seating and strong wi-fi. We stayed there until Luke's portrait was complete, and got lunch/dinner there, in the form of kale and goji berry salad, and brussel sprouts. The body is happy. 

Back to the Spokane House, which was much quieter on a Sunday night. We wound down on a low-key Spokane Sunday, ready for Monday's screening at Gonzaga.

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Find Your Passion

There aren't too many things in life more important than finding and doing something that you love. Whether you are passionate about teaching, learning, music, cooking or running a business doing something that brings you happiness is of the utmost importance. 

Sometimes it can take years to discover what we are put on this planet it to do, and there are those of us that will never discover our true callings. Luke Conyac is someone who was put on this earth to farm. He may practice law as a second job but that's only so that he can keep up with his true passion, farming. He works side-by-side with his brother raising heritage hogs that he supplies to the people of Seattle.

Farming is important not only because it brings him closer to nature but because it's in his blood. He grew up on a farm in Kansas and after attending law school the desire to get back on the land never really left him. Too many generations of people pursue careers simply for the money. If you can find something that you love and make a living while doing it that's fantastic, but if you do something you love the money will come. Luke may work part time as a lawyer, but the satisfaction and gratification he undoubtedly feels after a hard day on the farm outweighs any amount of time he could spend in a courthouse. 

Thanks for being such a hardworking farmer and being a part of our Young Farmer Video Series!


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the seeds we plant

andy's alarm went off at 615. the alarm is a bit odd, a woman's voice singing the time, location and weather. it's kind of strange, an equal part ethereal and creepy way to start the day. 

it was dark, and raining when we pulled into the drive on number 6 road. stacey, her husband ryan, and her father del were all together working on an asymmetrical greenhouse that was getting a fresh coat of paint. 

stacey and ryan recently had a newborn, who was sleeping in a car with the radio playing, an unknowing accomplice in the early days of one of ellensburg, washington's first organic farms. 

the place had all the feel of new being itself, trenches throughout the ground where ryan explained they were working to get irrigation to the high tunnels and greenhouses so they could grow vegetables year round. for those who don't know, high tunnels are hoop structures stretched with translucent plastic and closed up, in this case with sturdy zippers. 

the rows of vegetables were mostly dead, as the cold snow filled winter of central washington approaches. some hearty vegetables, like swiss chard, still showed some signs of life, the occasional lush green with bright red veins a reminder of the summer days that seem endless a couple short months ago.


Stacey Engel breaks up garlic cloves to plant. (Photo A. Trimbach)

stacey and ryan talked as they cleared away dead squash vines, the light hearted teasing of newlywed lovebirds. it's the end of the growing season for almost all crops, one exception being garlic. stacey took a few bulbs of garlic, and separated them out one. her and ryan, took long narrow shovels and dug out deep enough trenches for the garlic to go in, pointy tip up. 


Stacey Engel of Fuzzy Rhino Farms in Ellensburg, WA. (Photo A. Trimbach)

hay bales got broken up, and spread evenly over the planted bulbs. they'll be harvested many moons from now. 

After planting garlic, straw is laid over the rows where it was planted. (Photo A. Trimbach)

we set up some hay bales and interviewed stacey, listening and recording as she talked about discovering a life's passion she would have not anticipated a few short years ago. the csa at fuzzy rhino has sold 22 shares in its first season, and her proud father del, says it can sell many more. stacey has a strong vision for the farm, one that includes animals, more land, more vegetables, more community members in the small central washington town fed by food she produces. 

there's joy, passion and purpose in each of her words. 

we said goodbyes and thank yous and headed east after eating too many pancakes at a nearby gas station diner. 

a few hours later we arrived in pullman, washington and sent out e-mails, captured footage, and sipped hot chocolate and coffee. 

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West to East

Clouds and rain are part of fall in western washington. it's either raining, just rained or about to rain. 

we woke around 6 and met Luke Coynac near Marysville, WA around 7. he drives a ridiculously old van, with various worn out bumper stickers that won't be scraped off anytime soon.

Luke drives an old tractor. (Photo A. Trimbach)

we were both excited to be on a farm, our first one in the state. we were lucky to avoid the rain, and the lingering  mist and heavy clouds diffused a soft light on everything. 

luke was raised on a cattle farm in kansas, and chose to leave and study, to earn a college degree. after biology, and then law, he found himself in a job that provided a lot of money. something was still missing. 

him and his brother decided to pool their resources and buy land. they went into savings and purchased the 10 acre plot in marysville, and started raising pigs.

luke used a heavy chain to fasten some barrels of feed to the old tractor, which slowly, and loudly powered through the deep mud that has accumulated from the season's daily rains. 

a number of pigs laid around in the half light unbothered by our arrival. the back section of land being higher, had no mud. this is where the trailer sits where luke and his brother sometimes sleep in the summer. 

luke was glad to be outside, glad to be farming. he splits time between the law office and farm, and sees that as his path indefinitely, pointing out that it is rare to make enough money and have enough benefits solely from on-farm jobs. Most farmers have a spouse with a town job that allows the family health insurance. 

Pig in feed bucket. (Photo A. Trimbach)

as the sun got higher in the sky, the mist cleared out. we laughed at some renegade adolescent hogs who has escaped the electric fence and immediately started chowing on buckets of wheat. 


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A Full Day

At 7:50 we arrived at Lynden High School, a few miles from the Canadian Border, a spot the school librarian told us that Canadians consider virtually tropical. 


Lynden High School, near the Canadian border. (Photo A. Trimbach)

We didn't find it that way. 

Ladd Shumway grows u-pick berries in the mountains, and also teaches AgEd. He was kind enough to host our first screening. 


8am. Want to talk about farming? (Photo A. Trimbach)

The 30 or so students were still a bit groggy from morning, so Ladd and I engaged in a discussion about the challenge of getting young people to become farmers when as a culture we've become more accustomed to a luxury lifestyle than our foremothers. 


Students in FFA in Lynden High School in Lynden, WA. (Photo A. Trimbach)

It was a short, and beautiful drive over to Mt. Baker High School, with breakfast at the quaint Rusty Wagon diner in between. 


Mt. Baker High School, nestled in the morning mist. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Todd Rightmire and about 70 students joined us for a complete screening, and then about 3 stuck around for an optional post-screening conversation with myself. It was both a humbling, and humorous moment. I was grateful to the three students who came up and talked, with one of them- Jake, I believe- showing an interest in working on a pasture-based farm in the years ahead. Godspeed, young man!


lol- 3 students stuck around for the optional post-screening conversation. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Todd recommended some young farmers for us to visit during our tour, and we said goodbyes and thank yous, with two screening finished, and two more to go for the day.


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The Evergreen State

We woke up in Enumclaw and sent out e-mails, uploaded photos and video from last night's premiere and had breakfast o fish and chips at the charming Charlie's diner. 

On the way to Charlie's. 

About 40 folks joined us, most of them young farmers in Enumclaw FFA, as we were hosted by AgEd instructor Amy at Enumclaw high school. Students seemed somewhat interested, as some of them talked briefly about working on small farms raising cattle. 


Entering Enumclaw. (Photo Andy Trimbach)

George Irwin, a local cattleman with deep agricultural knowledge and roots talked about the incredible volume of the farmers market in Seattle, and about some of the challenges of land costs for young farmers to get started. 

Cattleman George Irwin. (Photo Andy Trimbach)

We only has 10 minutes to talk, which meant we barely scratched the surface, although the students didn't seem to mind when the bell rang and they were able to head out. 

We drove South and West to Olympia, state capitol of Washington, an impressive place with a funky downtown.

We drove out of the downtown and into the deep mossy forests where the campus of the Evergreen State College is located. At 430 we were the guests of a potluck, where everyone bought food, and most people bought utensils and plates, to minimize waste. We had a great conversation with Greg and Matt, young farmers and students, who are super excited to learn how to raise animals, specifically pigs, and how to slaughter those animals and get them out to customers. They are actually selling 5 hogs if anyone in Olympia is interested. 

Meal before screening at Evergreen State College, in Olympia. (Photo A. Trimbach)

They talked about one Brandon Sheard, a kind of hero of sustainable meat production, who they said we need to include in our next documentary. That may just happen we hope. 

The screening started at 6, and we had to pull in extra chairs because so many folks came out, a conservative estimate of 150. 


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Can this feed America?

George doesn't beat around the bush here, he just comes out and says it with confidence. He truly believes that his farming methods are viables enough to feed America. Of course, he says, we are going to have to make sacrifices as a society and farmers are going to have to take into consideration these new practices but he believes his farming method can and should be mimicked to help feed America.

George and his wife's 800 acres on Skagit River Ranch house around 450 heads of beef and some chickens that hang around the house. George says what makes his beef so special (aside from the fact that he and his wife Eiko raise it with love) is their geographic location. There are a multitude of different factors at play (rainfall, climate, and temperature) all of which combine to help make Skagit River Ranch beef especially tasty.

Eiko says they won't feed others things they wouldn't feed their daughter (implying she has a very discerning eye when it comes to food they feed their daughter) which is a very eloquent way of highlighting the nutritional value of their beef. George makes a good point, when the minerals are present in the food the desirable flavor is there as well and our body is designed to enjoy the foods we need most. When we eat nutritionally we eat less, stay full for longer and don't get cravings.

George is fully convinced we can feed the US using grass-based methods. Are you?

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Purchasing Power

We kicked off the 2nd state- Washington- of our 10 state tour- at the University of Washington in Seattle. 

Students crowded at some tables out in front of the theater. There were initiatives to support student farms, and initiatives to get GMO labeling started in Washington state, initiative I-522, if I remember correctly. 

People were a bit restless, as some had thought the screening started at 6, when the actual time was 7. When 7 finally did come around, almost every seat in the theater was filled, probably about 230 folks in attendance.  

Opening night in Washington at University of Washington in Seattle. (Photo Andy Trimbach)

It was a particularly special screening because we had George and Eiko Vojkovich, both of whom are featured in the documentary, as well as their daughter Nicole, who is a freshman at UW. 

The conversation following was very inspiring. Stephanie Robinson, a UW student who helped to organize the screening, spoke passionately about the incredible power that students hold to change the food system. UW purchases an incredible amount of food every year to feed the people of the university. Stephanie correctly pointed out that students have incredible influence as to what kind of food they will eat at their campus. With each word she spoke, you could feel the empowerment of each student in the room. 

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After driving through the night from Palo Alto, arrived in Portland around midday, worn out. 

Slept uncomfortably in the rental near a park until meeting up w Jordan and Maki and their newborn Reina, longtime and new friends. 

Cinema 21 is again a quirky independent space, where everything seems in place, a seamless fit into the Portland world. 

At 5:30, dinner started at Dick's Kitchen, where Richard and Franz were kind enough to host a pre-screening food event. About 30 of us sat down, and ate together, honored to be in the presence of the women who raised the ridiculously good tasting beef we were eating, one of them being 4th generation farmer, Cory Carman, who drove from across the state to be there and participated in the panel.

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