Lincoln to Cape Girardeau

The 10th and final screening of our Missouri screening series was hosted by Dr. Bruce Shanks at Lincoln University. 

About 60 people joined us for a somewhat impromptu screening, as Dr. Shanks was kind enough to host us with only a few days notice. Considering the short noticed we were excited by the turnout. We lost a decent amount of people when the class period transitioned mid-film, but still had about 40 for the post-screening conversation. 

Bruce, who has a good calm energy, talked modestly about his farm, which is a cow calf operation that exclusively sells cows into pasture-based grass finishing operations. He's also got some sheep.

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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. 

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Full Circle

We arrived in St. Louis this morning, a week after we left lambert airport heading west. 

already on our statewide journey, we've had the good fortune to learn from farmers all across the state, and to listen to the eager and youthful people who will one day lead our nation's agriculture. 

our world is often more interconnected than we realize, with the decisions we make impacting others we may or may not know, whether we are aware or not. two professions that seem to be most obviously connected are that of the farmer and the chef. 

chef john griffiths is a young man in charge of food services at a very large and influential university, wash u. and it's incredibly inspiring to see that he is so passionate about supporting local agriculture. his grandmother has a farm in michigan and so he's always been very passionate about and aware of food, and the labor that goes into it's production. 

a few years back, Bon appetit management company, the food service provider at wash u- decided to source all of their hamburger from Rain Crow Ranch, a local grass-based system in Doniphan, Missouri. immediately, students began to respond to the taste, and as we saw, there was a long line for those burgers at lunch. chef john likes to order meat locally because he can put a name and a face with the people who raised it, there's more accountability, more trust that develops over the years. 

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Kirksville Vocational Highschool is an amazing place. 

As I walked through into the ag building, I immediately knew this was a practical place of learning. Electrical saws and recently constructed wooden chairs indicated that this is a place where people make things and grow things, and in the process of doing so, learn things. It's the kind of place where students who want to be carpenters learn a craft, where students who want to be farmers learn to plant seeds, raise animals, and grow food and knowledge. 

Jason Dimmitt and Mary Leykamp were kind enough to welcome me into their school, to trust that together, the FFA students and all of us, would have a constructive conversation about agriculture. 

Students asked relevant, practical and vital conversations and we had discussions about what the advantages and disadvantages are of various forms of production. We talked about the fact that the mechanization of agriculture has allowed less people to feed more people, something that we should all be grateful for, that because of industrial farming we are able to sit here today and even have this conversation. We also talked about how this mechanization has led to a loss of population in rural America. That highschools often consolidate, and 2, 3, 4 school districts have to merge into one, in order to have enough young people in the seats learning, to have a school. At what point do we need to stop? Do we want drone tractors, peopleless tractors to raise our corn and soybeans, and to have one farmer per county, who's job is ultimately to make sure the tractors are running smoothly? That could be one future for agriculture. Or do we want to shift a larger percentage of our agriculture to pasture based systems, that are more labor intensive, and therefore will make it more possible for farm families to keep the next generation on the farm? What would happen if niche production moved from 1% of the market to 20%? Would that be a good thing for rural America? 

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All At the Table

Screenings, like the rainstorms, are often hard to predict. 

Given that it was a Monday night, we weren't sure that the 125 seats set out would be filled up. When every chair had been filled and another 50 would need to brought out, we knew this would be a special night. 

Before we brought in more chairs. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Part time farmer and full time teacher Michael Siepel did an incredible job at putting together a panel of different perspectives of agriculture. With 10 people, it was the most people we have ever had, but surprisingly, because of the communication skills of the moderator, Dr. Jay Self of TSU, the hour long conversation flowed seamlessly from topic to topic, and from perspective to perspective. 

Cale Plowman, a sixth generation cattleman, who raises cattle in a monoslope system, spoke eloquently about how every farm is a family farm. He said that alternative farmers have done a great job of telling the story of production, and brining social components like farmers markets back, which he said is doing good for agriculture as a whole.  

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We headed East from Lawrence to the University of Missouri at Kansas City, UMKC as it is called. 

Andy's brother Dave joined us, who along with his partner Travis, generously hosted us in Lawrence. We got there about a half hour early, and had a good conversation with a couple of kind folks who arrived early and are enthusiastic about the food movement in KC. 

The perfect fall weather may have diverted more folks from attending than we expected, as about 40 people gathered to watch the documentary on Sunday night. 

In the conversation following, there was a lot of good energy. Alex Pope of the Local Pig talked about the difficulty of finding USDA inspected slaughterhouses, a big challenge for farmers and butcher shops trying to get animals harvested and sold directly to customers. 

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We drove into Cole Camp, Missouri and found a vibrant downtown bustling with two concurrent fairs. 

One was Oktoberfest, which celebrates the German roots of the area, and the other- Prairie Days- which recreates the rural heritage and history of the region. 

Axe Toss. (Photo A. Trimbach)

We walked up to the axe toss, where an enthusiastic teenager offered us a try. Throw it like a baseball he said. We tossed the axes into a massive wooden stump, propped up like an artist's easel. A couple stuck in, and a couple dropped to the ground. 

A fellow there dressed in clothes from another century explained that they had combined the two events, so as to increase turnout. 

By the time we had checked out some old engines, a drizzle had begun and we took shelter in a nearby cafe. The drizzle grew into a rain, and then into a storm. 

After a couple hours, the rain mostly stopped and we went to a prairie, hills of red with changing sumacs.

High Lonsome Prairie, Oct. 2012. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Arriving at Cole Camp HS, we were greeted by tens of FFA members, students decked out in the signature FFA blue corduroy jackets with yellow letters. There is a lot of pride in our country's agriculture, and we were humbled to be guests of the school and the FFA. 

The evening started with a meal. Either a steak or a hamburger. The steak was $35 and the hamburger $13. All the money went to the FFA chapters of Benton County. More than a hundred people sat in the spacious gymnasium and ate dinner together. The food was excellent, as was the conversation. 



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Hard to Articulate

 We woke up in a motel near Monroe City and headed out to the Crowe family farm. 

Adair greeted us and we met his father, Keith soon after. 

As Andy got the gear prepped, we talked about the chores of the morning, and what we would shoot, and when. 

Adair Crowe. (Photo Andy Trimbach)

Adair is soft spoken with a full dark beard, and a measured calm. We hopped on the back of the ATV and it got colder as the speed picked up with the wind. A black dog ran along side the vehicle, barking and excited for another day on the farm. 


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Well- sometimes everything falls into place. 

We landed at Lambert and drove West into the sunset on 70. 

Shared a meal at the home of Nancy & Ken, who hosted us stragglers as well as good friends Paul & Phyllis Willis and Judy, too. We ate food and talked about pelliated woodpeckers. Then to the closest Motel 6 and to sleep.

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Inspirations from Richard Morris

Can you imagine leaving a 6 figure plus paying job in the technology industry to be a delivery driver? At first that might sound crazy but after giving it careful consideration it may not seem that bad. That's exactly what Richard Morris did not too long ago and he couldn't be happier.

He left a cushy job designing software to deliver meat and vegetables around the Virginia area for Polyface Farms.  He says he has never been happier with his decision. He believes that he has found the true American Dream and thinks that many of us out there can do the same thing. He is confident that there is still a group of people that believe success is possible with hard work, dedication and a little bit of sweat. Not the kind of success you measure using money, the kind you measure through personal satisfaction.

He loves bringing chefs and restaurant owners locally sourced naturally raised meat and vegetables, and isn't that's what is most important in life? Not the big house or flashy car but true happiness? Richard used to love the high paced intensity of the tech industry but not anymore. Now he prefers the smiling faces of the people he greets every morning with a big cooler of meat from Polyface Farms. If we all took a lesson from Richard, even a small one I think the world would be a better place.

Watch Richard's story here:

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