And Away We Go

As the kickoff day of our Young Farmer Screening Series finally arrives the excitement at American Meat HQ is increasing exponentially.
Our Young Farmer Screening Series seeks to accomplish three overarching goals:

  1. We want to thank farmers. Farmers are some of the hardest working people on this planet and their work is often times overlooked. There is a huge disconnect between the food we buy at grocery stores and the people who put it there. Knowing that our food was grown and produced by an individual makes us appreciate what’s on our plates and is the main reason we dedicate this film to farmers.
  2. We want to support young farmers. Our aim is to work with professors and AgEd instructors to start constructive conversations about agriculture, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of different systems. We're also chronicling the hard work of young farmers in our video series- Young American Farmers.
  3. Food choices matter. What types of foods we choose to eat- create the agriculture that we will have in the future. Each dollar we spend on food supports a series of actions, and it is important for us to know what those series of actions include. Then we can spend each food dollar knowing what we are supporting.
We seem to be reaching a turning point with food transparency. Prop 37 in California is receiving overwhelming support and might be a big part of reshaping agriculture in America. Something that really stuck with me after watching American Meat is how it seeks to educate and inform. We don’t want to come to your town and force you to believe one side or the other, we simply try to show different modes of meat production and start conversations about what production models make the most sense for each farmer. More than anything, we want to thank and support farmers. After seeing the overwhelming support and passionate people on our Facebook and Twitter pages I truly believe we are on the brink of a large movement here in the US. 
Food is important, we sit down and eat it three times a day, sometimes more. I think we can all agree, knowing where our food comes from and who is producing it matters. People’s livelihoods depend on where we get food and taking time to get to know the person bringing it to you can really change perspectives on eating. I hear the phrase “go back to the way our grandparents used to eat” a lot and I think that is a pleasant and sentimental way of putting it.

I can’t wait to see the people who turn out for our screenings and the spirited discussions they will undoubtedly inspire. Here’s to the farmers and a great screening series!
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Why I'm Working for American Meat

I first learned about the Leave It Better Foundation in the spring of 2011. I was writing on a regular basis about social entrepreneurship for the blog when the Leave It Better Foundation’s year-long gardening project, which teaches composting and vegetable-growing in NYC schools, came across my computer screen. To learn more, I offered to volunteer at the culminating event for the gardening program at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.

That day, hundreds of excited schoolchildren, mostly middle-schoolers, hopped off buses wearing their green “Leave It Better” t-shirts, and piled into the Botanical Gardens’ majestic theater. There, they watched videos they had made with flip-cams, of their classroom gardening experiences. They had produced their own stories about learning to love working with dirt and worms, and learning to appreciate caring for and eating vegetables. They hooted with laughter at their videos--but they also beamed with pride.

Next, we walked through the Gardens to a picnic location, where the students lined up to receive plates of freshly-picked butter lettuce, radishes, and carrots--grown by their own green thumbs. I had never before seen hoards of children asking for seconds--and thirds--on salad. They devoured the veggies happily.

When I saw American Meat, produced by the Leave It Better LLC, I was nearly jumping out of my seat. I had watched Food, Inc. with my family, and it provoked a lot of debate. As a family, we’re generally conscious of social justice and public health issues--but we’d never put much thought into our food before. Food, Inc. changed that, and the next year at Thanksgiving we had an organic turkey on the table.

But what I loved about American Meat was that it focused on farmers’ realities--so in addition to helping me to become a more informed, more ethical consumer of meat, it also enlightened me to some of the policy and economic issues that must be addressed if we are going to deal with the environmental and health problems associated with the meat industry. I knew Graham had made a great film, but what really struck me was that he was bringing the film to schools with Ag Ed programs like the Iowa State University. He told me he wanted to share the film with young farmers, to stimulate debate about their industry and inspire them to pursue farming. As a journalist who has investigated hundreds of social change projects, I felt that Graham’s model of dissemination was a truly innovative and yet simple way of diving into the heart of a matter--I envisioned how the screenings would help bring important issues to the forefront among the people who would become leaders in the agriculture world.

Every individual who walks away from an American Meat screening with new ideas and questions about the meat industry’s problems and solutions (both are equally important) is a mark the film’s success--because that’s an individual who will help create a farm, a company, an organization, a publication, a school, a cookbook, or any venue that will improve the way we produce and consume meat. And we desperately need that--for the environment, for the welfare of animals, for the economy, and above all, for our health.

-Rachel Signer

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Food Waste

Wasting food caught my attention when it was reported that 30-40% of the food produced in the United States is wasted. That’s approximately $165 million worth of food per year and roughly $1,300 - $2,200 per family per year. On average each person within the United States wastes about 20 pounds of food per month.

Now that you are sufficiently shocked with the amount of food wasted in the United States, it’s time to hear some viable solutions. There are many ways to curb wasting food, one of which is composting. Composting is the process by which food waste gets turned into soil. For all of you city dwellers out there, here is an instructional video on how to help you turn waste into soil! This video highlights composting techniques that work especially well in urban areas and will help you get composting in no time.

Another interesting idea to help reduce food waste surfaced at a technology conference in Philadelphia. This proposed mobile application to help curb food waste won first place at Lean Startup Machine Philly. The app seeks to keep people from wasting and buying unnecessary food by inventorying the food currently in a person’s pantry.

Fortunately food wasting is an important issue on many people’s agendas. If you do not already compost it’s an easy process to get started and will help you cut down on the food wasted every year!

Article source for Lean Startup Machine can be found here, and article source for the amount of food wasted per year can be found here.

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Farmer-Veteran Coalition

I recently came across an organization that I really took a liking to called the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.

The coalition’s mission is to mobilize veterans to feed America. There are currently more than 700 veterans that help comprise the Farmer-Veteran Coalition which is a nonprofit based out of Davis, California. I think this is an absolutely phenomenal idea. We need more farmers and veterans need jobs when they return home from war. Veterans and farms seem to go hand in hand. I can’t even begin to imagine what some our nation’s finest have been through overseas, but coming home to a nice piece of land and growing vegetables, meat or both just seems so natural to me.

Working on a farm is therapeutic, and even though it's hard work it is often extremely relaxing. Getting in touch with nature, listening to the birds and working with your hands add so much to the experience. Nothing feels better than having your head hit the pillow after a long day of hard work.

I read an article about a United States Marine who returned from war and developed social anxiety disorder. He began farming not long after finishing up his second tour in Afghanistan and truly values the time he gets to spend on the farm. His time spent farming actually helps him deal with his disorder. He loves interacting with the pigs, cows and lambs he raises on Devil Dawg Farms. Everything he grows is free-range and he takes pride in that.

The story really hit close to home for me and I was truly inspired by Nick Lemley. This post is dedicated to him. I hope he enjoys a long prosperous career on his farm and many happy days at the Sunday Farmers Market.

Article about Nick Lemley can be found here.

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High School Farming

High School Farming

School lunches are often a hot topic amongst parents and school officials due to the rapid rise in childhood obesity. Many cafeterias highlight unhealthy foods such as pizza, fried chicken nuggets and soda while fruits and vegetables get pushed to the bottom of menus.

A seemingly viable solution to the problem of providing healthy lunches is sweeping the nation’s rural high schools. Students at Sibley East high school in Arlington, Minnesota recently picked 700 pounds of tomatoes, most of which are heading straight for the school's cafeteria trays. This is a practical idea that helps correct an inefficient system. Students who participated in the program worked part-time during the summer to help pull in this massive haul. For this group of students, participating in the Farm to School Program was viewed as an investment in a valuable skill rather than summer work.

Allowing students to grow and literally eat the fruits of their labor is an excellent way to demonstrate where food comes from and the hard work it requires to produce it. It is very important that young generations understand the work needed to bring food to the table. It also provides a way for students to make money in the summer while working outside.

Almost 900 schools took part in Minnesota’s Farm to School Program which ultimately benefited over 550,000 students from around the state. On average, produce travels 1,500 miles before it reaches the plates at school cafeterias; this program not only provides students with locally grown meals but also helps support the Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA) around the state.

"I like these vegetables a lot better than the ones out of a can. You can tell the difference when they are using it," said Mitchel Wentzlaff a student from Sibley East.

It’s hard to argue with those results...

Article source read full article: [here]

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Proposition 37

Prop 37

Whether you’re for or against California’s controversial Proposition 37, one thing is irrefutable- The amount of money being thrown around to inform or dissuade the public. Huge food conglomerates like ConAgra and Monsanto have already put millions of dollars towards keeping Prop 37 from passing. Spending by these big companies has exceeded tens of millions of dollars with more to come!

If passed, Prop 37 would require companies to label foods containing Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. This is a huge step towards transparency in food manufacturing. Over the years people have become extremely disconnected from their food and Proposition 37 seeks to change that. Whether it passes or not, Prop 37 is certainly a step in the right direction for informing people about what they are eating and where it comes from. The even bigger underlying question here is why spend so much money?! Monsanto alone has already spent $4.2 million trying to keep Prop 37 from passing, and while I support the company’s right to donate money to a cause it believes in, I do not support the amount. ConAgra, Monsanto, Pepsi and Nestle are all food companies donating millions of dollars to keep Prop 37 from passing, but we still have starving Americans right in our backyards! 16 million Americans are at risk of going hungry every single day (a statistic I found on the ConAgra website!!). We as a nation need to take a step back and not question the contents of the proposition but question the amount of money going towards it.

Even if ConAgra allocated 1% of the money it is spending on Prop 37 to helping impoverished children, that’s $40,000! The amount of money companies are spending to “inform” voters is staggering, there needs to be a shift away from this big spending and a move towards big donating.

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Farming a Workforce

A friend and I were recently discussing his experiences working as a teacher in the Teach for America program and it sparked a heated discussion. We were mulling over the idea of implementing two years of public service either before or after college. Building roads, teaching and farming could all qualify as public work.

Working on farms is a particularly interesting idea. To realistically begin thinking about free range farming to feed America, we would need approximately 200,000 farms which equals approximately 4 million workers (20 workers per farm). This seems like a large number, but you must remember this is to feed ALL of America using these sustainable farming methods. 

3.4 million high school seniors are expected to graduate in 2012-2013. Let’s be generous and say all 3.4 million decide to work for 2 years on a farm before heading off to college. That is a constant influx of cheap labor that we could use on farms. Couple that with the number of graduating college seniors and you have quite the work force for farms.

We could approach politicians at the local level and petition them to implement this public service in policy form, putting an emphasis on farming. The real issue is getting people to open up these farms, but now that we could potentially have a workforce of millions, doesn’t that make creating these 200,000 farms seem more feasible? If we as a nation begin demanding a more transparent farming industry, big meat companies will be forced to comply which would open up more opportunities for this public work concept.

On a grand scale this may seem hard to implement but if you get down to a granular level it is more realistic. Demand transparency in farming, more free range farms pop up and create jobs for both younger and older generations. It starts with us and its a realistic goal we can all hopefully work towards. We need more radical thinkers like Joel Salatin. 10 years ago farmers probably thought his methods were crazy, but now he has sparked a national movement. It’s amazing how quickly an idea can grow from a lofty goal to something that is actually happening. At American Meat, we want to ask the questions that get people thinking and hopefully that thinking turns into doing.

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We're All Here

We're all here. 

That is we're here at this moment, in this place.

Everyone is a part of the problems we face, and everyone is a part of the solutions. 

Tracy Singleton is a special part of the food community in Minneapolis. Her presence is one of awareness, one of listening, one of absorbing. A few weeks back she generously offered her restaurant, the Birchwood Cafe, as a the presenter of an encore screening of our documentary. She's been part of the building of a community, a community centered around farms, around the creativity of chefs, and the service of people who care. We were honored and privileged to be guests at a reception at Birchwood Cafe before the movie. So many people came and talked about agriculture, about issues of vitality for the community. We were again joined by the farmers who raised our food at this meal, and again felt gratitude to the people and the families that feed us. 

Some of the food at our pre-screening food event at Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Mette Nielsen)

Folks congregate, eat and talk at outside of Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis. (Photo Mette Nielsen)

Following the food, we drove to the theater at St. Anthony Main, which filled up, about 160 people in attendance.

The film finished about half the folks headed home, while the other half stayed to listen to the farmers talk. Mark Muller, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, moderated a discussion, that ranged far and wide. Paul of Gold N' Plump explained the difficulties that ethanol production cause for their farmers, pointing out that more land now goes to ethanol, then to feeding animals for meat. It seems an odd strategic decision for our best cropland to be dedicated to the production of gasoline, when that land is needed to feed people. Regi talked about the importance of including young latino farmers, who often work in large conventional systems, into the local food movement. He talked about a system they are developing at the Main Street Project to produce poultry and vegetables. Wayne talked of how cattle are more efficiently raised than chickens and pigs. This is because cattle can be fed only grass, whereas chickens and pigs need grain.

Tracy Singleton speaks at our post-screening conversation. (Photo S. Yao)

Tracy kindly commended the documentary for it's empathy of all farmers, and for a shared principle that "food connects us all", something her and the community of Birchwood believe and bring into daily practice.

Audrey Arner of Moonstone Farms. (Photo S. Yao)

Audrey talked about the challenges of getting land, getting soil, into the hands of young farmers. That our nation needs to find creative ways to inspire a new generation of farmers. She mentioned the vital Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings program, one that is filling up with eager folks interested to do just that. I mentioned our initiative to shift 1 billion dollars of the 2017 Farm Bill to young and beginning farmers. Mark ended the evening's conversation with announcements of upcoming IATP events, and the good folks who came applauded and many stayed and talked longer. We said our goodbyes and thank yous, and headed out onto the road, heading East. 


Some of the good folks who stayed for the post-screening discussion. (Photo S. Yao)

The last few weeks in Minnesota have been magical, a state where the passion for agriculture is as strong as the rivers that run through the land. Change is happening all around, and there's an excitement and a transformation underfoot as sure as the night turns into day. Susan and I are grateful to the many people who shared food, and conversation with us. Thank you for a truly wondrous July. 


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Word's Getting Out

Word is getting out. 

Tom plopped down the locally raised hot dogs and brawts on the grill. 

Tom works the grill! (Photo S. Yao) 

He's the meat manager at the St. Peter's Food Co-op. The grill was filled with meat from Prairie Pride Farm, and were lucky enough to be joined by Dawn Hubmer, who raised the food we were all eating. 

Dinner. (Photo S. Yao)

Well over a hundred people poured into the parking lot area of the Treaty History Site, a thoughtful museum dedicated to the history of Nicollet County, and specifically to the Native American populations there. 

The museum where everything happened. 

People shared food at picnic tables and once those filled up, meandered through the museum learning about the past. 

Every seat of the hundred we put out was filled, and so we brought out more. 

John talks about how important it was that we were all there together. (Photo S. Yao)

Following the screening, we talked about the agriculture of the region, Tim talking about the difficulty for farmers to get land. And Dawn and John talking about they were lucky enough to either be born into, or marry into, land which made their careers in agriculture possible. Todd Lein, of Thousand Hills Cattle Company, who was at his 3rd screening and panel, talked about how important it was that we don't be too hard on ourselves, but that we make conscious decisions. 

The enthusiasm spilled over into the after screening conversations, and connections were made as to how we should screen at Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter when we return in March.  

It's a good sign that we've seen our largest crowds towards the end of our screenings, perhaps an indicator, that word of our documentary, and of the food and conversations that have been a part of these events is beginning to strike a chord. Word is getting out. 



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Minneapolis Farmers Market

Sunday, Southern Minnesota got some much needed rain. 

That meant the crowds at the Minneapolis Farmers Market had to deal. 


A much needed day of rain Sunday at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. (Photo S. Yao)

We were there because the good folks, Susan and Rachele of the Minneapolis Farmers Market podcast, invited us to talk about the documentary and promote our upcoming event Wednesday August 1st


Rachele monitors audio during the downpour outside. (Photo S. Yao)

The makeshift sound studio was put to the test by the patter of the rain and the nearby interstate, but Rachele was able to make the sound work, and Susan led a conversation about agriculture that discussed why people are disproportionately interested in young farmers and what's happening at grass-based farms like Polyface. 


Susan asks a question about the local food movement. (Photo S. Yao)

It was a quick conversation, or at least it seemed that way, and we said goodbyes and headed south to Iowa to visit some friends there. 




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