The Pendulum Swings

Dream Acres Farms serves pizza every Friday night from 5-8pm. 

(Photo S. Yao)

The pizza is cooked up with ingredients from the farm. 

Susan and I had no idea what to expect, and I laughingly realized as we pulled in the driveway that I had no idea how we had been connected with the farm, and how in the world, they found us. The answer would be discovered later. 

We showed up early because we wanted to test out equipment- given that we were screening on a farm and not a theater. 

Everything about the evening was a surprise. 

The building where the pizza is cooked. Note solar array. (Photo S. Yao)

Dream Acres Farm is almost completely off the grid, and an impressive array of solar panels are found on roofs throughout.

Eva Barr. (Photo S. Yao)

We were immediately greeted by Eva, who has a strong presence and the muscle definition of a person who works outside everyday doing manual labor. Todd- also part management of the farm- was upbeat and curious with a quirky sense of humor. He showed us to the Dream Theater, a converted barn with church pews as movie seats, and a number of bats that fly across the light of the projector and help to keep the insect population low. 

The Dream Theatre. (Photo S. Yao)

The projector worked so we ordered a pizza.

When making pizza, apparently one must cut the dough. (Photo S. Yao)

It was phenomenal- all kinds of vegetables grown on the farm, cheese, fresh crust, baked in a brick oven in a few short minutes.

Ingredients from the farm go onto the dough. (S. Yao)

It's kind of ridiculous how well we've eaten on this trip.

Yep, we ate that! (Photo S. Yao)

We were the first to arrive, and so we had no idea what kind of a crowd to expect. By 6:30, the farm felt a bit like the ending scene from Field of Dreams. Car after car pulled up, often with young families, and ordered pizza.

If you build it, people will come. Pizza Fridays at Dream Acres Farm. (Photo S. Yao)

All of the seating, which was an assortment of picnic tables and found furniture was filled up, and people drank beer and wine they'd brought themselves as their kids ran roughshod through the pastoral landscape, pulling up grass, petting horses and climbing tree houses. It seemed a bit like what a medieval wedding might have been like, but then again, who can be sure. 

Amidst the crowds, Erin Meier introduced herself, a wonderful woman with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who was a big part of helping us choose where to screen our documentary in Minnesota. She's a frequenter of the Dream Acres pizza days, and thought it would be a nice fit- and voilá- that's how we got there. 

As the sun started to set, and the pizza making ended, most of the people returned home. But about 40 or so, decided to join us in the Dream Theater, where after some technical challenges, mainly that we couldn't figure out the sound until Todd returned from the kitchen- the film got rolling, with sound. 

Following we had a spirited discussion, in a tight-knit crowd of people who often have such discussions, as none were bashful, and everyone well heard. 


Bob Barsch- probably in his 50s- talked about how he went into conventional agriculture in the 1980s with a simple choice- either go big or don't farm. He chose to go big, and currently raises about 130,000 hogs a year for the big integrator Hormel- perhaps the company best known for producing Spam. Bob has a level-headed demeanor, and an incredible depth of knowledge.  He talked about how the pork industry adapted to consumer needs and made pork "the other white meat", a move which lowered the fat content, and perhaps the taste. He talked about how the efficiency of scale necessarily means that the tractors and buildings continue to get bigger and more expensive- which allows for more meat to be produced more cheaply- but agreed that the high cost of equipment makes it very difficult for young people with little capital to get into agriculture. 


Bob Barsch- conventional hog farmer- talks about the changes in agriculture over the past decades. (Photo S. Yao)

Mike Cotter, 82 years old, talked about his first days farming when the family used horses and tractors. He had begged his father to get rid of the horses, a fact he laughs about now. He spoke with wisdom and humor about the cycles he's seen agriculture go through. After feeding antibiotics and growth hormones for a while, he was forced to change when his first wife said she wouldn't eat the stuff. Now he's adamant that antibiotic-free and growth-hormone free tastes much better.

Eva talked about how the farm has grown slowly over 15 years, as she and Todd have built it by hand, and have always raised vegetables at very small scale. The pizza thing is a new development, one that has caught on almost entirely from word of mouth. 

As the night wrapped up, Mike said something that has stuck with me. We were talking about how agriculture went from the horse to the tractor, and then from the 50's until today through a very science-based approach- one that dared to turn a fatty animal like a pig into something that can't survive the winter and tastes more like chicken. And Mike said, that he can feel another shift happening today. That our culture's previously unshaken trust in the ability of science to engineer a better food- like Spam- has begun to change. The pendulum perhaps has reached the furthest it will go in that direction for now, as it seems that people are beginning to want to know where their food comes from, and that people are beginning to understand that certain vegetables only grow in certain seasons, and yes, that pigs are meant to be fat, and that means they'll taste better and be able to go outside again. 

Of course, once this food movement has taken its course, we will have many unintended consequences, and the generation following us will think they've got some clever ideas about how things have to change. Or at least that's what I think Mike might have been thinking as he walked out of the barn doors into the unusually brisk July night.




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Winona is carved out by the Mississipi River, a college town home to Winona State University, where tonight we were hosted by Liz Reach and the Environmental Club at a beautiful auditorium which appeared to be freshly built, as all the seats, lights and machines had a certain feel of newness to them.

Buffet-style goodness at Blue Heron. (Photo S. Yao)

A couple hours before the screening started, we hunkered in at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, owned by Larry and Colleen, a place that any city or town would be proud to call it's own. We had lunch there and sent out e-mails, and made phone calls in preparations for our remaining screenings, and of course, the encore screening a week from today on Wednesday August 1 in Minneapolis. 

After lunch, we went to the library and made some copies of signs to put on the doors of the science center at WSU.

Another ridiculously good meal, this time at Blue Heron in Winona. Note the fresh biscuits backplate. (Photo S. Yao)

We arrived just in time, as Jenn Baechle of the Bluff Country Co-Op, was introducing the meal at Blue Heron, the same place where we had lunch. The food, prepared in a special event prior to the screening, once again, was phenomenal. The BBQ Beef and Chicken was produced by Mike and Jennifer Rupprecht of Earth Be Glad Farms. We've been blessed many times to share meals at restaurants this trip with the farmers who raised the food. It's a powerful experience, and one that every community would enjoy. Sharing a meal with the people who provide the food that gives us sustenance.

Farmers who raised the food join a community meal before the screening in Winona, MN. (Photo S. Yao)

Larry, the humble and refreshing chef who would rather be called a cook, has found a recipe for the BBQ beef, and for the fresh baked biscuits that is worth passing down for a few generations.

Graham introduces the documentary, and tribute is paid to the many farmers in the audience. (Photo S. Yao) 

The punctual crowd at WSU reached about 50 before I gave a meandering and lengthy introduction to the evening, which concluded with a dedication to the many farmers who came out to watch the movie and partake in the discussion. 

Following, we had an engaged conversation, and were thrilled that a number of conventional farmers came out and shared their valuable knowledge, including the President of Farm Bureau for Winona County, Glen Groth. Glen wasn't on the panel this time, but will be when we return in March.


Jim Riddle talks about resources for farmers interested in transitioning to organic production. (Photo S. Yao)

Jim shared a wealth of knowledge about how farmers interested in transitioning to organic farming could do so, mentioning the wonderful organization MOSES with their legendary conference each winter. He has an admiral command of the farm bill, and the ins and outs of what it takes to become organically certified.


Mike, left, laughs, as Jennifer talks about a blind date in 1983 that got her into agriculture. (Photo S. Yao)

Mike and Jennifer Rupprecht of Earth Be Glad Farms- talked about how they decided to switch to organic in the mid-90s, after decades of conventional farming. Mike mentioned that when his daughter was little, and he would be covered in toxic pesticides he couldn't hold her at the kitchen table because he didn't want to spread the pesticides to her. You could feel the emotion in his voice. After much reflection- Mike's slow to make changes- he decided to make the switch- which took a number of years. They've been successful in the transition, and recommend it.


Jackie talks about the symbiotic relationship between the animals and fruit trees on Hoch Orchards. (Photo S. Yao)

Jackie Hoch of Hoch Orchards talked about she kind of got tricked into farming by her hubby, who made it seem like it was just an orchard, and now, they've incorporated livestock into the equation. Pigs become co-laborers, helping to eat weeds, and minimize the amount of manual labor. She pointed out that every type of food production includes animals as part of a holistic ecosystem, and that she has gone from working on an orchard, to working on a farm.


Audience member talks about the importance of getting local food to everyone. (Photo S. Yao)

The audience talked about a range of issues, from the welfare of animals in the winter, to the importance of getting local food out to all people, to the need to celebrate the enthusiasm of young conventional farmers along with young grass-based and organic farmers. It was an engaged crowd, and they were kind enough to wait around until each of the panelists had given final thoughts, including quotes from Wendell Berry, and call outs for upcoming local farm tours, etc.


The conversation went well past 10, and by the end of it all, many strong connections were made. Now to sleep!



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We'll Get Better

The evening started with a ridiculously good meal at Sontes. Susan and I were joined by Eric and Lisa Klein of Hidden Stream Farm, who raise animals and vegetables that they sell direct, and have gotten so good at selling their own produce that they now sell meat and veggies from a lot of other farms. Every meal shared with a farm family is a blessing, and a time to reflect on the hard work that farmers do to feed all of us. We were also lucky enough to be joined by the owner of Sontes, Tessa Leung, who is a dedicated locavore, who's turned her own home over to an herb garden that supplies the restaurant. Tessa was gracious enough to provide a meal for us before hand.

Chef Bryce Lamb cooked up an array of local meats and vegetables, and fresh pasta. It's hard to describe how good it was. Each dish that was tried, from the elk, to the beef, to the beets, the lamb, the pork jowls, was better than the next. He walked it out to us personally, and shared stories of his travels around the world, including some time he worked on a farm in Austria. I can't emphasize enough how good this food was. One of the top meals I've ever had. 

We were so quick to eat it that we didn't even have time to take pictures :)

Susan and I had to leave to sell tickets at the Heintz Center. The space was graciously provided by Erin Meier and Lois Kennis and the rest of the good people at the Sustainable Development Partnership in Southeast Minnesota. It was another late arriving crowd, which certainly is not good for the nerves, but once again we were able to get dozens of people in the seats on a Friday night to watch a documentary about meat production- which is kind of amazing if you actually think about it. 

Dave Kotsonas, manager of the Rochester Farmers' Market. (Photo S. Yao)

The conversation following was hopeful, one that seemed to talk about all of the unrealized potential in the current food movement. Restaurants like Tessa's Sontes, are ahead of the curve in their community. 

Tessa, owner at Sontes, talks about being one of the first restaurants to source locally. (Photos S. Yao)

And as a pioneer they have to be patient and wait until everyone else catches up. Of course, it won't take long, since if people order some of Chef Bryce's food, they are sure to be back regularly. And Dan, of the People's Co-op, talked about the organizational advantages of new distribution models- the omnipresent Co-Ops throughout the state of Minnesota. Basically, everyone buys small shares, and everyone is an owner. It's more complicated than that, but I won't go there just yet. Co-ops throughout our country may just be finding the happy medium between the one-stop-uber-big-mega-plex-box-grocery-store and the charming but inconvenient sweet-corn-off-the-pick-up-truck food shopping experience.

Organic farmer Jerome talks about the numbers of acres and people needed to convert our food system. (Photo S. Yao)

 There were a number of farmers in the audience, of different backgrounds, from those who are just starting out, to those who've been at it decades. There was a lot of hope, a lot of belief. Dave, who runs the burgeoning Rochester Farmers' Market, and teaches Agriculture at an alternative high school, talked about teaching kids to grow tomatoes and can them. No that wasn't a typo, "can" is actually a verb that means to preserve fruits and veggies by putting them in cans. It's a lost art that is being retaught to people that want to once again learn self sufficiency,and want to be able to feed themselves and preserve foods themselves.

Lisa and Eric Klein enjoy a moment during introductions. (Photo S. Yao)

Eric and Lisa talked about how the demand for what they are doing expands each year, and how they cannot keep up with the people who want to buy the meat and vegetables they produce and distribute. With 6 healthy happy kids, and the free work force that comes with it, you tell by the look in their eyes that they are building a hugely successful farm, and that they are going to be able to teach and encourage a lot of new farmers in the years ahead. They mentioned the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings project which is essentially an incubator that helps people interested in agriculture gain the training needed to do so. 

Chris takes notes as part of our ever evolving and engaged conversation about agriculture in Minnesota. (Photo S. Yao)

As the evening concluded, one woman asked if the demand was increasing for local food. And each person said that it was, and each person seemed to be very aware that we have just begun to understand what we are capable of. The farms, restaurants, markets, co-ops, and organizations that are integral to this local food movement are making strides. But we're just at the beginning of what we're capable of and we'll get better at what we do, and we'll pave the way for the ones who come after us to do what we do better than we can imagine.

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For Who Comes Next

Life on the road.

For the past week, Susan, (my girlfriend) and I, have been travelling the state, visiting different towns, each day discovering new restaurants and theaters, staying in campsites and motels . It's seemed like a new adventure each hour, and we've been the recipient of so much kindness from the good people of Minnesota.

Today, we woke up and said goodbyes to Lesley and Daniel, friends of Susan who hosted us graciously for three nights. It was the first time on our trip we were in one place for so long, and we both felt recharged and refreshed.

 We headed South to Northfield where we got some food from the Just Food Co-Op. A mid-day snack was shared on the banks of the Cannon River before we stopped over at the Grand Event Center to test out our DVD.

 We eventually found Bonnie, who helped us get the projector, and then found the tech-savvy Chuck, who's the owner, and together we set up chairs and electronics and prepared the beautiful old space with hundred-foot-high ceilings for the evening's screening.

 We tested out the video and sound, and all was go, so we headed out to the food event.

Really good local food from James Gang Eatery. (Photo S. Yao)

 We shared an intimate meal at James Gang Coffee and Eatery, where owners Melanie and Jeff had been sure to source the meat from a local chicken farmer- Elizabeth- who was there. It's always a pleasure to share a meal with the person who raised the food you're eating. We pulled a number of tables together and talked with people about the health benefits of local unprocessed foods, and got a chance to meet some of the farmers, like Dave, Flo, and Kathy who would later join in our discussion.

We pulled the tables together and shared a community meal. Elizabeth, the farmer who raised the food on left with babe in lap. (Photo by S. Yao)

 Back at the theater, Susan set up to sell tickets and I talked with people as they came in. It was a late arriving crowd, so for a while it looked like it might be just us. A couple of late surges of people filled up some seats, and we got started a few minutes after 7 with about 30 people spread out through the space.

 Afterwords the energy in the room was decidedly good. People moved up closer to the front, and we all partook in a conversation.

 There was a discussion of how it would be good if we can get the documentary to FFA chapters in Minnesota. Some folks had connections that we will follow up on.

Randy Clay of Bon Appetít Management Company (BAMCo) who provides local food to students of St. Olaf (Photo by S. Yao)

 Randy talked about how the documentary helped him to realize that there aren't good and evil farmers, that if anything is flawed it is parts of our current system of agriculture, a system that puts all the risk on the farmers, and gives the farmers too little of the food dollar spent at the grocery store. He works for Bon Appetit Management Company, a wonderful company that provides foods for private universities and for companies. They source their food locally, and are provide food service for St. Olaf and Carlton in Northfield.

 There were some themes that were particularly powerful.

Dave & Flo, long time farmers in SE Minnesota (Photo by S. Yao)

Dave- of Cedar Summit Farm- talked about how we need to respect the soil. He and his wife Flo have been grazing animals and planting multiple species of crops for a long time. He said there's a patch on a neighboring acre, where corn and soy have been growing in rotation. For those who don't know, corn and soy are the two widest grown crops in most of America's heartland. By growing just these crops, and using artificial fertilizer we often lose our topsoil, which leads to erosion. Dave said that side by side, with his land and the neighboring, you can see how his soil is rich, and the grass green. Across the way, where only corn and soy have grown, the soil has been washed away, and it's only rocks and sand.

 When he expressed frustration about the possibility of our nation's agriculture ever changing from our current monocrop of corn and soy, his wife Flo was quick to interject some humorous optimism, that she thought it would change sooner than Dave thought.

Kathy talks about the importance of thinking about the next generation, today. (Photo by S. Yao)

 Kathy- of Simple Harvest Farm- talked about the importance of not just thinking about ourselves. That when she farms, her aim is to leave her 20 acres better than she found it, so that the next generation of people can farm it, and raise food from it, and pass it along to the next generation. It was a powerful thought, that you could feel resonate through the walls of the Grand Event Center.

 We ran over our allotted time, but Bonnie and Chuck, were incredibly gracious and allowed us to stay later, and we were thrilled to hear that Bonnie had really enjoyed the documentary. Their kindness and optimism was inspirational. 

 Again, people congregated and talked long after the official talk ended. We said goodbye to Bonnie, and then ran into Randy in the parking lot and decided to share a celebratory root beer and horchata at a nearby cafe.

 Buzzing with the afterglow of another uplifting night, Susan and I drove back to the Big Woods campsite, far enough away from any city lights that we saw many, many stars.


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Every Meal & Every Dollar Counts

We arrived a little before six to the charming, old and quirky independent Mounds Theater, which is in a no-nonsense blue-collar neighborhood in St. Paul.

Note that we're followed by a burlesque show at the Mounds Theatre in St. Paul MN (Photo S. Yao)

Tristan helped us set up the projector and audio, and Raeann showed us the gated ticket booth from which tickets were sold. A couple of lovely ladies, Mary and Mary Joe, were the first to arrive and they took a seat in the cavernous space filled with seemingly incongruent artworks that somehow coalesced into an accidental harmony. Folks filled up most of the seats, and a few sat at the large circular tables on the side of the room. The film was projected onto a massive screen at the back of the stage by an aging projector which was carefully fortified by a couple of strategically placed bricks.

The conversation following was a dynamic one.

 Chef Lenny of the Heartland restaurant talked passionately about his upbringing in urban Hoboken, part of an Italian family that always ate well despite living on the edge of poverty. He's been a big part of building a local food movement in St. Paul and Minneapolis, sourcing his meats and vegetables from farmers in the region.

Chef Lenny Russo discusses the challenges of eating healthy on a budget (Photo by S. Yao)

 Valerie of Money Creek Ranch shared the story of how she ended up heading North to live and farm in Minnesota with Mike Fogel. Mike talked about having the rare privilege of seeing his once fringe ideas about raising livestock, particularly bison, go from being unheard of, and laughed at, to the main feature on menus at the top restaurants in the Twin Cities.

Valerie talks about how Mike brought her from Alabama to Minnesota. (S. Yao)

 Meg Moynihan talked about the unique challenge of working for the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture to enforce and communicate organic standards, and at the same time, working with her fiancé as a small-time dairy producer, and having to jump through the various government hoops that she herself helps to set up.

Meg talks about the challenges of being a dairy farmer, and a government employee. (Photo by S. Yao)

 People in the audience discussed subsidies, ethanol, ways to convince family to change diet, and some of the best organizations and ways to stay up to date on what's happening in agriculture.

Another engaged Minnesota audience! (Photo S. Yao)

 As the impassioned discussion concluded, Lenny talked about the importance of purchasing with your food dollar, how that directly supports a specific kind of agriculture. From there, the story of Chipotle was shared, and how that may be the signal of a sea-change in our food production in America.

 The conversation continued long after it was officially concluded, it being almost a full half-hour before we carried our various materials back to the rental car.  

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Radio Show with KMSU

We drove South and West through the confusing maze of highways out of the twin cities, down through St. Peter, and into Mankato, a college town home to Minnesota State University.


The glass at KMSU in Mankato, MN (Photo S. Yao)

We met Katie, of the St. Peter Co-Op and Gully radio host for KMSU, the station affiliated with the university- as the acronym suggests.


Gully. (Photo S. Yao)

We made the trip to help promote a screening on Tuesday July 31st in St. Peter. It's free because it is sponsored by the St. Peter Co-op and the Nicollet County Historical Society. The conversation with Gully and Katie was great.

Graham talks about the food movement. (Photo S. Yao)

Gully asked a lot of good questions, and we talked a lot about how the documentary got made. You can check out some of the conversation here:


Hopefully we'll help get a lot of people from the 2,500 member St. Peter Co-Op out in a couple weeks. The free food beforehand may help, too :)

Katie Boone of St. Peter's Food Co-Op and Graham talk w/ Gully (Photo S. Yao)

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It All Comes Together

Every once in a while, things seem to fall into place.

Sunday, in Duluth, was one of those days.

We arrived in mid-afternoon in the iron city of Duluth and stopped by the Zinema2 movie theater where we were scheduled to screen later on. The space is any independent film lover's dream, with a beautiful restaurant, art gallery and theater, all combined into one seamless building dedicated to independent artistic expression.

Tony and Tim greeted us and we tested out the film, which was projected on a huge state-of-the-art screen and in a comfortable room with 100 soft red velvet chairs. Photos will communicate the coolness better.

Shortly after, we met Shannon of the Whole Foods Co-op, a tight knit community of local food enthusiasts that sponsored the screening. Shannon is such a nice person, so positive and such goodwill!


Folks in in the comfy seats at Zinema2 (Photo S. Yao)

We set up to sell tickets outside theater one and were inspired as wave after wave of co-op members streamed through showing their co-op badge to get in free.

We got started at a couple minutes after 5, and were not surprised to find another dark room filled with engaged Minnesotans, actively aware and participating in the issues raised in the film.

Following we had an all-star panel- again!

Jamie talks about the importance of holding restaurants accountable to source locally. (Photo S. Yao)

Jamie Harvie gave a riveting response to a question about how we transition to local agriculture. He's begun going to restaurants in Duluth and getting them to commit to a 20% pledge to source at least that amount of food from local sources. Tom Hanson talked about how his life took a distinct turn when at the age of 15 he applied to two jobs, one in construction and one at a restaurant- he was offered the restaurant job. Decades later hes now the proprietor at the Duluth Grill one of the leading restaurants in Duluth, sourcing ingredients locally and growing food on rooftops, too.


Mark Thell talks about the difficulty of getting the next generation to farm. (Photo S. Yao)

John Fisher-Merritt, who was the 2010 MOSES farmer of the year, talked about the importance of getting young farmers into agriculture.  He wants to help new farms get started. And they've been doing just that.

Mark Thell talked about the huge environmental benefits of sustainable agriculture . Recently Duluth had a major flood and his farm survived. He said a part of that is because the soil has been kept in tact through rotational grazing. Often, if there's a big flood or rainstorm, the manure lagoons of larger farms can run over and spread into lakes and rivers sometimes with adverse effects to fish and other wildlife.

Folks sign up for updates about the documentary and food system via iPad (Photo S. Yao)

Shannon talked about the importance of cooking , bringing people together over food, something she and the Whole Food Co-op seem to be getting pretty good at.

After we went upstairs for an awesome food reception with Walter, Daniel and Chef Taylor serving up local BLTs and salads. amazing food and inspiring conversations with so many people in the co-op.

Plate of scrumptious BLTs from Zeitgeist (Photo S. Yao)

Truly another great night!

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The River's Edge is an aptly named community center looking out over the mighty Mississipi river in St. Cloud, MN.

Sunset from the River's Edge (S. Yao)


We arrived a little after 6:30 and set up to sell tickets, as the daylight began fading. A steady stream of people paid for tickets, and filled into the seats. Most people were part of farm families, and everyone there has some deep connection to agriculture. The mood was different than the night before in Minneapolis. There were families of all ages there- and many small kids, some as young as 3, who were excited about raising animals on their family farm.


We got started- again a little after 7- the room we rented being mostly full.

Again, the crowd was engaged, many people directly impacted by the issues of agriculture.


Following- we were joined by three farmers- by Jane Jewett of Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) who also raises pasture-based meat, Tom Barthel of Snake River Farms and Mike Stine of Stonebridge Farms.

Jane Jewett, farmer and advocate at MISA talks about the difficulty of making it as a farmer (S. Yao)

 We started out talking about the future of agriculture, and about the barriers to getting started. Jane pointed out that the film romanticizes farming a bit, and that the reality, if there's a misfortune with health or weather, can often kill a farm dream. Mike mentioned that he didn't have time to think about what's going on with conventional agriculture and Tom said that he had to work another job- like many many other farmers do- in order to pay the bills.


Tom talks about having to have another career in order to pay bills as a farmer (S. Yao)

From there, the conversation turned to subsidies and the farm bill. There was strong emotion about subsidies, and it seemed that most people believed that the subsidies should stop being paid out. Of course, many of the farmers in the audience and around the country still cash the check when it's made out to them although they may fundamentally disagree that government should be involved in financially supporting different types of agriculture.

Mike brings up elephant in the room- the farm bill. (S. Yao) 

Mike introduced a young Minnesotan female farmer, who had just taken a course to learn to farm. Her enthusiasm for learning was contagious, and she talked for minutes about her experience in the educational program, and about the need for older farmers to take in young farmers as interns. A win, win.

Kelsey stands up during discussion to implore farmers in the room for a chance to intern on their farms. (S. Yao) 

Again, fear of government intervention in agriculture was discussed, with the idea being shared that often the policymakers have no actual farm experience and write legislation that undermines the family farm. For example, a law that almost passed that would have barred farms from employing workers under the age of 18. Which if passed would have made kids working on farms illegal, and which would essentially destroy the family farm. This was reversed, and crisis averted, but the idea that it could even be proposed demonstrates the disconnect between the everyday wisdom of family farming in Minnesota and the suburban government policymakers that were hoping to minimize the use of child labor in agriculture by framing the legislation as a workers' right issue.

We ended by talking about the possibility of a sea-change in agriculture. It may seem improbable at first, and yet, as the cost of energy rises, and the demand for locally sourced food grows daily, it may well be that the food systems we see in the next decade will be unrecognizable from today's centralized models.

The conversations continued long after the panel ended, with high emotion and good will shared throughout the night.

As we left, the last tinges of orange were in the sky.


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Call To Action

The evening started as many wonderful evenings do- at Lucia's

We arrived to a room of farmers, chefs, food advocates, and food lovers- each and every one of us- personally greeted by Chef Lucia.

Chef Lucia Watson at our food event for Minnesota Premiere 7/12/12 (Photo Susan Yao)

 Chef Lucia Watson is one of the premiere chefs in America, and is a boon to agriculture in the region- as she sources her menu from over 80 local farms in Minneapolis. I went back for seconds, and would have been back for thirds if it hadn't been for all of the engaged conversation. 

Some of the impossibly good food at Lucia's (Photo S. Yao)

Tonight was the premiere of American Meat in Minnesota, and to be clear, Minnesota is at the epicenter of the local food movement. 

Following the food, we drove to Edina Cinema, where the movie got started a bit after 7. 

The people in the theater were fully engaged, and clearly, the community is one that is pushing for change in agriculture in the region and in America.

Following the screening, we had a conversation featuring strong voices in agriculture of Minnesota... 

Chef Lucia discusses the importance of cooking. John Mesko, Jan Joannides, Todd Lein, and Graham Meriwether listen. (Photo S. Yao)

Jan Joannides is a key liaison between sustainable farmers and the Univesity of Minnesota via Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture, Todd Lein supplies many people with locally produced grass-fed beef at Thousand Hills Cattle Co.  and John Mesko changed his life to become a farmer and along the way became the Executive Director of Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Chef Lucia- who hosted the aforementioned food event- also partook in the discussion.

The conversation ranged from the cost of local food, to the need for education about cooking, to the challenges of sourcing organic grain in hog production. One of the most poignant moments was when John Mesko told the story of how he became a farmer. A decade or so back, John's daughter had serious health issues that caused the family to re-evaluate what they ate. The family's change of diet set off a string of life changing decisions which led the Meskos to start farming.

John's pragmatic, passionate tone rang through the theater as the night concluded- we can no longer separate what we say from what we do. We must truly make every effort to support the type of agriculture that our community wants. He gave each person 3 actionable items-

1) To tell a friend about our film.

2) Meet a farmer and buy food directly from a farmer or a locally sourcing business.

3) To cook, or learn to cook and cook a meal.

John Mesko gives the room a stirring call to action (Photo S. Yao)

The applause and sense of purpose was palpable. As a culture, we're ready to align our actions with what we've been saying we will do. We're ready to take action to build an agriculture that will provide farmers with a livable wage, and build local food systems that will feed us and sustain our communities.


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Farm Tours

The past few years, we've had the pleasure of being on farms across America. We've been able to listen to and learn from America's farmers. Saturday we had a screening in East Hampton, NY, presented by Balsam Farms, which is operated by Ian Calder-Piedmonte and Alex Balsam, both long time friends of mine. In 2007 and 2008, I worked at Balsam Farms, planting, harvesting, and occasionally selling produce at the farm stand. 

 At noon, Alex and Ian hosted a farm tour, which is part of a series of tours designed to build the community of farmers in Eastern Long Island. Each week, farmers will meet at a different farm, and share some of their knowledge- successes and failures of seasons past. On this afternoon, the farmers, almost all of them young, gathered in the grass between a walk-in regrigerator and the greenhouse, sipping Ian's home brewed beer. Once the tour began, many questions were asked, and much knowledge shared. Ian talked about the importance of leaving seedlings outside for a few days before transplanting, so they can get acclimated to life outside in the elements. Alex talked about the different implements used during cultivation, and showed off a recently purchased cultivator that had been made by a company in Michigan.

We made the mistake of competing with a sunny spring Saturday afternoon, which meant about 45 folks joined us for our 2pm screening at Guild Hall. Nonetheless, it was a good screening, as we were joined by farmers Ian and Alex, Art Ludlow, and Scott Chaskey. Chef Joe Realmuto of Nick & Toni's joined us on the panel, and hosted a wondrous reception following that featured local meats.  Ian talked passionately about the importance of balance, respecting all types of agriculture. Art talked about the changing face of his family farm, from producing potatoes, to beef, to milk and cheese. Adapting to what makes sense for the farm, and to the market. He also mentioned that they are currently forced to drive more than 5 hours to the closest slaughterhouse.  Scott, with a Whitmanesque beard, talked about decades of commitment to alternative agriculture, working to form the first CSAs in the mid-80s, and seeing the movement take strong root decades later. His farm Quail Hill is an enduring example of a successful non-profit based CSA model of production.

After dinner, we headed to Amber Waves farm, started by Katie and Amanda. We had a lively conversation around a fire, the spring evening still cold enough to make heat needed. Got a chance to make some new friends, and see some old ones like Brian, recently arrived from New Hampshire with his dog Blue, who I had worked with a few summers back. 

Sunday, before heading back to the city, Susan and I planted seedlings of tomatoes and watermelons using a water wheel as Ian slowly drove the tractor. It brought back memories of summers past, long good days of work on the farm. 


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