Back on the Road

After a brief furlough in NYC with some friends/loved ones, we drove west to Ohio , back on the road. Victoria hosted us at Baldwin Wallace, along w the group Students for Environmental Advocacy, (SEA) or something like that. Rebecca, who started the student farm at BW and just graduated led the post screening conversation. Most of the 70 there stuck around, as the conversation wrapped up a little after 8. There's a palpable movement, young people interested in agriculture, a shift that Mary, a professor at Case can feel, and one that prompted Cassandra a prof at BW to start a class called the future of food. Piper talked about leveraging purchasing power to cause incremental change, Erica talked about how food creates community, citing the growth of neighborhoods with the growth of farmers markets and outdoor spaces in a neighborhood. We said goodbyes and thankyous and headed to Akron where we dinnered at the rail, with dev and his brother Damon , super nice, funny guys who are brothers and long time friends of Andy. Sleep now.

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All in this together

We got an opportunity to sleep until we woke. 
The first part of the day was spent sending out e-mails, exercising, walking, drinking coffee, water. 
Andy finished up the edit on Andre's portrait, and uploaded it, and started working on Steve's. 
After some challenges finding parking, we arrived at the University of Denver with about 5 minutes to spare. The DVD player severely malfunctioned, at one point buzzing at a  volume so loud as to be jarring to the ears. After hundreds of screenings, nothing should be new, and yet panic set in. Sprinted out to the car to see if we could run off of Andy's laptop, but there wasn't an adaptor. Finally, about 5 minutes to 7, someone arrived with the proper adaptor, and we ran the documentary off of Andy's laptop. It was surreal, because I'd been told earlier in the day that a tech check had been done and all was okay. 
Chad introduced the evening, and I the film, to a room almost completely full, about 140 in total, many of whom were munching on free burritos. 
The conversation following was a bit meandering, as Abbie, Diana and Brad had many areas of knowledge and many points of wisdom to share. Brad told a humorous story of how his wife is a kind of homeopathic cow healer, whose abilities have saved more than one rodeo bull. He'd been up for 30 hours straight, as they are in the midst of calving season, and that often means high drama as cows give births to little ones. Abbie talked about Denver Urban Gardens, DUG, which sounds like a great program, and a great opportunity for people to get into agriculture. 
Diana talked about the Weston A. Price Foundation, a group she's the chapter leader of in Denver. She spoke of the importance of helping farmers market directly to customers, and at the WAPF conference, farmers learn just that. 
The conversation got a bit tense when we talked about veganism, Abbie citing the U.N. report on climate change, called Livestock's Long Shadow, which outlines that 18% of the carbon emissions globally are a direct result of animal husbandry. She said that with this knowledge she could not continue to eat meat, despite occasionally missing her grandmother's fried chicken. 
The point was made that the 600 million plus acres of pasture in America, are not tillable, and thus uniquely suited to the grazing of large herbivores like cattle and bison. And because these acres are not tillable, they often cannot be used to grow vegetables or fruit. It was also said that a vegan who eats any corn or soy products is indirectly supporting animal agriculture because those crops, which are among the most widely grown, are frequently operational in tandem with chicken or hog barns, because the manure from those animals, acts as a nutrient rich fertilizer for the crops. 
Abbie responded by saying that the grasslands did not need to be grazed by herbivores, that they would be better left wild. 
We let the topic go, and moved on, ending on a question about how a young aspiring farmer in the front of the room should get started. Small, we all agreed. 
After the screening Darren from the National Cattleman's Association came up and thanked us for the even-handed tone of the documentary. We agreed that regardless the kind of farmer a person becomes, or the kind of food a person chooses to eat, that we're all in this together. 
A little after nine, our final screening in Colorado concluded. 
Brendan, Andy and I went out for a late dinner at Cafe Bar, which was incredibly good food. Wisconsin pheasant, salmon, and artichoke were part of the feast. We thanked Brendan, who hosted us for 5 nights, and talked about some of the adventures of the road thus far. 
 A little before dawn, we headed out to DIA, ready for a brief furlough back home before hitting the road Sunday. 


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This week in Colorado, the focus of the farmers has been water. 

The past two years have been very dry, and a number of farmers are barely holding on...
We met Beth Gentry at around 5:30. People were already arriving, which was a good sign. BAMCo was kind enough to provide food beforehand, and people showed up in droves. About 200 people stood in line, waiting to get some of the appetizers. 
The challenge was that our venue only sat 106, so we hurriedly put folding chairs in every place possible. The good-natured students and community members huddled together, and we probably squeezed 175, maybe more, into the cozy theater. 
Mike Callicrate and I talked about the meat industry as the film ran, and we landed upon the final language we'll use when estimating the amount of acreage that it would take to feed America through grass-based farms. 
We were lucky to have a number of repeat panelists from the previous night, Susan from Venetucci Farms, Mike, and Susan's husband Patrick. We were joined by Doug and Kim, as well as Beth, with Piper moderating the discussion. 
Doug spoke slowly, and with the emotional intensity of a man who feels and believes strongly in every word spoken. We're going to have to make some choices. Do we want golf courses and green lawns, or do we want food? He said, pausing sometimes for seconds at a time between words. 
Susan continued her persistent promotion of AVOG, Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, a woman completely dedicated to furthering local agriculture in the Colorado Springs region. 
There was a lot of emotional and intense energy in the room, perhaps because it was so filled with people, people reflecting upon change. Mike talked about the potential to start a full on farmers market downtown, providing the volume that can rise up and meet the demand that's growing with each day.
There were questions about water, about GMOs, about extending growing seasons through greenhouses. People asked about what they could do, and we mentioned the importance of starting school gardens, of growing food, or spending money with farmers who depend on local support for their entire existence. 
For the second night in a row, our conversation extended for an hour, a length that seemed to zip by, because of the level of engagement in the room. The food movement in Colorado Springs is alive and well. 
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Breeding for Good, Creating Bad

Breeding in animals is an interesting topic of discussion especially when you factor in breeding for certain traits. We may think we are doing animals a favor when we selectively breed certain traits that seem advantageous and try to breed out others that don't. The fact is though that we aren't. While a bulldog with a pushed in face may seem cute to some, it simply isn't a practical animal and we are doing it a diservice by breeding it for that particular trait. Cows bred strictly for milking might seem okay in theory but when health complications arise, we unfortunately end up harming the cow for our own personal gain. Breeding hens strictly for their egg laying abilities might seem practical for farming purposes but the result is an animal that looses its feathers quickly and often gets overly anxious for no reason.

We get caught up in our ability to do certain things we don't stop to think about whether we should be doing them in the first place. Many of us are far removed from farm animals (we don't see them on a daily basis) most of the people who read about hens and cows with health complications won't be overly concerned. However, when you begin to talk about domesticated pets like dogs and cats and the health complications that can arise from breeding for particular traits people's ears begin to perk up.

It seems necessary that we begin to reconsider the way in which we treat and interact with animals. Temple Grandin is an exemplary person for which we can understand and base our animal interactions around. She looks at animal wellbeing from a holistic standpoint and while she may see the short term benefits she can also see the longterm side effects. As it stands, animals are viewed as a commodity instead of an individual creature which is a big reason their ill-treatment goes unnoticed. It's time to reconnect and understand where our food comes from so we can have a say in how it is produced.

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Tuesday's Full

We woke up and headed out to Steve's farm, an acreage crammed in between a bunch of housing developments, that somehow manages to feel rural once you've driven to the back past the house and handcrafted sign.
We had a significantly shorter window of time than normal, and Steve helped us out by being ready to shoot right when we got there. It was relatively cold, in the 20s, but not as cold as the Saturday at Jacob Springs Farm. A large empty frame of a greenhouse stood on the edge of a field covered in snow. There was something beautiful about the empty frame, inviting thoughts of what vegetables may fill it. 
Pulled out a ladder and starting drilling aluminum strips through steel, with the cold slowing his hands, the more time exposed to the air, the less functional they became. Andy battled similar conditions as he filmed, occasionally blowing into his hands to keep going. 
3 five gallon buckets flipped over, we started the interview, where Steve spoke powerfully about how he believes that he is wealthy, despite not having much money. He echoed Andre, talking about the importance of community in growing a successful farm, and a successful regional network of farms. 
We drove East to Limon, a small town kept afloat by a prison, the fact that it is off a major interstate, as well as with a strong agricultural heritage. Cody Weber, a young FFA AgEd instructor with a family farm in Western Colorado, greeted us, and arranged the chairs for the 50 or so students in attendance. We stopped the film at the end of each section and talked about the various systems of agriculture, about the loss of population in rural America, and at the promise of a revitalization. Most of the students were from agricultural background, which meant we had a respectful, engaged and passionate discussion. We thanked Cody, and headed South and West to Colorado Springs for the second time in two nights. 
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Everything Ties Together

After a wonderful meal cooked by Chris Saturday night, we spent Sunday skiing on Breckenridge, a bit of a surreal experience after spending so much time focused on agriculture. 


Exhausted we had a good meal together and watched comedies and a bit of the Oscars before calling it a night. We said goodbye to Brooke and Chris, it's always a great time when we're with Chris on the road. 
Today we got to sleep in a bit, and sent out e-mails, took photos and made phone calls. We made it out of Breckenridge about 2pm and went over Hoosier Pass, at one point stuck behind a snow plow for about 20 miles. The views are expansive, mountains in all directions, and with the recent outpouring of snow, the land itself often took on sleek, stark shapes. 
We arrived just in time at UCCS, University of Colorado- Colorado Springs, where about 125 people came together for the screening. The panel following was phenomenal, so much so that we went a full hour. Mike Callicrate started out as a conventional farmer, graduating with a degree in Animal Science from CSU in 1975, and ten years later decided to change the food system. The result is the thriving business Ranch Foods Direct. He spoke with an authority and charisma about a number of topics, from the history of fracking and it's impact on agriculture, to the importance of buying directly from farmers. 
Susan, of the incredibly well known Venetucci Farms, is deeply rooted in the local community, and frequently told people about local resources where they can buy food from farmers, take classes in chicken butchering, get a farm job. She, like Mike, talked about the importance of vigilantly asking restaurants where they source food from, to not let restaurants get away with vague labels. 
Lena started her own farm 3 years ago, working with her husband to raise their own food. She expressed with refreshing honesty, the steep learning curve, which led to the death of a number of animals, a reality that is inherent in any type of agriculture, especially at the outset of any farm. She got a number of questions from young students who were curious how she got started, how much work she had to do, and what it might take for one of them to start something of their own. 
At one point a fellow named Eric asked about the impact of fracking on agriculture. Susan mentioned that it diverted water from agriculture. Mike talked about how he knew the person who pioneered the method in the region, a fellow by the name of Neil McMurry in Casper, Wyoming. He found a way to blast up the shale underground, which released the gas, however, frequently polluted the water, leading to cattle getting sick, and a shortage of water. There's a meeting tomorrow at 1pm at City Hall in Colorado Springs where people hope that their voices will be heard as the issue of fracking comes up in Colorado Springs, an area even more dependent on fresh clean water than most. 
It's clear that all these environmental challenges that we face as a people are intertwined. Shortage of water, pollution, climate change, health, ecology, all these things are directly tied to one another, and to be successful, we're going to build on what we've all learned, share resources, and mobilize this growing group of us who are ready for a total shift in the way everything happens. 
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Return to Community

We pulled up a bit after dawn, and Andre was helping a friend fill up an empty tire. 

Andy set up the camera in the frigid morning air. 
Andre is a towering presence, well over 6 feet with a shaved head and a long deliberate black beard. He's born in Lebanon, I recall, and grew up in Colorado. 
Chores started out a bit hectic, perhaps because the sometimes awkward injection of a recording device. First, a tractor lifted a barrel full of old tacos from EVOL, a burrito company, that are good eating for pigs. Then, Andre, Steve and some of Steve's friends, Austen and Elias, attempted to put a ton of grain into the silo where the ducks live. It was a bit of an odd process, with the hand pulled generator being stubborn in the cold. The tractor picked up a massive white canvas bag filled with feed, and lifted it ten feet above the ground. From there, they tried to get the grain onto a conveyor belt which was jury-rigged with a five gallon bucket and some aluminum siding. After slow progress, Andre took a knife and cut into the base of the white canvas bag, thereby greatly speeding up the process of getting the feed onto the belt. 
From there we loaded into a truck and headed over to a leased property nearby. The crew of young farmers' goal was to fix some old fencing. Andre showed the calm poise of a natural leader before the work started. He said, we've gotten off to a hectic start this morning, and I want to restart, to start fresh. He mentioned that he is a Christian, and that everyone there should join him in a prayer. He said grace and thanks, thanks for the land that they were being leased, for the ability of them to work the land, and prayed and asked for a safe day of work. The prayer helped everyone work better, with a renewed sense of purpose. Andy filmed, and I did my best to keep out of the shot, often sprinting behind a truck, or a tree so as to keep out of view. At one point, I lied down, back in the snow and stared up into the blue sky and closed my eyes. 
Around 10am, the work on the fence ceased and we had the good fortune to be invited into Andre's home for breakfast with his wife Vanee, and their three beautiful sons. She cooked up sausage, made on the farm, potato soup, sauerkraut from the neighbors, and some sauteed vegetables. It was phenomenal. Before eating, we spun an arrow and whoever it pointed to, said grace. By providence, it landed on Andre and he said a prayer honoring the moment, the food, and the blessing to be in the company of the children, who bring such joy. The food was so good, it was hard to stop eating, and we almost overstayed our welcome when asked about lunch. 
Andre managed to hold all three sons at once, in his massive frame, reading from a Dr. Seuss book, as Steve talked with Elias, Aaron and Austen about the coming days and months. There are few moments on the trip where we wanted to get into farming ourselves, more than the time we spent at Jacob Springs Farm. 
We filmed the interview in the open face of a steel barn, removing some clutter from the ground before starting. Andre is a long-winded thinker, and talked about his unique path into agriculture. How he always knew from a young age that he wanted to farm, and how he used to go alone to the livestock shows, because he was so interested. He spoke with charisma about how we as a culture need to move to supportive communities, communities that are more resembling the groups of religious brethren who sailed across the Atlantic to avoid religious persecution. We can learn from the tight-knit communities of people like the Mennonites, in which the concept of the individual is secondary to the importance of the whole group of people. 
We said goodbyes and thankyous and headed West to Breckenridge to visit and ski with Chris and his niece Brooke, a wonderful couple of days with friends, food and a lot of sore muscles. 
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Briggsdale to Regis

The drive North and East was pretty treacherous, with many spots being completely covered in ice, and many cars and trucks sliding off into the ditches on the side of the road. Andy took it slow and steady, and we made it. 

Chris, Andy and I met in the parking lot of Briggsdale unified school district where Jarrod, the FFA AgEd instructor, about 35 students, and two local farmers James and Sallie, joined us in a discussion about the topics of agriculture that arise in American Meat. 
We talked about reason why rural America has decreased in population in the past decades. One student brought up that Walmart has made it harder for towns that use to have a hardware store, a salon, a grocery store, a nursery, or a restaurant to stay in business. We even joked that Walmart has their own hospital and airport which we all got a good chuckle out of. 
Because of a scheduling challenge, it ended up being James, Sallie, Chris, Andy and I watching the end of the movie. After that, James and Sallie helped us try various calculations to see how many acres it would take for a farm in North East Colorado like Sallie's to finish out as many cattle as they do at Polyface annually. We determined it would be roughly 20 times more land to raise the same amount of beef as at Polyface. 
We said goodbyes and thankyous and drove back to the city, going through Greeley, and thus avoiding the icy smaller roads of the morning. 
We got to Regis early, and were expecting a small turnout because the screening was on a Friday night on a college campus. We were pleasantly surprised when we had 120 people show up. The challenge was that there were only 80 seats. But people sat on stairs and on the floor and stayed around for the whole discussion, too. Leiliana, who works as a peace maker of sorts, moderated an engaged brief discussion in which Damian, a professor and urban agriculturalist, pointed out that we should eat less meat. Chris talked about how the number of young farmers and small farmers increased in the most recent farm census, a much needed truth that will hopefully snowball. 
After the conversation, the good chefs at BAMCo, the food service provider at Regis, provided a free dinner buffet, and most of the people went down to the cafeteria to break bread and continue the conversation. 
It was an uplifting end to a full week! 
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A snow started falling Wednesday night and picked up in intensity as the night progressed. We drove from Fort Collins to Denver, where we're staying with the ever-generous Brendan Cady. 

The ice and snow meant that many schools were closed, and we waited to hear what would happen. Weldon Valley High School toughed it out, although Cara and her students had the start of school delayed by two hours. GPS led the car to the wrong place  Weldona Ct. in Superior, CO, which is about 1 hour 30 minutes from Weldon Valley High School, the intended location. So once again, twice in two days, Chris held down the fort, while the white rental shuttled across and up 76 to arrive just a few moments before the end of the film. Chris and I talked about the documentary with the 30 or so in attendance. 
A particularly smart and outgoing student asked about 8 questions, and Chris, I and the farmers in the room, did our best to answer her questions. The conversation moved from feeding the world, about what precipitated the bankruptcy of Pilgrim's Pride in 2008, about the pros and cons of ethanol production, Chris mentioning that there are some advantages, because the byproducts get fed to cattle, which helps mitigate the waste.
We headed to Boulder and had an early dinner at Mountain Sun, with Mel Coleman Jr., Chris, Andy and my cousin Kristina, who is a sophomore at University of Colorado. The dinner was great, and we talked about riding horses, college dorm food and ate some incredible locally sourced burgers and drank beer, and root beer. 
About 180 joined the screening, which was a bit emotional because it was a homecoming of sorts, my year of graduation being 11 years ago. We had some technical challenges, with the screen falling down and shutting off right before the end of the film. We lost a few folks, but most stuck around, as we spent about 5 minutes fixing it. Still have no idea what happened. 
In the post screening discussion, Mel Coleman Jr. said something that really resonated, which is that in all his years talking to farmers, many of them conventional, he's never met a farmer who wanted to use chemicals. That everyone he talked to had made that choice because they felt that it was the only thing they could do to keep the farm going. 
Mel and his father were the first farmers in America, to market and sell anti-biotic free meats, and is now the Vice President of Niman Ranch. 
Ann Cooper, a legend in the world of school lunch, talked about how we as Americans need to start spending more money on our food, food that is healthy, unprocessed and local. We currently spend a very small percentage of our income on our food, and a very high percentage of our income on health care. Ann said that if we spend more on food, healthy nutritious food, we will see our health care costs shrink. The audience applauded. 
We concluded by talking about how there's a shift in the consciousness of young people in this generation, of how people are redefining wealth, that instead of taking a job that they do not believe in just to make more money, people are choosing to take jobs that may not pay as much financially but that lead to a more spiritually wealthy life.
Chris, Mel, and I talked with many of the people who stayed around, many of them young farmers excited about the growing movement. 
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Eaton to CSU

We landed in DIA and promptly got stuck in an hour long line for the car rental, which made us late for our first screening in Colorado, at Eaton High School FFA. 

Chris Ely, co-founder of Applegate,  our friend and veteran companion on the road the past year, got there before us and gave an intro to the documentary before Heidi Lanning, the kind FFA AgEd instructor hit play on the DVD player. We got there with a few minutes to spare, and we stopped the film after the second section finished. 
Chris and I talked to the 11 students about the advantages and disadvantages of different agricultural systems. Many of the students were farmers, who work on other people's farms, growing feed, or working in the trucking of feed, or the raising of animals. 
We thanked Heidi and drove to Ft. Collins where we got food at Cooper Smith's, a local brewery with great food. 
There was a swarm of students outside the auditorium, as the first 100 people in attendance got free burritos. A few probably got the burritos without attending the documentary, something I may well have done in college. Ryan, of the Campus Environmental Center, did a great job setting up the screening and getting the word out.
About 150 filled into the state-of-the-art auditorium, which was very vertically steep, a design feature that seems to make larger venues a bit more personal because the seats in the back aren't as far away. 
We were especially thrilled that a young farmer named Sheldon actually brought dozens of eggs to sell at the screening, something we hope to do much more of at screenings in the future. 
The discussion afterwards was a good one, passion in the crowd expected at one of the top agricultural schools in America. We were lucky to have the conversation moderated by Kim, who's the food editor at the Food Editor at the Denver Post. 
Someone asked about why Chuck Wirtz didn't direct market, and we explained that he has such a huge amount of pork to move, 330 pigs a week, and is not close enough to a major metropolitan area to sell that much pork directly. 
One woman talked about how the film didn't talk about science, and about how she trusted the meat in the grocery store, and that the slaughter facility at Polyface looked unsanitary. I responded by saying that the anonymous nature of the sourcing to grocery stores has recently led to the horse meat mishap, and that meat from a local farmer is safer because there is a single animal that sources one package of ground beef, whereas in the grocery store or at a McDonald's one hamburger can be from hundreds of different animals, therefore, increasing the risk that one of them is contaminated. The comment was too charged with emotion, and thus provoked a strong response from some of the students in attendance. One young woman, in the meat science department came down and talked about the importance of science when making decisions about what type of agriculture to support.  She, too, was charged with emotion, because agriculture is about as important a topic that we can discuss. 
A poultry processor talked about how he lost his USDA slaughter facility recently, which has made it very hard for Colorado chicken farmers to slaughter and sell directly to customers. Everyone agreed that we need to change our regulations so that they fit the size of the producer. Currently, many regulations are written for large slaughter facilities, and then these regulations, and the accompanying paperwork are foisted onto the small meat lockers that don't have the same amount of time and people to fill everything out. 
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