Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Ripple Effect: FRESH, the movie

"Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience." 

This quote from Iowa farmer George Naylor's college roommate gave me pause. The sheer truth of it made me lean in toward the movie screen.  Isn't that really what it's all about? Our industrialized food system?  It's about convenience. It's about the fast and easy. The cheap and sleazy. The lean and the mean.

But are those really the words we want to describe the foods we eat?

Tonight we attended the 2nd of 3 screenings of the movie, FRESH, here in Milwaukee. We were in the company of strangers -- not only the strangers who sat with us in the theater on Downer Avenue, but also the strangers on the screen. Farmers, grocers, educators, community organizers. People who decided to think outside the box to make a difference in the food industry. In the course of an hour and a half, those strangers managed to inspire us. Endear themselves to us. Make us think a little bit differently.

FRESH is the story of people who care.  People like:
  • Russ Kramer, a pig farmer and owner of Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative in Missouri who saved $14,000 in the first year he stopped using antibiotics/drugs on his pigs
  • Joel Salatin, a farmer from Virginia who believes that chickens should be allowed to "fully express their chicken-ness."
  • Diane Endicott, Kansas farmer and founder and director of Good Natured Family Farms’ alliance - a collective of more than 100 family farms who raise animals humanely and care for the earth in a sustainable fashion.
  • Will Allen, a farmer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who raises 150 varieties of micro- and salad greens on less than three acres of urban land and vermicomposts over 1 million pounds of food waste from Milwaukee area businesses.
Sure, the movie deals with some dark material. There are brief snippets of the factory farming industry -- the overcrowded animal pens, the chemicals being sprayed on fields from airplanes, the cow suffering from mad cow disease. Mr. and Mrs. Fox, the owners of an industrialized chicken farm, are filmed in a grey, dreary setting. They don't look happy; and they feel trapped by an industry that they feel they need to survive. But, the story doesn't stop there. Unlike some other films, FRESH takes the time to focus on the brighter side.

FRESH is the story of people making a difference. And it's a pretty inspiring scene.

People often refer to a "ripple effect" when they talk about grassroots movements.  And it's an apt description. Just think about how even the littlest of stones makes a huge impression when thrown into a body of water. Even if the body of water is ginormous, the little ripples from that stone spread outward, creating movement in otherwise still waters.  And that's really what FRESH is about.

If you can catch a screening of the movie in your area, I'd strongly urge you to consider going.  But, even if you can't, there are plenty of things you can do to capture the spirit of FRESH in your own lives.

As Will Allen says at the end of the film, "You can do this."
And it's easier than you think.  Here's a list to get you started.

Fresh Ideas (adapted from Ana's 10 Fresh Actions) 
  1. Plant a garden. Even if it's on your patio. Build a raised bed, or grow a pot of herbs. Build some intimacy with the soil.   
  2. Visit your farmer's market -- and really get to know at least one local farmer. Ask them questions. Buy their produce. Spread the word about what they do to others you know.  
  3. Build community. Get to know your neighbors. Forge connections in disparate places. Participate in what's going on around you.  
  4. Consider composting. Start a compost pile in your backyard. Use the black gold for gardening. No space? Consider red worms. Vermicomposting takes up very little space, and can be done indoors.  
  5. Think small. Support your local economy.  Buy local produce and products. Support local business owners who pull dollars back into your local economy. Give up one "big box" store in favor of a "mom and pop" shop.  Even spending as little as $10 a week at that shop is all it takes to send a positive message.  
  6. Ask more questions. At restaurants and grocers, inquire about where they get their fish... their meat... their produce.  The more questions we ask, the more awareness grows about what we'd like to see in the marketplace.  
  7. Start reading labels at your supermarket. Take the time to consider what you're putting into your body. Avoid GMO's (Since almost all the soy, corn, and canola in the US is genetically modified, over 70% of all processed food contain GMOs from by-products of these grains.). Abolish high fructose corn syrup from your diet. Avoid artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.  Make choices that reflect your values, and vote with your food dollars.  
  8. Get back to basics.  Eat more whole foods. Stock up on local fruits and vegetables while they're in season. Cook, can, and freeze the harvest. You'll be grateful when you have fresh tasting tomatoes in the middle of February.  
  9. Get inspired. Share your passion with others. Engage in friendly conversation about things that are meaningful to you. Spread the word.  
  10. Get Fresh.  Why not host a FRESH screening of your own?   Kits available on the FRESH Web site. 
 Join the ripple effect.  It's absolutely contagious. 

Full disclosure: We did receive free tickets to attend the screening of FRESH as part of our farm-to-table dinner at Meritage. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own. 

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  1. I hope to catch a screening of this sometime! Sounds like a great film!

  2. Sounds like a film I must see.
    I think it's great that you mention vermicomposting. Being a "worm farmer" is fun and easy. Plus that worm juice makes my plants so happy.

  3. I tend to avoid many of the food industry books and movies because there are only a certain number of times I can be hammered with how evil the food industry is. Yes. I GET IT. That's why it's nice to know someone is making a positive documentary! I hope I can get to see this one.

    LOL at "fully express their chicken-ness." You know what irks me? This whole "vegetarian fed" chicken and egg thing. Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians, so forcing them on a vegetarian diet isn't all that natural. How does a farmer stop a chicken from eating the insets, etc. that are a natural part of their diets anyway?

    Love the list of tips. I can congratulate myself that I do a few of those things. I am considering composting. I have seen some small composters on sale. My biggest worries about them are how much space they take up, how badly it will smell, and whether or not I'll produce more compost than my balcony garden needs.

  4. Well articulated! I'm going tonight as you know, and am really excited in particular to see more of Will Allen... the closest I've come is a quick drive by his urban farm, which is sad since I know that he is such an inspirational person in our community.

    "Fast, easy, cheap and sleezy"... so so so true! Pure poetry and absolute truth, that. I so enjoyed reading this post, and I know it will be inspirational in and of itself to your dedicated readership!

  5. We're totally hoping to plan a GROWING POWER field trip one of these days. You in, Rebecca?

  6. Oh, and Rachel -- I wanted to comment briefly on composting. Composting doesn't smell too bad, as long as you can keep the brown/green ratios in line. You can buy compost activator that helps things along, if you're concerned. Gardens Alive sells a good one.

    We regular old compost bins, which we fill with veggie waste and shredded brown autumn leaves and hand-turn every now and again to promote circulation. That works pretty well, and with two bins we get enough black gold for our little backyard raised beds. I'm amazed at how little compost all of our veggie scraps/peelings actually make!!

    That said, I'd LOVE to start being a WORM FARMER -- if only I had a spot inside that would really work well. Maybe the basement... I wonder how much cold those little worms can take.

  7. "Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience."
    So very true!

  8. i can't wait to see this movie! sadly, i was out of town while they were showing it here.

    i am not a good speaker for the movement because the cause and effect, as well as the solution are so obvious to me. i just want to scream, "it's your LIFE, dummy!" why people are in fast pursuit of cheap and easy when it comes to the most important thing in their lives is beyond me. what kind of a people marginalize their health to such an extreme?! i can spout off facts, figures, and examples til kingdom come, and to me, that should be evidence enough to make a change.

    count us in on the growing power field trip.

    and i'm building our compost bin tonight! :)

  9. Compost bins is a great way of making your own compost at home. Instead of throwing away food waste, throw the waste which are not of meat base or dairy product in a compost bins instead. Also put in any garden leaves and some soil for composting. The organic compost created in great for the plants.


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