FARMLAND – a Journey: Part 1(a) – Coincidences, or Serendipity?

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Farmland is the cornerstone of my life.
“Farmland” is a film, recently released by Allentown productions.

Through a series of fortuitous events in one of the world’s biggest cities, seeds were sown that would grow into my future perspective on ‘Farmland’ the movie.

Farmland the film, a documentary directed by award winner James Moll, has thus far met with mixed reviews. The farm-for-a-living community is thrilled that a film champions their life quietly, eloquently, and factually. Six young farmers represent the collective farming population as folks who do their job well despite challenges. The ‘food movement’ has reacted in a full-spectrum manner; some have been respectful with sincere questions and comments prompted by their attendance at screenings, while others have been nothing less than vilifying and condemning with their comments.

This review will be a bit different than others, due largely to my dual role as a life-long farmer and agricultural communicator. A great deal of my efforts have been spent in frequent interactions with consumers, answering their many questions about what we do on a farm, and why, and how that affected (or not) the food they ate. I have learned to view the profession of full-time farming from the perspective of a consumer three-generations removed from the farm.

The ‘official review’ post will come in a couple of days, but it will be much easier for a reader to understand if they first vicariously go on my trip with me, via a travelogue of photos of the jam-packed 48 hours on my trip to, and in, New York City. From the minute I received an invitation to the film’s screening (thanks, Lorraine Lewandrowski, for your references!), flights to and fro, to getting back on a return flight, this trip proved to mirror a lifetime of food-to-plate bridge-building.

And so, the journey begins.

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The first leg of the flight took me over the rolling farmscapes of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The crystal-clear skies made it easy to see many farmsteads, many of which I was already familiar with due to drives to search out dairy cattle for consignment sales, or just to visit with farm friends. It’s highly possible I flew over dairies which are home to descendants of the Registered Holsteins I owned several years ago. A new friend, whom I met last summer at an AgVocacy conference, also pointed out I could have flown over her farm. And I was near to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who not only was president, but an avid and forward thinking agriculturist.

This segment ended in Washington, DC, home of USDA, the government arm which implements farm policy, and Congress, who enacts that policy. While my neighbors and I have always lived the results of any Farm Bill, this recent Bill is the first on which I had dug into on a deep level due to reporting and communications for farmers and farm organizations. A Farm Bill affects both farmers and consumers, from commodity pricing to feed and supply costs to grocery prices. Farmland is affected by such a Bill.

Next stop: LaGuardia Airport and New York City.

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Leaving the gate after getting off the plane, the very first sign I saw was this one: connecting Food and Farm with Film, albeit in a different context. Joe Ciminera is a celebrity chef from PBS, who has taken on the cause of fighting childhood obesity. However, I was a bit amused he is raising money for a noble cause through proceeds from Sci-Fi and horror films, another project of his! Oh well, at least he’s akin to a farmer in that he wears many different hats at the same time!

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Just a few steps later, this “Welcome to New York” sign greeted vistitors by an airport quick-stop deli, with items that had to come from farms – somewhere. Industry estimates put sales of food and beverage at $6.6 billion level at North America’s top 50 airports alone. All that economic activity had to start – on farmland, of some size or span.

Next up, a cab ride that could only be described as “meant to be,” for whatever reason!

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I had to laugh when I climbed into this cab! Of all of the million cabs which pick up passengers at LaGuardia, how in the world did I end up in one with a Cowabunga mirror ornament?!? What were the odds – me, with a lifelong affiliation with Holstein cows and cows of all colors and the farms that feed them, in a world’s shopping mecca, riding into the city in a taxi with a swinging Holstein! [The Italian driver and I did discuss the merits of mozzarella vs. parmigiana!] Random occurrence, or serendipity? I’ll leave that for you to decide! First the cow – then this driving by . . .

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By this time, I was feeling a bit of “Really? Here?” Although this was my first time on the freeway from LaGuardia into town, one of the last things I expected to see was a load of pretty darn good hay through my cab’s window. Square baled, so the hay may have been destined for the iconic Carriage Horses or one of the area’s horse race tracks, or even headed to farms on the other side of the city, but this fact remains – the hay was grown in fields, on a FARM, somewhere.

After arriving at the hotel, my first goal was to locate the theatre where the screening would take place, mostly so I could gauge my ‘exploring time’ in order to make it to the Big Event on time the next evening. With suitcases safely taken care of, next on the list was to walk in the direction of the Theatre, (around the block and down a street), and then find lunch. Thanks to a scant breakfast, travel schedules, and busy trip prep the day before, I hadn’t eaten much at all in the previous 36 hours, and was ‘headache hungry.’ At this point, I didn’t care what kind of food, I just wanted someplace clean.

First things first – the theatre proved to be only a short distance away, on the backside of the block of the hotel. Although I had done a bit of searching on the internet before the trip, and despite the ‘glam image’ associated with the Tribeca Film Festival, this is the building put in context with surroundings:

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A reclaimed, but unassuming building (on the outside), topped by an exterior of a mix of condos, offices, and storage space is the headquarters of one of the world’s most known Film Festivals. Since the Festival, the property has gone on the market for upwards of $1 million.

Now on to lunch – I turned around to make my way down the street, and to say I caught my breath is an understatement:

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The new Freedom Tower, marking the site of the greatest modern-day American tragedy, is one of the most humbling sites I’ve ever seen. One is compelled to stop, and reflect, and say a prayer of gratitude.

Farmland is Foodland, and on to New York City food in the next post.

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