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Funny thing about the word commitment. If you’re really and truly dedicated to something, you’re committed. If you’re insane and need help, you need to be committed. As a I sit here writing inside my Airstream trailer parked in my driveway, waiting to leave on our road trip until I can finish packing, repacking, polishing the trailer, cleaning out our house, and trying to wrap up a thousand other details, I ponder this word commitment.
During the course of emptying our house in advance of our subletters moving in, Deirdre came across this quote that her dad had given to her years ago. I was too tired to copy it down so I took a photo of it:
So, sane or not, I’m committed. Tomorrow we pull away from our house for a trip up the coast to Pescadero, to hang out with friends before a farm-to-table dinner at Bonny Doon Vineyard on Sunday to kick-off the road trip and thank all the people here in Santa Cruz who helped make this trip possible. Without their generosity and belief in Food Forward and the crazy notion of a trip across the country in a 26-foot trailer with a family of four, we wouldn’t be here at all. I’m fortunate to have the friends and community I do. Ready or not, we’re going. We’re committed.
The thing about cliches is they’re generally quite true. Case in point: Be careful what you wish for.
A few months ago my wife Deirdre and I hatched what we thought was a great plan–a cross-country road trip to research future Food Forward characters and promote the show. That idea has grown into what we now call the Food Forward Road Trip, a four-month, 12,000-mile tour of the country to meet the food rebels who are changing the way we eat in America. To get there, we’ll pull a 26-foot, 1965 Airstream Overlander.
Deirdre and I have long wanted to own a vintage Airstream. Greg shares our love of these trailers, too. So now we’ve got one. For being 45 years old the trailer is in really good shape. Deirdre has taken on the task of giving the interior an eco remodel. She’s working with some great local designers and craftspeople. It’s going to look great. Pictures to come.
Coming with us on the trip will be my son Everett (6) and my daughter Ava (3). Everett is particularly excited about the trip, mainly because he gets out of school a month early. I think he’ll find other reasons to be excited, too. Greg will coordinate with us from mission control in the Bay Area.
I’m so busy packing, subleasing our house, forwarding mail, raising funds, making minor repairs on the trailer, and looking for a truck (Yes, we still need a truck. Anybody got a diesel Ford or Dodge we can use?) that I haven’t really been able to absorb what it is we’re about to do: drive across the country to meet my heroes: people who are creating a more delicious, more sustainable food system. And I have to confess the trip feels a bit daunting at times. What will it be like living on the road with two young kids? Will I lose my mind? Will it get too hot in the summer (probably)? Will Greg and I be able to accomplish all we set out to do?
Careful what you wish for indeed. For now this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity feels like an insane amount of work to get it ready. I haven’t allowed myself to get excited. There’s no time for that. I know there will be bumps on the road (another cliche) literally and figuratively, but I’m confident once we pull out of Santa Cruz (May 2 if all goes well) the trip will feel like a wish come true.
Greg and I have been working on Food Forward for almost three years now. It’s been so long that the work and stress that surround creating a TV show from the ground up has just become normal. It’s part of our lives. Because the series hasn’t aired yet, no one really sees what we do. Some may have forgotten about us. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been tinkering away in the garage on our project forever and we wonder if it will ever see the light of day. Well, that’s about to change.
First off, we have some big news: San Francisco’s KQED has given us a contract to produce 13 episodes for national broadcast via American Public Television. We’ve kept that news under wraps for weeks, but now you know. We did it!
Meanwhile, we’ve hatched what we think is a brilliant idea: a cross-country road trip in an Airstream trailer to meet up with the food rebels changing the way we eat. This spring, I’ll be hitting the road with my family on a four-month trip to immerse myself in the good food movement. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime and you’ll be able to follow along online. We’re about to launch a $50,000 campaign on Kickstarter to help get us there. More on that in the next few days.
And tomorrow we’re screening the world premiere of our pilot episode on urban ag at the Sonoma International Film Festival. Join us if you can. Free admission and food and drink. (check out John Birdsall’s write up at SFoodie)
Spending so much time working in our virtual garage, it’s easy to loose sight of what we’ve built. Whether people like it or not is another matter, but personally it’s a relief to let the light of day shine on our creation and finally start showing the world what we’ve done. And for all those who believed in us while we worked away in the garage–a sincere thanks. There’s much more to come.
In addition to my role at Food Forward, I’m the food editor for Metro Silicon Valley, an alt weekly in San Jose, Calif. Among other things, I’m the paper’s restaurant critic. It’s a great job. Probably once a week someone tells me I have their dream job. And I am very fortunate. I get paid to eat. But as someone who thinks a lot (maybe too much) about food and where it comes from I’ve begun to question the role of the restaurant critic.
Given the stack of evidence against the industrial food system, it seems downright wrong to limit a restaurant review to a critique of cooking, service and decor, but that’s the norm in my business. The food we eat is altering life on the planet as we know it. Are gripes about an overdressed salad or a bumbling waiter more important than calling out the fact that manure from industrial meat has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states or that synthetic fertilizers have turned the Gulf of California into a vast dead zone?
While consumers and restaurants alike are seeking ingredients that tread more lightly on the earth and people, restaurant critics seem to work in a vacuum where questions about the true social and environmental costs of the food aren’t worth mentioning. That makes them indifferent, irrelevant or part of the problem. I’m not sure which is worse.
I’m thinking as important as it is for us to profile fishermen who are doing the right thing by the ocean, our episode on fish should include discussion of marine protected areas, vast undersea sanctuaries where there is no fishing at all. Of course fishing isn’t the only pressure fisheries face (runoff, damns, dumping, and other man-made impacts play a huge role) but I’d interested to know the ocean regenerates when we all fishing stops.
I’m looking for characters for an upcoming episode on sustainable fishing, fishermen (and women) who realize unless we stop vacuuming up everything in the ocean there’s not going to be anything left. Today I had a great conversation with Bellingman, Wash. fishermen Jeremy Brown. Brown is equal parts salty and smart. He trolls for salmon out of Washington and crews for halibut and black cod in the Gulf of Alaska. He’s the real deal, but realizes it’s in his own self-interest to fish within limits and back off when the science says it’s time to cool it.
“Fish is the last real (i.e. wild) food,” he says. “That’s all the more reason we shouldn’t screw it up.”
Check out this clip of him at one of the Bellingham restaurants where he sells a local specialty, marbled salmon.
Interviewing Dickson Despommier was one of the highlights of our trip to New York. His vision for skyscraper, vertical farms is mind bending. What if we could take ag land out of production and allow it to revert to its natural state while moving farming into cities where people live, he asks. Provocative. Impossible? Maybe. Maybe not. But as we traveled around NYC and elsewhere we encountered other urban farmers who weren’t so enamored with Dickson’s ideas. They said his plans are too-pie-in-the sky, too expensive, and all hype. Here’s a particularly pointed critique of the man’s ideas.
Dickson more than defended his position in our interviews with him. So what if he’s not a farmer or an engineer? The problems with industrial agriculture are so deep they require bold new thinking. If Dickson does nothing else than get people thinking about alternative food production on a large scale then I say that’s a good thing. The world needs new ideas, big, bold and even crazy.
Food Forward is on the road shooting our first episode on urban agriculture in America. We just finished five great days in New York visiting some of the prime movers behind the city’s urban ag movement. As we talked to small scale urban farmers in NYC like Ben Flanner at Brooklyn Grange, Annie Novak at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, chef-turned-hydroponic farmer John Mooney, and Karen Washington; Bronx resident and urban farming pioneer, our crew kept asking ourselves: what difference are these people making?
Yes, these farmers are growing small plots of food in often challenging and unlikely places, but so what? How can they make a difference in a world reeling from the damage wrought by industrial agriculture? Is what these noble minded people doing affecting any change? Is this the solution we so desperately need?
For me I think the answer is a definite yes. And no.
No, urban agriculture won’t fod the cities of the world. None of these people aspire to do so. Nor will they create a counter force strong enough to topple big agribusiness. But something clicked for me when I spoke to Karen Washington in the garden she founded in the Bronx 23 years ago. Urban agriculture is a means of opening people’s eyes to the source of their food. It provides a vivid example of how good fresh food can taste. It creates consumers who start asking questions about where their food comes from and how it was grown. And that for me is what’s so powerful about urban agriculture. It can start a process of inquiry into what we eat and why.
The questioning and search for better alternatives to the way we feed ourselves has begun. That’s the real power of urban agriculture. I believe once you start asking questions the answers it unleashes a force that has the power to truly change how we eat in America. And that’s something to be excited about.
It’s strange, how long and tirelessly one can persevere toward a goal, toward something that is so close to you, so important. Many times it doesn’t even seem like work or even that challenging at all. Other times, it really does keep you up at night and create self-doubt.
Many people said we couldn’t do this, any of it. It’s too expensive. It’s too much work. You’ve never produced a successful show before. Your ideas are not new. But they also said, if you believe enough and don’t give up, it will happen.
And we’re doing it. We’ve reached two of our four major goals and cut two trailers that we’re very proud of. The exciting part is, the best is yet to come. We continue to hone our craft and our vision for this show and are confident as we move forward that the money will come. We are reassured every day that America wants good food TV and we want to make it happen.
Now, when we step back and watch our series trailer for the umpteenth time, critically analyzing all of the tiny changes we would make if we had more time and money, we realize that we’ve created something that’s bigger than ourselves. We are part of this good food movement and hope to help more people change the way we eat.