Home Fields: Digging into Local Food

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June 30, 2011 - 7:00pm

Home Fields: Digging into Local Food premieres Friday, July 8th at 7pm and 10pm Central on NET Television's NET-1 and NET-HD


John Beck, NET

Stores like Open Harvest in Lincoln heavily advertise locally sourced food

By the year 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that consumers will spend $7 billion dollars on local food. That would be an increase of $3 billion since 2002. Numbers like that show that an increase in small farms is having a big impact. When NET News and Harvest Public Media reporter Clay Masters looked behind those numbers to learn about the local food movement, he learned that they represent more than an idle interest. More producers and consumers across the Midwest are committing themselves to the idea of locally-sourced food.

The new documentary, Home Fields: Digging into Local Food, from NET News and Harvest Public Media, takes a closer look at the people behind the movement. For this Signature Story, Grant Gerlock talks to Clay Masters, who produced the documentary, to learn more.

GRANT GERLOCK: Why was now the time to make Home Fields?

CLAY MASTERS: Well, it all kind of started last November. I was working on a story for NET News and Harvest Public Media about consolidation in the agriculture industry. And in that story I was focusing on what the rise in mega-farms was doing to the mid-sized family farms - basically, they're getting squeezed out. But at the same time I was finding all this data from the USDA about how many small farms were cropping up. So we wanted to look behind those numbers.

GERLOCK: Okay. What kinds of things did you find?

MASTERS: I found people like Scott Wilber in Boone, Iowa. He and his wife, Julie, grow only local produce on about 22 acres. They're making their living by selling their product in grocery stores, farmer's markets, and a roadside stand. But Wilber says taking this path was a pretty difficult decision for him. He had to quit his job with benefits, but he always wanted to be a full-time farmer.

Or there are people who are trying to make the transition. I spoke with a couple in their twenties in Unadilla, Nebraska: Jon and Jamie Yoachim. They both still work full-time, and on the side are trying to start up a small farm and ranch. The thought there is to eventually make the farm their full-time job. Jon always wanted to live on a farm. Jamie said after she saw the documentary Food, Inc., she started thinking more about how food is made.

GERLOCK: How does the local food industry measure up to the traditional or conventional food industry right now?

MASTERS: Earlier you mentioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that local food sales would jump from $4 billion in 2002 to $7 billion in 2012. Pull back and look at the overall picture of what U.S. consumers are projected to spend on food, and that number (reaches) $1.3 trillion. It's the growth in local food that's really getting the attention because consumers and producers are building lives around it. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says retailers have told her that local food is the largest food trend they have seen in decades, or possibly in their lifetime. She says people want to know where their food comes from, who produced the food, and how they produced it.

GERLOCK: What about the people who buy the food - we talked about the people who grow it. How do consumers fit in here?

MASTERS: More producers are focusing on local food, but a lot of consumers are making the same commitment. Laurie Sutter has three daughters and a granddaughter living with her. She works full-time and she's decided to make eating local a priority for her family. That in itself is like another job. But she says she made the switch for the economic impacts of buying locally and because she is concerned about the ecological impact of industrial-scale food production.

GERLOCK: They call it the local food movement. Does it look different in different places or is it really the same wherever you go?

MASTERS: Well, that was trickiest part of reporting this story. Nailing down a definition of local food is tough. To a restaurant owner I interviewed, local is, does he know the person he does business with. Grocery store chain Hy-Vee says local is within the county where that store is. A University of Missouri Extension specialist, Mary Hendrickson, probably said it best. She said she doesn't care about defining it. The term local food has become something of a catchall for alternative forms of agriculture.

GERLOCK: Clay Masters is producer of the new documentary Home Fields: Digging into Local Food from NET News and Harvest Public Media. Clay, thanks.

MASTERS: Thanks, Grant.

Home Fields: Digging into Local Food premieres Friday, July 8th at 7pm and 10pm Central on NET Television's NET-1 and NET-HD

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