Category Archives: On Location

Quaint

Basements: Shelter from severe weather, repository of the detritus from a bygone era.

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In the case of the B-K basement, that bygone era is little more than ten years ago. Looking around at stacks of CDs, magazines, books from the homeschooling years, boxes of files filled with magazine clippings from those same years, the knitting stuff, the piles of thrifted crap I meant to sell on eBay – it’s all kind quite unbearably cute and earnest and analog and quaint and very 20th century, as though my grandmother had kept all that stuff for us.

I think I like the idea of preserving this archaeological dig of a basement – FOR NOW – because the evidence of a decade-plus of change is in my face every day when I  a) look at my family and b) how I spend my days. (I’m also lazy-busy.)

Eleven years ago, I was feral in the backyard with my children; Neither they nor I had a smartphone or social media since they basically didn’t exist. Ten years ago, everyone went back/off to school because I was working full time at the Foodbank and wearing dress pants. Five years ago, I was preparing to spend my 4th season running the Market and building its social media presence. Now I do something else entirely.

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[The guy in the photo, Ryan – while interesting – was not the interviewee. The actual interviewee was running a few minutes late, so Ryan decided to hang out. My other colleague, Tim, must have taken this photo. Or did I?]

This trip was the second of three total we’re taking to Chicago within eight days to interview people for a project we’re working on. The first trip was to WYCC’s studios on the south side, this trip was to Lincoln Park, and this Thursday’s interview is downtown. As we left the city yesterday at sunset, I admired our view and felt feelings about my years there.

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About the project itself: There are lots of logistics around equipment and overall planning on the front end and back end, but that’s largely the purview of my colleagues.

Since I’m doing much of the writing and am conducting the interviews, my main role is to decide on the topics of conversation as they pertain to the project. Then I begin intelligence gathering. Read articles and books. Listen to podcasts, watch videos online, follow people on Twitter, read their tweets and digest their retweets. Cross out and rewrite. Order and reorder. Add and delete. Later on, Tim and I (mostly Tim) will color in the shapes we drew at the beginning of the project – we edit everything down into 26 minutes that hopefully gets the story right while also moving and inspiring viewers and/or listeners.

Projects like this aren’t my “real job”, but I consider it my favorite work. I’m so very glad it found me/I found it. I think 25 years of reading voraciously, teaching myself Internet, going to shows, working in music, nursing babies, blogging, facilitating my kids’ early education, planting gardens, taking photos, selling thrifted stuff on eBay as a side hustle, keeping file folders full of articles as “inspiration”, collecting vintage aprons, preserving food, wearing dress pants, strolling the aisles with my clicker at the farmers market, and always (always) talking and listening – all of that led me to doing what I’m doing in 2016. The evidence is downstairs.

Jim and I face an empty nest in less than 6 months. Our basement is like the late 1990s/earlyish 2000s preserved in amber for our family. I am loath to disturb it, so I’m not gonna.

Yet.

Projecting

In a what feels like Herculean effort to finish out this iteration of the Backyard Industry Video Project, I’ve been reviewing a lot of footage.

Phil Orr

For awhile it was chicken coops and the people who build them, like Phil (that’s him above). That video is allllllmost finished, though, so lately I’ve been looking at Shana and Mac from The Great Pumpkin Patch, transcribing their interviews by hand because I know of no other way.

Shana Condill of TGPP

Mac Condill

One thing I’ve discovered about this particular creative situation: I wish it was all I did. I really do love coming up with a story to tell, planning shoots, going on shoots, doing interviews, gathering B-roll, looking at it later and transcribing it, and going through the first part of the process of getting that story told. I love it to the point of feeling guilty and like I don’t deserve to be taking the time to do it. Often I’ll walk away from it for awhile, too overwhelmed by the fact that I’m doing something fun instead of cleaning or something else I “should” be doing. True story!

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The second part of getting that story told is stitching those Post-Its together into a video in editing – re-creating the show open, smoothing transitions between “chapters”, adding graphics, adding music, making cuts, finding that exactly-right bit of footage to cover someone’s voice, etc. While I know this part happens, and it’s definitely fun… I rarely participate – at least, not in person. A lot of it happens over email.

With our current setup, Tim and I have pretty much been siloed in our work – we work together on the BYI project, but separately, mostly, on the creative side. We also end up doing things backwards or sideways sometimes because of a) my ignorance, b) time issues, and c) “real job” constraints/ups and downs/curveballs. In a perfect world, our partnership would be more like a Venn diagram than two separate circles, but it’s what we’ve got for now. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done and are doing, but I’m always like, this could have been so much better. I wish we had asked/gotten _____ or _____. It kind of goes back to my recent entry about planning, though I would also add process. I can plan all I want, but if I don’t have a process, I’m hosed – “hosed” meaning, in this case, submitting (and settling for) work that could have been SO MUCH BETTER.

Words like planning and process still give me hives, you guys. I’ve somehow always had the subconscious notion that you’re not truly creative if you rely on structure to create a finished product. Like, since I was a kid, I’ve had this idea. Where did this come from? Watching other people make it look easy or something? Like they didn’t have a process or a plan? NEVER have I found out the opposite to be more true than working in audio/video production. I know both Tim and I have learned plenty from this experience, not just about process and planning, but also about partnership and trust.

I know that most of the other stuff I want to work on (including one official work project) will benefit from these things I’ve learned re: planning and process:

The BYI podcast, which I swear to god is coming by June at the latest
The writing Troy asked me to do for Innocent Words (I’ll link when the first one is ready)
The project I still want to work on with Alisa from Prairie Fruits Farm

RELATED: I was thinking about Cody and his work (as I often do) and have marveled at the way he seems to be harnessing together, at age 22, all the things thatI believe must go into transforming ideas into something tangible:

Talent/ability/knowledge
A network
Vision

Lilly, for her part, is masterful at time management and is truly gifted in many ways, including seeing things – literal and figurative angles and connections – that others cannot see. The more they grow up, the more I learn from them, that’s for damn sure.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

I was sad reading about the Target layoffs

I loved this video of an elephant joining an elephant sanctuary

I tried a YouTube yoga class

On Being A Badass

What does Indiana men’s basketball coach Tom Crean look like?

Mixtape of Arabic songs from the 60s/70s

Really long long read about David Foster Wallace that I ended up not finishing (haha)

10 Women Paving the Way in Digital Journalism and Tech

Segues

This week I started my part of finishing the Backyard Industry video series.

The biggest/hardest parts of this process, for me, are the writing of the episode and the logging of the footage. We shot a bunch of footage of people’s chicken coops last summer – here’s my friend/neighbor/now-mother-of-Cliff, Colleen, talking about their setup:

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I think Tim and I would agree that the way we’ve ended up working together on these things has been less than optimum for a lot of reasons; the overall lack of time sucks, but also the way we’ve divided up the workload (based mainly on skillsets, but also priorities/time) means that we each have our specific, siloed area of work. We rarely work together outside of the shoot itself. If we had it to do all over again, I think both of us would prefer to work more collaboratively from start to finish, but it’s also been a good experience with so many lessons learned. SO MANY LESSONS, Y’ALL. Anyway, we’re looking forward to finishing the series and moving into spring at about the same time. I’m pretty excited about spring, although… I still haven’t ordered my seeds. Am I OK?

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My brain is wired in such a way that I have to write stuff down or I’ll forget it.

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Occasionally I look at my notes and am perplexed. What the hell does that even mean? Was I asleep when I wrote this or what? I’m always writing little blurbs to myself about possible topics to cover here and eventually on the podcast, which I’m still planning to get to when the weather turns. Here are some of them:

The demise/”resurrection” of Modern Farmer magazine

At some point I’ll write a long piece about farmers markets and why I think they’re so important and it’s not just about food for me

The difference between being enveloped in a culture like a blanket and being part of the actual fabric of the culture itself – being the blanket, I guess – in the contexts of isolation and inclusiveness

How neighborhoods, and conversations among neighbors and small business owners are rarely part of the “brand” of most places that we see. Individuals, households, towns/areas are more connected with other individuals, households, and towns/areas than ever before, but getting out and conversing IRL is crucial; otherwise the “brands” dominate the conversation and places/people are not being represented truthfully. This happens all the time and everywhere and I’m not thinking up some new thought or anything, but I was struck by a conversation I had with two friends the other night, quite by chance, where this was apparent – the difference between what the 3 of us know to be true, what we see happening, vs various “talking points” we all hear – was amazing. The dominant narrative is so rarely what’s actually happening, and people do know this, and it erodes trust. Get out there and talk about it!

UGH, I’m all over the place. I should finish that shopping list and procure supplies before our (seriously downgraded) “weather event” makes its way here. But first… a little bit of LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

I found myself checking out the Lexington Market in Baltimore

I like analytics

And digital marketing stats, I like those too

Something great Jeff Johnson wrote at Medium about Marshawn Lynch

How the BBC is thinking about its future

Another World in 45 Minutes

Backyard Industry (Tim Meyers on camera and me asking questions) decided the best way to spend a sunny early fall day would be to spend it here.

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(That treeline right there marks the highest point in Moultrie County.)

Actually, we planned this visit to The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, IL weeks ago. In September in Illinois, however, one just never knows with the weather; you take your chances when you schedule an outdoor shoot. Today was clear, warm, and dry. Perfect, really. We were pinching ourselves.

Here’s what getting there is like:

Leave Urbana-Champaign on highway 57 (or, if you’re us, you take Rt. 45 through Tolono and Pesotum until you hit 57). Drive past Tuscola and start seeing signs for various attractions in Arcola, like Rockome Gardens. Exit the highway at Arcola, and start the drive through town, which is when the horse-drawn buggies become evident – suddenly, it’s pretty serious Amish country. Drive through Chesterville. Note the laundry on the line and enormous gardens. More buggies. The air is redolent with the scent of horse poo. Once arriving in Arthur, there are not only buggies co-existing with cars – the Amish are also avid cyclists. (And when I say avid, I mean Amish gents of all ages are on recumbent bikes that fit right in with those in “bike friendly” towns like Urbana or Champaign. Women were on bikes, too, though we didn’t see any riding recumbent bikes. Anyway.) Hang a left in the middle of town, just before the county line, drive (or buggy, or bike) a couple miles, take a right, and there’s TGPP, on the left. It can’t be missed this time of year – there are lots of signs coaxing visitors in last quarter mile, and a huge field of potted chrysanthemums is visible from the intersection. But there’s also this: Fields of drying corn and soybeans are everywhere, but the lack of corn and beans sets TGPP apart. They grow pumpkins, yes, but they also grow squash – hundreds of varieties of squash from all over the world. They sell seeds for these amazing vegetables. There’s also the all-day, every-day bakeathon in a bakery on the premises. It’s like arriving on another planet in about 45 minutes.

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(How cool is this thing?)

The Condill family has been there, on that same land, living and growing food and raising families and going out into the world and coming back, since the 1850s. In 2012, the Summer of Drought, I went down to interview Mac Condill, whom I suppose I’d title as The Main Guy, for Backyard Industry Radio – you can hear it here. (It was an excellent year for pumpkins, as I recall.) I’d known Mac’s brother and sister-in-law, Kit and Emily, for a few years, and Mac and I had corresponded over booth details for Urbana’s Market at the Square when I was working there; I’d also worked with Ginny, Mac’s wife, and Shana, his sister-in-law, to bring TGPP’s educational efforts to Sprouts at the Market. Mac’s parents still live on the farm (and  officially own the businesses) and the other Condills are close by. In short, they’re incredibly nice people, generous with their time and their premises (and trusting, jeez – they gave us our own golf cart to get around), and they run a beautiful operation designed to give guests, many of whom have no connection to a farm or rural life whatsoever, a gentle – but subtly powerful – on-farm experience.

And that is precisely what I love about them, and why we wanted to produce a video there. They’re happy to have you if you want to buy decorative gourds and mums, and they’re happy to have you if you want to spend the day there meandering the grounds and relaxing, but either way, you’re going to leave knowing a little more about heirloom squash and biodiversity whether you realize it or not. They want to meet you where you are. They do not look like farmers. They’re not Amish. They’re a highly-educated and well-traveled bunch who are very well-known in seed and farming/gardening circles. They’ve built walls of squash at the White House and have encouraged Martha Stewart to smash a pumpkin (she obliges at 5:15 in this video). They’re deeply respected by their communities – the local community, the farming community, and the local food community – and that respect is mutual, in part because they have elected to stay, when so many others got out of farming as soon as they could, not seeing potential or, in many cases, not being able to diversify.

The words “passion” and “empowerment” regarding what they do came up again and again in interviews and conversation today. “Are you guys for real?” I asked, but I wasn’t serious. It was evident on their faces and in their eyes as they talked that they are, indeed, for real.

 

Shorn Off, Pt. 2

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But first, a central Illinois sunset.

Much has happened since I was in Sidney, IL at 7 Sisters Farm, but recent footage review brought it all back. Most alarming: Spring has been so slow in arriving – we shot over a month ago and the landscape is only now starting to noticeably change. I wonder when the trees will fully leaf out; we’re a couple weeks away, still, from flowering trees.

Anyway. While my philosophy with BYI has always been to participate as much as possible in whatever’s going on, I was feeling a little weird about attempting to shear a sheep.

[When my son was little, I used to shave his head using electric clippers, and the shearing tool we were going to be using was basically a (much) larger version of those, but the clippers were heavy, and sheep’s wool, I discovered when I met “my” sheep, Dawn, is super-thick and springy. Shaving a head is pretty basic – it’s nice and round. Sheep’s bodies are not one shape – they’re many shapes. There are bony parts sticking out as well as super-smooth round parts. There are folds of skin and there are places where you have to be really careful. Also? Dawn was pregnant. I worried about her lamb in there.]

When Dick, one of the instructors, presented Dawn, waiting gamely on her stand, to me and my shearing partner Roxanne, I almost – ALMOST – asked Roxanne to do the job herself. Roxanne (you’ll meet her in the video) is young, interested in farming and livestock, and seemed quite fearless. She would have been great on her own. However, I a) did not want to disappoint Dick and the other instructor, Harold, by crapping out and b) did not want to disappoint myself by passing up a chance to learn something awesome from these amazing gentlemen. So when Dick told me it was my turn after Roxanne had hers, I grasped the (huge) clippers and gingerly had a go at Dawn’s wool along her flank. I won’t give anything else away, but the story ends with Dawn being safely shorn and Roxanne and I both feeling exhilarated, almost, that we had shorn (most of) a sheep and had not injured it or ourselves, plus… we had contributed, in some small way, to the gathering of the wool for the season.

Dawn

Work has begun on putting this episode (BYI2) together for a release date in early May. We just pre-interviewed the subject of BYI3 and will shoot this week for a release date TBD, and BYIr83 will air this week. Here’s a clue as to its subject matter:

Worms

More soon!

Shorn Off, Pt. 1

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The weather here in the Midwest, which I’m certain most people are sick of talking/hearing/reading about, has finally taken a turn for the better. (Midwest is best!) Those chickens up there were complretely stoked to be outside in 40-degree (or so) sunshine. The BYI crew was out at my friend Cathe Capel’s place –  Seven Sisters Farm, in Sidney, Illinois – to watch (and film) the annual shearing of her small flock of very woolly (and in some cases, very pregnant) sheep.

First we had a freaking awesome meal around the dining room table in Cathe’s gorgeous 19th century abode. She dished up chili, cornbread, pie, strong coffee, and a most convivial table. I wish I could adequately explain how I feel about settings like this. I wanted to hug everyone while we were eating.

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We also ate some tea eggs that Emma from Lucky Duck Farm brought to share. They were exquisitely dessert-like. I love eggs anyway, but these were… sublime.

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After we ate, we went into the barn, where Tigger lives. She has three legs, amazing green eyes, and is a total badass.

IMG_6980We got a look at some vintage shearing equipment – this clipper hand crank (not sure what the actual nomenclature is) dates to 1910.

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The sheep were like, we know something is going on but cannot quite remember what it is. Hmm.

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Harold Davis, a sheep-shearing legend in Illinois, showed the group how to get to it, New Zealand style. Harold has shorn 900,000 sheep in his day and knows what he’s doing. Needless to say, the rest of us were not interested in giving this particular method a go.

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Part Two: I meet a ewe named Dawn, I come to grips with the clippers, and I feel sad when leaving Sidney. I’ll post that this week.

In the meantime, enjoy this radio piece I did two years ago (you can tell it was two years ago because I talk about how winter never came) about the same class, led that time by another Illinois shearing rockstar, Dick Cobb. He’ll also feature in Part Two.

OK. Time to jet. Cosmos is on.

 

Weak Week

Last week was a bit flattening.

There were reasons, most of which I won’t go into here except to say that sometimes the stars just DO NOT ALIGN and EVERYTHING IS CRAZY SOMETIMES and, occasionally, I DO NOT LIKE BEING A RESPONSIBLE-ISH ADULT.  There was also the weather to deal with:

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Saturday morning! Thunder woke me up! It rained slush out of the sky! Uncool, February first! I retaliated by circling about $200 worth of seeds in the Seed Savers catalog and about $1000 worth of kicky clothes in the Title Nine catalog (Seed Savers will win when the chips are down, because TOMATOES). It’s cold again with more snow on the way, apparently, so I’m retaliating further by roasting a chicken and making brownies.

[One note about that latter retaliation: Our Tappan Visualite (as in, this oven has a WINDOW!!) oven is old. Like, it might be 70 years old. It still works, but with caveats. Fine, I’ll bake things, she tells me, but there will be NO temperature regulation whatsoever! I just get hotter than hell! Lately, it’s been Oh, god, you know, nope. Nope. Not today. We always coax her back into action, but I feel like the end might be near. Our kitchen, like our house, is very small (something I’ve talked about before on the radio) and very not-updated. Its vintage nature is not on purpose – it came this way – but I kind of like it the way it is and do not want anything super-fancy to replace ol’ Visualite when she gives up the ghost. I think about this, and how much it will cost, a lot. Because it will cost – a lot.]

We had a great shoot last week for the “Ramen Shamen” episode of BYI that’ll be done at the end of this month (AT THE END. OF THIS MONTH.) I “helped” make noodles for the ramen, and we all peeled a few eggs, and Mark & Leslie were so damn gracious about our totally being in their way (and in their faces). THANKS, YOU GUYS.

Leslie

Leslie pretending not to notice BYI DP Tim Meyers

 

As things got closer to service, the fine humans from the Cracked Truck came in to help make noodles as fast as people could eat them. (Note the foreshadowing on their URL)

crackedKieffer & Daniel from Cracked getting all noodly with it

Seeing the Cracked guys come in to lend a hand did my heart good. These are young guys, entrepreneurs, who aren’t thinking just about their success. They want to see others in this community succeed, too.

Lots of people came to the back room at Pizza-M to hang out and eat noodles and take photos of the noodles and of each other. It was quite fun to watch people start gathering after their work days were done, and the whole thing felt very current day downtown Urbana. It’s exactly what we were hoping to capture.

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The first radio piece of 2014 will air this week. One of its inspirations: A cupboard devoid of clean bowls. I hope it sounds as interesting on the air as it does in my head.