Wyo agriculture, rural living highlighted in PBS Farm to Fork series
“Food seems so abundant in America, but in Wyoming, with the long winters, it’s not so easy to produce the many foods that we desire,” explains Stefani Smith, producer of a Wyoming PBS series called Farm to Fork Wyoming.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the hearty souls pulling food from the ground or herding it off the plains, especially these small growers selling their products on a local scale,” she adds.
Farm to fork
Smith formed a pitch and gave it to Wyoming PBS to create the Farm to Fork Wyoming series, which is aimed at educating people about the up-and-coming direct to market economies occurring in Wyoming.
“I am so fascinated by the people I’ve met and interviewed, hearing their stories and trying to figure out how to convey what it is they are doing and what’s driving that,” describes Smith. “This project is very inspiring, is a lot fun and has a lot of opportunities to eat along the way.”
The series has the pilot episode of Farm to Fork Wyoming, as well as three other episodes, titled Dairy Herd Shares, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Grass Fed Beef.
The next episode in the series will be released in June and will cover beekeeping.
“We are always exploring and finding new opportunities. We might even go outside of Wyoming and expand into a larger regional series down the road,” states Smith.
For the series, Smith wanted to interview people who have endured agriculture in Wyoming for at least a generation and who really knew what they were up against by growing produce, raising cattle in Wyoming or breaking from conventional agricultural practices.
Smith’s inquiries of who to start interviewing led her to Curtis Haderlie, owner of Haderlie Farms at Thayne.
“Through visiting with Haderlie, it established for me that the vegetable producer in Wyoming is working in an extremely short growing season, and there are problems they have to solve dealing with that,” comments Smith.
Throughout the series Smith followed a farmer’s product to somebody who would be taking that product to another level.
After visiting with Haderlie, Smith encountered Chef Eric Sakai at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole. Sakai purchases the restaurant’s vegetables from Haderlie, bringing the produce to plate.
Dairy herd shares
Next, Smith filmed an episode on dairy herd shares, due to the controversy surrounding the topic.
While consumer safety regulators have allowed for herd shares in Wyoming, they still maintain raw milk is a high-risk food.
Smith interviewed Nicholas DeLaat, Frank Wallis and Steve and DeeAnn Doyle about their raw milk productions and experiences managing dairy shares and marketing raw milk to consumers.
“Some of my herd share owners were living in Gillette and driving 5.5 hours to a raw milk cow share dairy in Colorado,” states Frank Wallis, herd share manager of EZ Rocking Ranch in Recluse. “Then, they were driving back with their milk, so they could feed their families real milk.”
Wallis continues that some of his herd sharers are intolerant to the pasteurization of milk that is commercially available, which is part of the reason he became involved with the raw milk food rights issue.
“From there, we wanted to feature CSA, with their emerging direct-to-consumer approach that is occurring here in Wyoming,” describes Smith.
Smith visited Maggie McAllister in Daniel, owner of Painted Sage Farm, and learned about her endeavors with CSAs and being able to prolong the growing season through use of greenhouses.
“CSAs are attractive to consumers and producers who want to see locally raised food become a reality in their communities,” explains Smith.
“When people invest in a CSA, they are investing in their community and not just buying vegetables,” comments Holden Vargas, farmer at Painted Sage Farms. “They are an investor and are looking beyond just feeding their families.”
Grass fed cattle
Smith then premiered cattle, which led her to Bobby and Brendan Thoman, owners of Lost Wells Cattle Company in Riverton, and their production of grass-fed beef.
The Thoman brothers are utilizing an intensive pasture rotation known as mob grazing that builds up topsoil and increases water retention.
They are also feeding their herd a good mineral program and marketing them locally.
“We need to be the primary educators in our business, not to try and get somebody else to sell our beef. If we can sell it more directly, at least for the first few years, we can let people know exactly what they are getting or what they are not getting,” comments Brendan.
Piecing it together
Smith also tries to incorporate historical facts into the series about the different areas she visits and the distinctive agricultural practices that are sometimes used in the episodes.
“Bringing those elements together, musically including a lyrical style – something that evokes maybe a sense of place, an atmosphere or cultural heritage – is what makes it all come together,” states Smith.
Smith is also simultaneously working on a blog for the Farm to Fork Wyoming series, which can be viewed at the Wyoming PBS website.
“The blog creates a chronicle of where we’ve been and what’s happening around the state,” says Smith. “It creates a narrative of the whole process that people can revisit or explore the subject more and learn more about it and find resources.”
The response to the Farm to Fork Wyoming series has been tremendous, and during a Wyoming PBS pledge drive where the series was premiered, it was one of top pledging programs.
“That was a real revelation for us of how the series was doing. People were calling in and telling us how much they loved the show and couldn’t wait to see more,” exclaims Stefani Smith, producer of Wyoming PBS’s series Farm to Fork Wyoming.
Smith mentions the grass-fed beef episode alone has had over 1,700 views online, which, she notes, is off the charts for Wyoming PBS’s web traffic.
Recently, the series had a booth at the Garden and Backdoor Living Expo in Lander, and Smith recalls having a constant stream of people at the booth and commenting how much they appreciated the show and the episodes they have seen