Understanding agriculture - Documentaries feature Wyoming producers in Farm to Fork series on PBSWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Buffalo – “Farm to Fork Wyoming” is a PBS series produced by Stefani Smith that documents stories from direct-to-market agricultural producers in the state.
“Some of the questions that played on my mind as I settled into Wyoming were, how was life for the pioneers and for people more recently, before we had supermarkets and this big distribution system? How did they survive? What have we lost?” she explained at the Fifth Annual Women’s Agriculture Summit in Buffalo on Jan 24.
Smith found herself in Wyoming after being a commercial fisherman for many years. Despite her love for fishing, she felt that something was missing.
“I did a long trip and ended up in Wyoming. I finally found a place on land that I could bear to be. It feels like the ocean,” she said.
Smith related the stewardship parallels she sees between Wyoming and the sea.
“We have to be cognizant of the elements, our resources and what we need to sustain ourselves, as well as how fragile those things are,” she noted.
As a fisherman, she saw her industry go through changes that she finds paralleled in agriculture. People removed from the work are making many of the management decisions.
“Control has now been taken out of the hands of the actual fishermen and people on the ground,” she said. “Stewardship got appropriated by greater powers, and people need to think more about what they are doing and be more involved in exploring the process and that dialogue.”
She sees farmers, ranchers and fisherman as some of the last harvesters of nature.
Making a switch
“What we have is so precious,” she stated.
In her 30s, Smith went back to school to study filmmaking.
“I was really interested in how people struggle through changes and try to reconcile the questions about where we are going, what we take for granted, where that’s leading us and the kind of push-back we are always confronted with,” she explained.
Documentary filmmaking, she found, was a place where she could suspend her questions and explore ideas. Wyoming PBS offered her a perfect opportunity.
“I loved the in-depth documentaries and the investigative journalism. The variety of thought and life is fascinating to me,” she noted.
Farm to Fork
Smith knew that it was important to be involved in the process of bringing food to people’s plates, and she used her film and storytelling skills to produce “Farm to Fork Wyoming.”
“I went to famers’ markets and heard from people saying that farmers’ markets are the only way to know where our food is coming from,” she commented.
The people she spoke to wanted to have the connections, communities and discussions about what they are eating.
“They want to know what we are asking farmers to do and what their reality is,” Smith stated.
She set out to find people who come from generations of experience in Wyoming.
In her first season of the series, she spoke to beekeepers, grass-fed beef producers, managers of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, dairy herd-share operators, local-distribution produce growers and the Sheridan County School District about working with local producers for their school lunch program.
“I did a story on Curtis Haderlie, who is a third generation farmer,” Smith commented.
Haderlie, a Star Valley rancher, found that there was a market with premium prices for locally-grown vegetables.
“He has figured out how to extend the season and grow a variety of crops, and he has animals on the farm in an integrated system,” Smith explained.
She also spoke with Frank Wallis, who was instrumental in the creation of a dairy herd-share in northeast Wyoming.
“Consumers want to taste the flavor of the land and the whole local experience,” stated Smith.
Another one of her episodes featured Maggie McAllister, who runs a CSA at an altitude of 7,200 feet, growing a variety crop with a lot of greens.
Outisde of vegetable and produce production, Smith also looked at beef and bees.
“The Thoman brothers were also fascinating to me,” Smith continued, listing another featured operation.
The Thomans began a grass-fed beef operation near Riverton to capitalize on the premium market prices.
“They penciled it out, worked out the process and analyzed the markets,” Smith commented. “They target a niche market.”
She also spoke with a biologist and educator near Sinks Canyon.
“I did a bee episode and interviewed Jack States. The States were pioneers outside of Lander. He loves to give bee workshops,” stated Smith.
Smith’s most recent episode featured the Sheridan County School District in Big Horn.
“The Big Horn school recently threw out the USDA subsidies and is self-financing their school lunch program,” Smith explained.
The school works with local producers to provide fresh and nutritious meals for students and teachers.
“Schools have a kitchen facility and a staff, but they would rather dump something out of a bag than use their culinary skills to give a nourishing meal. Big Horn is trying to turn that ship around,” stated Smith.
Many of Smith’s episodes in the “Farm to Fork Wyoming” series feature people who prepare food, such as the head chef in the Big Horn school kitchen.
“I think chefs are wonderful ambassadors,” she commented.
Haderlie also provides produce for one chef in particular in Teton Village who is mentioned in Smith’s documentary.
“I love to see this kind of farm-to-fork connection, where the chef gets to know the farmer and has an audience that likes to explore their food adventure through hiscreativity. The chef then conveys the story of the farmer to the audience,” she explained.
Smith hopes that her series will help people to connect, and she encouraged people to tell their stories, as well. She encouraged people to contact Wyoming PBS if they have ideas to share.
“We have a great group of people at the PBS station. They are very dedicated to Wyoming and telling Wyoming’s story,” she said.