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Food Forward: The Feel-Good Food Series

Food Forward: The Feel-Good Food Series

By Kristina Sepetys

greg_stettBerkeley resident and filmmaker Greg Roden and his long-time friend and collaborator, the food journalist Stett Holbrook, think that the myriad problems with the American food system have been depressingly well documented. They’re more interested in solutions. So they’ve made the pilot for what they hope will become a 13-part public television series introducing viewers to people Holbrook describes as “the pioneers and innovators who are changing our food system.”

Food Forward’s pilot episode, which screened in Berkeley in late spring and is expected to air on public television stations this fall, profiles urban farmers around the country who are turning abandoned, blighted lots, rooftop gardens, and even shopping mall atriums into productive farmland supplying organically and sustainably grown foods at affordable prices to their communities. The episode interviews farmers in Brooklyn, Madison, Detroit, Cleveland, the Twin Cities, and, of course, the East Bay. These “American food rebels,” as Holbrook and Roden describe them, are ordinary individuals doing extraordinarily creative and innovative things to change how they and their communities eat. In the process, they are creating real possibilities for transforming the industrial food system.

The face of the Bay Area in the first segment is West Oakland’s Abeni Ramsey. After working with City Slicker Farms and Dig Deep Farms, Ramsey went on to create her own City Girl Farms in San Leandro. She sells produce from her farm to her community as well as to Oakland’s Flora restaurant.

When the pilot was screened to a packed house at the Brower Center’s Goldman Theater, it received an enthusiastic reception, suggesting that the series could prove to be very popular. If it actually gets made, that is. Being independent producers, Holbrook and Roden need to raise an estimated $1.5 to $2 million to fully fund creation of the 13 half-hour segments. Once those are in the can, KQED Presents will assist Holbrook and Roden with national distribution of the production via the Public Broadcasting System. Roden says, “This isn’t like pitching a series to the Food Network, which might purchase the rights to the show at the outset. We need to raise every dollar we spend from corporate underwriters. We chose this route to maintain control over the content and ensure journalistic integrity.”

Right now, the focus is entirely on raising those dollars. Holbrook began their fundraising campaign by subletting his house in Santa Cruz, taking a leave from his job as food writer at Metro Silicon Valley, and loading up his wife and two children in a 1965 26-foot silver-bullet Airstream trailer. But after two months on the road, that approach proved too expensive and too challenging for his family. So he’s parked the trailer and together with Roden, he’s heading around the country this summer and fall (using more traditional transportation) to screen the pilot, raise funding for the series, and search out new “Food Rebels” to profile in future episodes. The duo currently has corporate sponsorships from Organic Valley, International Studies Abroad, and Annie’s. Asked whether he would consider funding from industrial food producers and distributors, Holbrook said, “I’d have to say yes. They need to be part of any solution.”

At the screening I attended, an audience member raised her hand to say she felt motivated and inspired by the film but didn’t know the first thing about planting a tomato. Not to worry, says Holbrook: The series will be supplemented by a variety of online content, with plans including weekly webisodes, how-to cooking (and gardening) demos, recipes, travelogues, blogs, and slide shows.

Holbrook and Roden are currently on the road and hope to host more screenings across the country. Details can be found on their blog at www.foodforward.tv, where you can also watch the trailer.

Kristina Sepetys has written extensively on economic and environmental policy issues for many publications including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Journal of Environmental Law and Practice. She lives in Berkeley with her family and can be reached at kmsepetys@yahoo.com.

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