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Environmental Journalism Interview with FTN

June 7, 2011

Earlier this spring Liz Pacheco from Michigan State University’s Environmental Journalism program, publishers of EJ Magazine, stopped by my office to interview me about Farm Together Now. This interview was pretty different than others I have done because it placed greater emphasis on the process of putting FTN together. Here are some highlights:

EJ Magazine: Where did the initial idea for Farm Together Now come from?

Daniel Tucker: “One thing we talked a lot about when we started the project was that there was an incredible array of food-related literature out in the world that was describing the problems of the food system and creating an analysis. We felt like our contribution could be more. Even if there are occasional articles or spots in a documentary that highlight different sustainable farming practices, there wasn’t really a documentary project that profiled a wide range of people and gave a sense of the diversity and complexity that make up this emerging social movement around food. We’re not experts, we’re not people who can necessarily provide you with the best analysis of what’s wrong with the food system.

EJ: Previous work you’ve done hasn’t been directly tied to the food movement, so why write about food?

DT: ….So, for me, the question is really about what are the most exciting and inspiring, challenging, hopeful social movements that exist in this country right now.

“One answer to that is that food justice, food sovereignty, even slow food [movements] bubbling up across the country are certainly part of an international trend that I look to and I see as undeniably important right now. So, for someone who studies and documents social movements of all varieties—both the unsuccessful ones that are still interesting and worth looking at and the more emerging and vibrant and, lets say, more successful ones—it made sense to orient around a really exciting field, like food activism, that’s happening right now.”

EJ: Are there any places you had wished you had visited, but didn’t?

DT: “We did the best we could with our limited resources, but there are so many places not in the book that it’s hard to pin down. But definitely one place I was curious to go to was Miami. My understanding is a lot of the urban agriculture work happening there is closely connected with activism around fighting evictions. People are making an interesting link between affordable housing and using open space for food production that I think is an unusual mix. A group called Take Back the Land is basically taking back houses that people had been evicted from and putting [those people back] in houses. Then, [Take Back the Land] said if we’re doing stuff around urban land use, then we should also be talking about other things people need, which includes food. And so, they started squatting, taking over empty land and growing their own food. That seemed really exciting to me and I’m sad that we didn’t get to go down there, but their work, in terms of food production, was just starting to take off when we started working on the book……..

EJ: Why did you decide to use the interview format?

DT: “The interview format felt particularly important because we were looking at people experimenting with solutions to the broken food system and we wanted to present their voices as directly as possible. I also personally just love interviews. I’ve done a lot of big interview projects, it’s a format I’m really comfortable with and interested in too. We felt like [the interview format] would also be the most acceptable to people who may or may not have a lot of good experiences with journalists. There’s a lot of fear of being misrepresented…especially among the people who are taking on huge fights, have dedicated their lives to this work, and have risked a lot along the way. That’s a concern I think is shared among a lot of different practitioners, but that I encountered certainly among the people that we interviewed. We felt the interview was a way we could make them most comfortable with the process.”

EJ: What was the editing process like?

DT: “Amy and I did about 10 interviews each, so there are slightly different styles we had to account for in editing to make them seem like they were sort of done in a unified voice. We had 20,000- to 50,000-word transcripts that were amazing documents that I hope sometime we can present excerpts from on our website. The way to make decisions was really to look at the book as a whole. We had to map out the book in terms of issues and key words we felt we had to have in the book. If we felt like there were redundancies across the interviews, then we would eliminate those. Even though we wanted the interview to stand alone, we wanted it also to be a complete project that felt integrated. Really the limitation for us is part of our interest in the way different people in different contexts use different language to talk about very similar things. That was one of the things we were able to experience as authors, but that didn’t come through as much in the book.”

Read the whole interview here.

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