I have an embarrassing confession: I am terrified of flying. I've tried everything I can think of to get over it (deep breathing, Dramamine, and even, yes, a self-help book called "Fly Without Fear"), yet I still end up locking the armrest in a death grip on every flight. It was after my last trip, when the nice woman from Wyoming sitting next to me became so concerned that she offered to hold my hand during takeoff, that I decided I really needed to grow up and get over it. And lo and behold, the Food and Society conference in Phoenix provided me with an opportunity to test out a new tactic.
I grew up listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion with my parents each and every Saturday night. To my youthful ears, Keillor's voice sounded a lot like my dad's; perhaps as a result, things associated with the state of Minnesota have always felt warmly familiar. I'd been meaning to check out a recently-launched podcast from the Twin Cities-based Land Stewardship Project and figured that if anything could take on my high-altitude demon and win, it would be a whopping dose of Minnesota Nice. So I loaded up a 'pod-full of LSP's Ear to the Ground podcasts before leaving home.
Once in flight, I put the Minnesota magic to work -- only, of course, after we'd passed 10,000 feet, and only after reading the emergency procedures card in my seatback pocket very, very carefully. Episode #41 was a conversation with two young farmers about the challenges and opportunities of farming on the urban fringe. #47 was a re-broadcast of an incredible talk by the economic development director for Woodbury County, IA, a community that has used policy tools to build a new food system around organic production and local processing. (Grist's Tom Philpott, perennially ahead of the curve, wrote about it in this 2006 post.) #42 featured UC Berkeley's Tyrone Hayes and his groundbreaking research on the impacts of Atrazine, a pesticide used on corn throughout the Midwest. (He's found that it turns testosterone to estrogen in frogs.) And the chirping crickets audible throughout #45 had me feeling closer to heaven than I'd ever been at 38,000 feet. I even relaxed my grip on the armrest.
I've been thinking a lot recently about how small non-profits can use new media tools to more effectively amplify their messages and the voices of their constituents. Ear to the Ground is one example of what's possible. High-end it's definitely not: most of the casts are minimally-edited conversations between LSP's Brian DeVore and local farmers and researchers. But I found their stories of building sustainable local food systems in the Midwest both informative and inspiring.
The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs' Video Wall is another example (if a slightly less portable one, at least under my current technological limitations). There are also a growing number of farmers who use new media to tell their own stories directly; I'm excited about Friend o' Ethicurean Zoe Bradbury's blog Diary of a Young Farmer.
If you have suggestions for other ag-related sources of in-flight distraction, please pass them along in the comments section. I have a nightmarish cross-country flight with three stops (can you say budget?) coming up next month, so I'd best start preparing now.
Photo: iStock photo