Ode to podcasts: Down on the farm at 38,000 feet

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

3 Responsesto “Ode to podcasts: Down on the farm at 38,000 feet”

  1. thm says:

    I apologize for being so off-topic on the first comment, but as far as listening to podcasts on airplanes goes, especially if your aim is to lose yourself in the podcast and forget you're on a plane in the first place, it would be very much worth considering <a href="http://www.etymotic.com">Etymotic Research's</a> <a href="http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/er4.aspx">ER4 earphones</a>, or one of their more value-priced models. These are earplugs with the earphone element inside of them. They provide a tremendous acoustic isolation from background noises--much more so than noise-cancelling headphones. When you turn on your music or podcasts, you are nearly completely isolated from any noise around you, as if in a little bubble. As a bonus, because of the degree to which they block out background noise, you don't have to turn your iPod up nearly as much to overcome the background noise, so you don't subject your ears to such loud sounds.

  2. azurite says:

    Also OT--have you thought about checking Amtrak's website to see if sometimes you could take a train instead?  Much more energy efficient, easier to work while you travel, etc.

  3. Tipster says:

    So, I know that the fear-of-flying was just your anecdotal lede, but I had to chime in about this since I used to be so terrified of flying myself. I was always eliciting the sympathy of kindly strangers offering to do things like hold my hand during takeoff. Turbulence was the worst--with every bump I became more and more certain that the flight was doomed. I'm not usually one for pill popping, but in the case of my fear of flying, anti-anxiety medication really worked. I got a prescription for a 15 hour trip to Thailand, took one pill, and I was REALLY surprised at how well it worked--no more white knuckles, concerned strangers, asking the flight attendants "is it normally this bumpy" etc. I didn't feel weird or high or anything, just not nervous. The strangest part is that now I don't need the medicine anymore. It's like my body learned how not to be nervous or something. So, yeah, just a thought.