Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"In the age of Van Jones, nothing is ephemeral": Live-Blogging the 13th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference - Day 3

I've been getting up way too early for this thing.

Anyway, that title quote comes from a session on social media at the conference this morning, from a person whose name I'll withhold for obvious/meta reasons.

If you want some names though, here are a couple: Curt Ellis and Tom Vilsack.

Curt's (and Ian's) work has been a major inspiration for me the last couple years, and actually the title screen for PolyCultures is an homage to the title screen in King Corn. As a filmmaker and a fellow for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Curt was perhaps the person I was most hoping to meet at the conference. So I was disappointed to not see him on the roster or floating around the conference... until I sat down for an end-of-the-day lecture in the main hall and realized he literally was sitting right in front of me. He then got up to leave, and I scrambled to hand him a gratis DVD of PolyCultures and introduce myself (in that order, heh). I asked if he would mind stepping out and chatting with me for a bit, and he actually seemed happy to do so. We ended up talking for more than half an hour, mainly about strategies deployed and lessons learned with King Corn that may apply to our distribution of PolyCultures - but also fanning out into other things, like his new project Big River, which was a last-minute addition to the film festival that night (which unfortunately I wasn't able to stick around for, but that I'm excited to see and quite possibly champion). Great guy, great interaction - called Tom immediately and told him "mission accomplished."

Another late addition to the program was a speech from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack. He addressed the whole conference about what is happening at a federal level to promote the types of programs that those of us at this conference are behind. I found it informative, particularly their freshly-unveiled "Know your farmer, know your food" program. Most of all for me though - as someone who is not nearly as well-versed on issues of federal food policy as at least half the room - what I really took away from it was the sense that despite his many ties to Big Ag... this guy gets it.

Secretary Vilsack has for some time been patiently sitting on our list of people we'd like to get a copy of PolyCultures to, and I realized that this might be as good a chance as any...

So I slipped my business card into a fresh DVD as he was wrapping up and was going to approach his security detail and see if I might be able to get a moment with him, but by time I got near them it seemed he'd slipped out the back door. I darted out of the conference room looking to see if there was any chance I could see him on the street or something - and sure enough, there he was heading out through the main lobby. I ran down the stairs and across the lobby at a slow sprint - thinking, you know, it's maybe not the best of all possible ideas to run full-speed at a U.S. Cabinet member surrounded by several Secret Service agents. But I did it anyway, knowing that within seconds he would be whisked away in what I now saw was their characteristically governmental black SUV. I came up to one guy who referred me to an aide on the other side of the vehicle Secretary Vilsack had just climbed into. I approached him with my DVD/card and asked him if he would give it to the secretary - he said he'd hand it right to him. I tapped him on the shoulder in appreciation and walked away... stunned at what I'd just succeeded at doing.

Oh, and also I showed the movie yesterday. 25 people came out - which was cool, given that it was during the only on-your-own lunch (key opportunity for most in attendance) and that there wasn't even the subtitle of the film (let alone a graphic or short description) in the conference program. It was the world-premiere of the 56-minute cut, and people seemed to like it. I sold one DVD on the spot to a gentleman who suggested we convey to potential users what sections might be relevant to their interests - already on it, and now it's better prioritized. I think we lined up at least one public screening, possibly planting the seeds for several. And Chris Norman tossed me a softball to pontificate about the sustainability efforts in Cleveland I've seen since my return. It was pretty good.

Well, this is the end of my coverage of this conference at this conference. But I have a long drive home and may well add another post or two as my thoughts on this amazing experience continue to evolve...


  1. Would love to have seen your chasing after the Ag Sec. I was waiting to read that you got tackled or something! You described it well. Will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.

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