Bluebird Sky

by Chad Weber

Illustrations and animation by Cameron Walker

The challenges of the world are overwhelming.

The obstacles of starting a farm, supporting a local food system, and fighting climate change are overwhelming.

 

The only answer is to try.

The only option is optimism.

Why Make a Film About a Local Farm

When deciding to make a film - I'm honestly looking at topics I'm interested in learning about.

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it.

In my case...the best way to understand something - is to try to make a film about it. If I can't put it together in a way I can understand it...I can't expect an audience to understand it. And I see my average intellect as an advantage in this case to relate to other people on a similar level.

So if you're like me driving around Boulder County...you've seen all these beautiful small farms.

And if you're like me... you've heard buzzwords like organic, regenerative agriculture, permaculture, etc. They seem like good things...right? But what do they actually mean?

What's good for my body? What's good for the earth? What's realistic for my pocketbook?

What is the real change I want to affect and what are the costs?

These prices at the farmer's market seem really high compared to the grocery store.

But factory farming seems bad...

Also I've heard animals are causing climate change...

So what's the "right" thing to do? I've got questions.

So if you're like me and you've developed an initial interest in supporting local agriculture...you started dropping by the farmers market, maybe hitting a farm stand, or buying into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It feels good to meet the people behind your food. The quality seems better. The prices though...are intimidating compared to what I'm used to. Why are they higher? What do these buzzwords actually mean?

I started having conversations with farmers in the community including Catherine Blackwell who was working at Brown's Farm in Niwot at the time and members of the Boulder County Young Farmer's Coalition. I started learning about some of the challenges of the ag space. These are challenges I've tried to condense into this short film to get the ball rolling for an audience. To get them to start asking questions...like I've started to do. As a filmmaker I want everyone to feel like we're on a jourey together... to learn different perspectives. Not to preach the gospel and show everyone the "right" way. But to try to learn and understand.

 

I really started to get a fuller picture when I met Annaliese and Danny.

Finding Annaliese and Danny

I had made an effort to reach out to several farms and organizations to learn about potential stories and while I had some great conversations over the phone...I hadn't had anyone willing to be featured so far. To be fair... it's not the most normal request to propose.

There's this guy...and he want's to film you, follow you around all day and ask you questions about your farm. Which mind you...not necessarily all farming practices are settled matters without naysayers and differing opinions. And by the way...you're a busy farmer trying to tend to the work of the day.

 

This film started like they all kind of seem to.

With some intent and some happenstance.

I had been buying eggs from Annaliese and Danny for a little while after finding them through a Google search. I was on the way back from a hike with the pup at Lefthand Canyon near Jamestown. I often picked up eggs on the way back home along Nelson road. This time - when I stopped by - Annaliese and Danny happened to be outside and actually mistook me for a friend of theirs. We started chatting and to my surprise they were like "Sure - you can film us...When works for you?". Something along those lines.

We met up a couple more times so I could learn more about their story before filming.

I started to realize I had really opened up a can of worms this time.

I started to seeing all of these challenges and variables in the ag space and the local food system.

Land access. Soil health. Water usage. Labor costs. Animal conditions. Land treatment.

Regenerative agriculture. Rotational grazing. Livestock's role in RegGen farming and climate change.

Tiling practices. Concentrated animal feed operations. The aging farmer population. The desire for those able to pay to higher food prices to pay them. The ability for those unable to pay them.

How to make it as small farmers. How to fight against normalized expectations and convince people to change actions when the benefits are in the long term. How to feed a country, nourish our bodies, and fight climate change with small farms....

So many roads seemed to end at feeling overwhelmed.

And that road has led me to the central thesis of this film which is "Do Try". As Annaliese says in the film..."The only option is to be optimistic. Just do one thing. Do try."

It seems the other option is to throw up our hands. To bow in resignation. But I believe trying is the answer. It won't always be a great sucess. We're not always going to be consistent or perfect. We may not buy eggs from a local farm every time. We may not pay the extra for livestock raised with regenerative livestock techniques. But if we continue to try...we'll do those things sometimes. And that's a start. I still go out to eat and buy food at Walmart. But...it's about trying. Making one change in your life. And try to build on that. What can you afford now? Start asking questions. Talk to your friends and family about these topics.

I'm not saying Annaliese and Danny have all the answers (and they're not either).

I find their story compelling and I truly believe they are trying to do the right thing.

I'm also drawn to their perspective because they're not trying to preach to other people.

This is how they feel about farming and food. And it's how they currently feel. They could change.

 

Changing Minds. Changing Guts.

Filmmaking or just conversation in general is about meeting people where they are. Not trying to scold them, preach, or tell them how it is. I don't think people are likely to change their mind or even listen to you if you take that approach. And I don't see value in only reenforcing the views of people who are already hold a particular view.

 

So my goal and mindset as a filmmaker is to try and embark on a journey together with the audience.

To ask questions with the goals of trying to understand my subject's perspective and how they came to their conclusions.

Their epistemology. Their journey. Their backstory.

Annaliese and Danny's backstory is quite remarkable...considering they now raise livestock as part of an effort to fight climate change.

They both have changed their minds.

Now their biggest challenge is getting others to change their minds.

In order to make it as a farm and as a planet.

 

Both avoided eating meat in the past for years at a time. And both thought about meat consumption the way many people feel about it today.

 

They don't think much about it.

They can't afford higher quality meats.

They avoid it for ethical reasons.

They avoid it to for climate change.

Now they both raise meat - in part - for the same reasons they avoid it.

Raising livestock to fight climate change.

Hopefully in the long term finding ways to get their products into the hands of lower-income households (another topic the film didn't dive into).

Changing minds is not easy. Especially when the results aren't immediate and tangible.

I didn't croak today after eating twinkies and mocha-lattes everyday for the past month.

The earth didn't become a barren hellscape after years of pollution.

So we're probably good for another day, right?

Plus, many people have situations directly in their face that they're trying to get through in the moment.

They can't necessarily be bothered with the world challenge of the day. War. Poverty. Social Justice.

Trying to raise children, deal with personal issues, or just make it through another day dealing with depression. Or maybe they're focused on another worldwide issue deserving of their focus.

I don't claim to have the answers either. But I think trying and developing a curiosity is the right course of action.

 

 

Making Films. Makes an Impact.

I'm always intrigued by the meta effects of the stories I'm editing. It might be cheesy - but I'm always taking lessons from my subjects when I'm working on the films.

Filmmaking is hard. It's hard to craft these stories into compelling, honest pieces. You're at the risk of making a two minute compelling piece that loses all of the details and nuance of someone's story. Or dragging on into a two hour diatribe packed full of detail and reinforced ideas that drags on and loses interest. And also the challenge of connecting themes into a story structure that flows. Finding the right music. Finding the time to work on these non-funded projects during a full work load. See where I'm going again...to being overwhelmed?

The only option is to try.

 

I thought that many times to myself throughout the project. It helped give myself grace. "Just do one thing". Maybe I didn't create a perfect film or find solutions to every creative challenge I had along the way...but all I can do is try

 

So I know their story impacted me. And in this case I became just a hair less lonely in the filmmaking process...because I know it affected one other individual as well.

Animation and New Collaborators

As I mentioned at the start...I wanted to be able to understand some of these buzzwords we hear like organic and regenerative farming. In this film I decided to focus in on regenerative farming. Rotational grazing in particular. It's a pet peeve of mine when these words are just thrown around in films and in conversation without discussing what they mean. Is it just me...or does anyone else wonder what we're talking about when we throw terms around?

So to do this justice I wanted to create a short animation depicting the process of rotational grazing - as described by Annaliese and Danny. Although I got some kudos for my initial placeholder sketches...it was always my plan to enlist the services of a professional in this field. You be the judge...

 

 

 

I reached out to a few animators, having never worked with any of them. I described my project as I looked for someone that hopefully shared a passion and interest in this subject. I could only provide so much incentive from a financial point of view through my own pockets - so I was hoping to find someone who was the right fit.

I was able to connect with Cameron Walker who I had shared emails with in the past but had never worked with before or actually met. I had been a fan of Camerons for a while and was pumped to have her on board.

She ended up creating the regenerative ag explainer portion of the film as well as titles.

And she even came up with the name "Bluebird Sky".

Cameron was even able to meet Annaliese and Danny during a visit to the farm. She's expressed the impact their story has had on her through the power of optimism.

 

So much happens during the journey to create these films. The relationships formed and the experiences throughout. I think that may remain unknown to the general public. There are so many smaller stories and moments. I think that's important to recognize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until Next Season

This film doesn't answer every question. It doesn't address every issue.

It's just a peek into the lives of one couple trying to make a difference.

There's a lot of other topics in the ag space I had to set aside for another time. It's vast and not everything is universal to every farm, region, breed of animal, etc...

Not every answer is absolute. Or realistic. Or answerable.

 

I hope this film is just a start.

There are many other young farmers here in Boulder County trying to make a difference.

There's so much more for all of us to learn and continue questioning.

Next time your feeling overwhelmed by a personal situation or all the challenges of the world...

I'd encourage you to take the advice of a twenty something former vegetarian from the suburbs and current regenerative livestock farmer in Colorado and...Do try.

-Chad

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April 2021

Pre-filming visit

Interview setup

What indie documentary filmmaking looks like.

(We swung the mic when the other person would like to talk.)

Filming on site

 

Don't squint. That's the whole production crew.

Placeholder vs final

Cameron visiting the farm.