*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 9, 2018, Local Edition
By Josh Yoder
Today, there is a growing desire from consumers to be aware of where their food comes from. With more than 8,000 digital downloads and 23 episodes, two first-time podcasters are bridging the gap between the fields where food is grown and the grocery store shelves on which products are available to the public.
Kick-started by two Organic Valley Co-op Regional Pool Managers Bryan Wood and Mike Kline, the “Back to the Roots” podcast is branching outwardly into the organic farming industry to shed light on the friends and families that are working hard to keep organic farming in the hands of the community.
“The mission behind Organic Valley is to make the family farm viable enough to bring the next generation back to the family farm,” Kline said.
As regional pool managers, Kline and Wood act as liaisons between the organization and the 2,044 member farms in the Midwest that comprise the co-op, performing animal care audits, checking in with farmers, putting on meetings and attending trade shows as ambassadors of Organic Valley. But outside of their work duties, they’ ve pooled resources to provide commentary on all things agriculture related.
According to Wood, who services Organic Valley’s Michigan and Northern Indiana partners, more than 40 percent of members are of the Plain Community. The podcast’s origins stem from the Plain Project, a company initiative to educate the people living outside of Plain Communities.
“There was sort of a disconnect between English and Plain,” Wood said. “There was a lack of information going back to the employees, like myself, who didn’t have previous exposure to a lot of the Amish and Mennonite families.”
For years prior, the podcast was just a hypothetical possibility for Wood and Kline. Sparked by the company initiative, Kline spontaneously bought a microphone, and the podcast was born.
“What we initially wanted to do through the podcast was show that Plain people are regular people,” Wood said. “We wanted to have a conversational setting, like we’re sitting around a campfire recording, so people can see they deal with the same issues as the English community.”
The start-up was funded out of pocket, but a licensing agreement with Organic Valley, which allows the company to use any audio, recouped the pair’s initial investment, and a grant through Farmers Advocating For Organics (FAFO) provided a small fund covering travel to other regions. This gives “Back to the Roots” more opportunity than what would have been afforded independently.
“We wanted to own the audio because we didn’t want to be told who to interview or what to ask,” Wood said. “Any audio we make, Organic Valley can use in whichever way they please.”
Indirectly tied to their jobs, Wood and Kline have a unique opportunity to speak with people whom very few people have access to. They got the ball rolling with their first episode by speaking with Kline’s father, local author and voice within the farming community, David Kline, about the history of the Amish and Mennonite and their immigration to America, set- ting the foundation on the Plain Project.
“We try to do our podcasts on location at a farmer’s own farm,” Kline said. “It’s great to see a farmer in his own environment, where he’s more comfortable speaking because it gives a sense of the drive behind what they do because, let’s face it, the hours of a farmer are not easy.”
Using the connections and duties of Organic Valley, Kline and Wood delve deeper into topics than they would if they were just stopping by to check out the farm.
“Most small farms are like a family unit, with the cows and other animals like extended family,” Kline said. “So when you sit down with them, you get into things you never would if you were on the farm just talking to the husband. It’s really neat to get in-depth with people.”
Since their inaugural episode with Kline, “Back to the Roots” has been hosted by major names in sustainable agriculture like Wes Jack- son and Wendell Berry.
Jackson is the founder and president of The Land Institute in Kansas and author of several books including “New Roots for Agriculture,” “Becoming Native to This Place,” “Consulting the Genius of the Place“ and “Nature as Measure” and is one of Life magazine’s 18 individuals predicted to be among the 100 important Americans of the century.
Berry is a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, farmer and winner of many literary and advocacy awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship Award and the Rockefeller Fellowship Award. The member of the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame graced the back page of Time magazine’s October edition before sitting down with “Back to the Roots” in 2017.
“If you’re creating something, you want to do something that you feel like nobody is doing because you’re filling that void,” Wood said.
Through their exposure of voices in the organic industry, the podcast has opened a world of possibilities with an abundance of potential contacts and subjects to cover.
Anyone can listen to their first 23 episodes on Kitchen or at their website, http://b2rpodcast.com. The podcast also includes a call-in function through the Midwest Conference Line. Listen to the David Kline episode on the history of the Amish and Mennonite by calling 712-432- 8776 and entering the pin 76687.