This Friday, July 8, at 6 p.m., Chicago artist and author Daniel Tucker will be appearing at Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana to promote the book that he co-authored, Farm Together Now: A portrait of people, places and ideas for a new food movement. Admission is free, and you can RSVP for the event on Facebook here.

The book is a compilation of interviews and photo essays profiling 20 different progressive farms across the United States, including three in Illinois (the closest is AquaRanch in Flanagan, which is west of Pontiac). Tucker describes it as an effort to "document the people that were experimenting with solutions to that broken [food] system." Below is a video with snapshots of each of the farms featured in the book:

 

I spoke with Daniel Tucker on the phone on Wednesday, as he was making his way back to Chicago.

Smile Politely: Can you talk about the Farm Together Now project, and your role in making that happen?

Daniel Tucker: Sure. Back in the fall of 2008, my collaborator, Amy Franceschini, and I were working on a book together, and we were discussing all the different books that had come out in the last few years, an explosion of literature that was related to the food system, and describing the way that the food system is broken. We thought that a contribution that we could make to that conversation would be to document the people that were experimenting with solutions to that broken system. So, we rolled out our map and started making lists of people that we knew across the country, and people that we'd heard of, and basically coming up with a game plan to travel across the US and document those people: the farmers and food-related organizations that were experimenting with solutions to the broken food system. So, we brought on a photographer, Anne Hamersky, who is based out of San Francisco, and plotted out this tour across the US, doing interviews and photo essays for each farm across the country. There's 20 total in the book.

Smile Politely: How many of those did you visit personally? Did the three of you go to each of them, or did you divide and conquer?

Daniel Tucker: I visited 10 of them; basically, I did the ones that were in the middle of the massive country, which included everything from Nebraska to Atlanta and stuff here in the Midwest, since I live in Chicago. Amy lives in San Francisco, so she did the West Coast, and then did the East Coast as well. But we took 10 each, and except for a few where we happened to be in the same place, we did interviews separately and then weaved them together.

Smile Politely: Which farm that you visited made the biggest impact on you personally? Can you talk a little bit about a specific experience that you had?

Daniel Tucker: I feel like the farm that really sticks out -- I mean, they're all inspiring, because we spent a long time picking out who we were going to visit -- would be Sandhill Farm, which is northeast Missouri. Sandhill was impressive because they were one of the intentional community farms that we visited, meaning that all the people that work that land, they live together, cook meals together, work together, and it's kind of a '70s era back to the land commune. That was something that I had some idea of what that might look like, but I had not spent a lot of time around them. So, I was excited to see one that had actually been really successful, because a lot of those '60s and '70s era experiments ended up not lasting very long. This was one that's lasted 35 years, so it's pretty inspiring just for that reason. But I think the thing that's incredible about Sandhill is that they harvest all of their own wheat and grain on-site, and they mill their wheat down and make flour, and they're self-sufficient in a way that most people don't even try to be - it's just super complicated. And they're doing a really great job; they produce 80 percent, sometimes even more, of their own food on-site. And the stuff that they don't produce, most of it comes from really close by. I don't expect that everyone can or should do that kind of thing, but it's nice to see it in action, and see that a relatively small number of people who are committed to living together can actually do it.

Smile Politely: What can people expect on Friday night?

Daniel Tucker: Basically, I'm going to give a digital slideshow of photos from all the farms that we visited, and introduce the ideas behind the book, and introduce people to a couple of the farms that we visited in more detail, and discuss some of the stuff that I found inspiring about them, and discuss some of the things that I was more critical about, or contradictions that I see in emerging food movements. And then I'll just open it up for questions, because I know a lot of folks in Champaign and Urbana are doing great work as well, and I'm curious to hear from them.

Smile Politely: What was the best thing that you ate while researching the book?

Daniel Tucker: A meal that sticks out is this bull testicle and corn stew in southern Colorado that was from meat and corn produced in an Acequia farm -- Acequia is an ancient kind of irrigation technology. It was just an incredible meal, and like nothing I'd tasted before, but I had a lot of incredible meals.

Smile Politely: Was there anything that you wanted to make sure to mention that we haven't talked about?

Daniel Tucker: In terms of the event on Friday, it's relevant to folks that are interested in local food issues, for sure, but I would also say it's relevant to people who are interested in documentaries, and social movements, and urban planning, and rural planning, and cooperative living and cooperative businesses. It has a broad relevance, and we really try to document a wide range of practices that are related to food, but we didn't limit our lens to talking about food. We used food as the lens to talk about all sorts of other social and environmental issues. I think it's got broad appeal and relevance.