In an effort to capture more than just another epic pow shot, POWDER contributing photographer Tomas Zuccareno went back to the farm—literally. Longtime skier Zuccareno spent the last two years co-directing a feature film highlighting diehard skiers and farmers who care about their food, their community, and reducing their carbon footprint.
How We Grow features a group of young farmers just outside of Carbondale, Colorado, and discusses education, legislation, community, food access, and micro-finance. The 10-minute film is an inspiring look into the Roaring Fork Valley's farm-to-market community.
POWDER caught up with Zuccareno, 49, to talk skiing, farming, and how the two are essential to each other.
Danielle: What is How We Grow?
Tom Z: How We Grow is a movie about ambitious young farmers building community around locally grown food. I believe that our food systems in the United States suffer from a lot of negative influences, and I grew up on a small family farm so this is something that's been easy for me to see for a long time.
Why is this relevant to skiers?
The reason this is relevant to skiers is kind of two-fold. To charge hard, you have to eat well. If you don't give your body good gas, it can't go as hard. Chris Davenport is a perfect example of that; the dude eats well (he's a vegetarian) and he charges super hard. Go through the Top 20 Powder Award winners and look at their diet and their nutrition and how much they're focused on putting good food in their body. You'll probably find 15 of them have very specific nutrition ideas.
If we want to keep skiing powder, and Protect Our Winters will tell you this time and time again, we have to start changing the way we think about our carbon footprints and the way we use resources on this planet. The farmers in How We Grow use far less water, no chemicals—they are much kinder to the planet. By supporting a local, organic farmer, you're playing a big part in saving the planet, reducing global warming, and hoping for more powder days.
How can skiers get started in the local food revolution?
By going to the farmer's market instead of the supermarket; going to restaurants that buy food from local farmers; supporting legislators that work toward legislation that help young farmers; and urging community leaders to start programs that give young farmers access to the land.
What have you taken away from creating this film? What skills from your years of ski photography have transferred over to filming?
The way we shot How We Grow was full journalism. I just chased the farmers around for 18 months and shot what they were doing. It's just like when you go out skiing. You have an idea about where that perfect powder turn is going to be, you have an idea about what you want to do when you head out the door, but really, it's dependent on conditions, weather, how hungover the skier's going to be, etc. Did they feed themselves right? Are they actually going to charge? So when you go out to shoot skiing, you just have to take what the day presents to you. Coming from a ski photography background really helped me film this documentary because I never knew what I was going to get. I would just say, Okay. I'm going to be at this farm at sunrise and let's see what happens.
Why did you create this film?
I really wanted to do something to be involved in a project that was more than just selling lift tickets. I wanted to show the world that skiers do care. So outside of just being a member of Protect Our Winters, I wanted to go out there and show people that, Yeah, look. I'm a skier, and I live in a place of privilege, but we care here too and we're trying to do our best.
What are your hopes for this film? What do you see coming from it?
We hope that if community leaders and young people see our movie, they'll be inspired to create the systems that support young people to become farmers, so that more young people will make that choice [to be a farmer]. There's a lot of important pieces of a puzzle that have to fall together and How We Grow is kind of a roadmap to all those pieces.
So the average age of a farmer is 58? That's pretty terrifying.
Right! I mean, think about it—if young people don't become farmers, we're not gonna have anything to eat. We need to engage more people in the act of farming because those kids are growing up watching their parents on giant agri-business farms die of cancer, and they don't want anything to do with it.
They're watching their parents being straddled by debt from a larger system of crop insurance that dictates that you have to buy seeds and sprays from Monsanto before they give you insurance. And so, when you're growing 4,000 acres of soybeans, you've got everything in one not-diverse market, but you need that crop insurance. Our agriculture systems have turned into a space where the farmer as we know it is straddled in debt and really imprisoned in that type of monetary cycle. And that's what's super rad about the way a small scale, environmentally sensitive, sustainable farmer is doing things. They're not so upside down in cow binds and tractors and fertilizer and seed costs— they're essentially doing it all with their hands and very small tools that are relatively affordable; especially with micro-finance groups like Slow Money Institute.
Do we really want to continue to eat genetically modified soybeans that are destroying the water table and destroying our soil because of the way they're produced?
What has been the most difficult part while creating this film?
Farmers work 14-hour days without stopping. They're the hardest working people on this planet. If you think about the 'sweet light' and how long the days are in the summer, I spent a lot of days where I was climbing out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to get to the farm by sunrise so that I could shoot in the sweet light. And that meant that a lot of days after dinner I was driving to the farm at 8:30 p.m. to shoot the beautiful light again—and the farmers are working that whole time. So keeping up with the farmers was probably the hardest part.
Do you think that the farming community is similar to the ski community?
The ski community is super tight, but they are still competing in the end of the day. Then when the competition's over, they all go see who won and they drink beer. Farmers are the exact same way. They're all out in the field trying to grow the best carrot and the tastiest tomatoes, and then they all go to the farmer's market and hope to sell out with booths right next to each other. But when the market wraps up and they fold their tents up, they're all sitting around the table drinking beer.