Regardless how or why Valentine’s Day started, I think it’s nice that we have a day dedicated to showing people that we love them. And after a month of endless gray and rainy days, we could all use a little more creative love.
Farming has changed greatly over the last two generations, as Gene Ponica knows that first hand. He says, growing up on a dairy ranch was not fun for a kid. But the dairy cows are long gone these days. It was too expensive and challenging to upgrade all the old equipment to meet today’s strict dairy standards, so now the only cows on Poncia’s 700 acre West Marin ranch are beef cattle… and, that means, for the first time in his life, Gene has time to go fishing.
For the 2008 Annual Report for MALT (The Marin Agricultural Land Trust,) the theme was: Tools of the Trade. So I went to four different ranches and photographed tools old and new to help illustrate some of the changes that farming has gone through over the years.
These are some samples of where farming has come from…
I was told that in the “old days” ranchers were very resourceful… because they could not afford to buy new fancy equipment, they often had to build a lot of their tools, in order to make their chores a little easier. I saw lots of homemade tractors, and my favorite… the milking track shown in the photo below. These old carts ran on a track around the barn to distribute the hay, that dropped from the barn above, to the cows waiting to be milked in the barn below.
Then I saw some tools that were used in the “old days” and that are still going strong today… like The Straus Family Creamery’s organic milk bottling and washing machines. It was such a beautiful process to watch. And as a quick aside: Albert Straus is absolutely the nicest (extremely successful) business man I have ever met… all of his employees in the office and the factory clearly like and respect him. It is refreshing to know that a good man is behind a good product… and it makes me feel good to buy that beautiful milk bottle in the grocery store, even if it is more than my budget would like, because good quality products are not cheap.
And then I got to experience a modern milking industry in action… and I saw the process of cheese making from start to finish, at the Giacamini Ranch, where they make Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese.
Definitely no milking by hand here, because in order to keep up with their demand, they need to milk over 300 cows in 5 hours. And the secret to their rapid success… this handy little machine below…
I have spent many hours milking cows by hand… and I am really glad I had not seen this machine during that time period, because I didn’t fully understand how easy it could have been…. no spilled milk, or hours of hand cramping milking, in this super sterile barn.
Then all that milk ends up here… where the rest of the magic begins…
And the beautiful final products…. cheese…. and manure. The cheese is carefully packaged and shipped off to grocery stores across the US… and the manure is carefully collected, processed and diverted from the waterways… in order to protect our environment for the next generation of farmers and consumers.
My conclusion… get to know where your food comes from… how it is made and who is making it… and you will appreciate it all a whole lot more. Support your local organic farmers and cows.
My most wonderful friend Claudia, who was a classmate of mine at the London College of Communication last year, was getting married in June… and she wanted me to come back to London for her wedding. So as a way to get me there, she asked me to photograph her wedding. At first I said, “No way.” Because with the American dollar being almost half the value of the British pound, there was no way I could afford to go… but then I got creative.
Before I went to London, I sent out a few eager emails to everyone I know saying that I was on my way and ready to work. Luckily for me, I have another wonderful friend in London, and she works for Gabrielle Shaw Communications, a PR company that I did work for while I was living there last year, and sure enough they had some gigs for me.
The first of the two gigs was for Bio Green Dairy, they produce a yogurt drink and they wanted to have images that show that they are a small family-like business and that they do all the work from start to finish. The owner saw my website of children and weddings and (somehow) thought I would be a good fit.
I was very excited to go to a yogurt factory, it would be my first factory photo shoot. But as soon as I walked into the factory, I realized I had a big challenge ahead of me. How do you make an all white room, men wearing all white jump suits, and a white product look good in florescent lighting. And to make it more challenging, I arrived without a flash (because I was living out of a bag and spread between three houses, in three different parts of London, I didn’t have my flash with me… opps.)
So, with no other options, I put my camera’s ISO on 3200, my aperture as low as it could go and I held the camera very very still. And then when I returned home, I searched the Internet to find Photoshop techniques that would turn my horrendously lit and very uninteresting photos into something, anything more. Relying on Photoshop is something new to me. Up until now, I have not manipulated my photos, besides the typical darkroom maneuvers, but this was an emergency, and I have to say, I think it worked out better than I was expecting. If you are interested in knowing the Photoshop trick click here.
And this time, I am sad to say, the Rolleiflex did not succeed. There was just not enough light, color or contrast to make even a black-and-white film photo look good…. oh well, the Rollei can’t win every time.
On a sad note, the only cow at this once dairy farm is now on Bio Green’s truck. The cows, where Bio Green used to get their milk, are now gone and instead the rancher is raising horses. As a result of the loss of local agriculture, Bio Green now has to order powdered milk for their yogurt.
So, it is cover time for Jonah’s book. They want color, veggies, something different, something to show the bounty of the farms and something to compliment the title, which is: Field Days.
This was my first attempt… any thoughts?
The one above would probably have some cropping. I don’t know if it is cover potential, but I am proud of it.
Then there is this field photo, or the one that I posted long ago…. click here.
Thanks for voting!!
This is my mom. She is a bit of a rarity in her neighborhood….I would even guess some of her neighbors might call her a bohemian because of her unconventional unruly yard….and if her neighbors knew about her technique to get rid of the Japanese Beetles that eat the flowers on her crape myrtle trees…..they might call her worse.
As a gardener she is a good environmentalist…she does not spray her plants with pesticides that would protect them from even her worst enemies, the Japanese Beetles. So instead she cups her hands around the flowers, shakes the bugs into her hands, then rubs her palms together….the sound is amazing and the color of her hands afterwards is definitely a work of art….and that is my mom.