YERT in CA – Full Report!

Dear YERTians,

YERT had a fantastic visit to Los Angeles and San Francisco, just before Thanksgiving. We gave sneak peeks to a few chapters from the upcoming YERT feature film and received extremely positive reviews across the board, from average citizens to industry professionals– from Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney! Read on for highlights…

While Ben and Scott pulled multiple all-nighters to finish key chapters in advance of our Sony screening, Mark gave 11 YERT presentations in one week, introducing the project to hundreds of people– many working in the heart of the entertainment industry. Ben was planning to join me in CA, but a last-minute bout of family flu on the home front kept him in Kentucky to hold down the fort. I missed him on the trip, but his editing efforts at home that week were invaluable…

Here’s a quick outline of what you’ll find in this update:

  • All Saints Church in Pasadena
  • The Great Waste Challenge
  • Warner Brothers
  • Sony Pictures
  • EPA and Berkeley
  • Green Festival
  • Presidio Green MBA Friends
  • Wrap-up
  • ChicoBags for Sale!

All Saints Church in Pasadena
Things got off to a great start with a presentation packed by 50+ eager audience members at All Saints Church in Pasadena. All Saints is a hotbed for activist activity, and the audience was delighted and inspired by the footage and stories from the road trip– so much so that we’re going to try to visit again for another presentation. That event sparked all sorts of interesting activity, including a presentation at USC (University of Southern California) and a private screening for eco-activist friends of Don and Mary Thomas on Wednesday of that week.

The Great Waste Challenge
We also made some headway in the long process of presenting inside elementary, middle, and high schools in the Los Angeles area. A connection through Pittsburgh’s own Carl Kurlander (writer of “St. Elmo’s Fire” and producer of “My Tale of Two Cities” ) put us in touch with Janet Loeb, a parent and green consultant working to bring sustainability to schools in Los Angeles via the “Great Waste Challenge.” They’re working on innovative ways of reducing waste in schools (similar to YERT’s “one shoebox of garbage” challenge), and planning to eventually integrate composting and farming projects to the mix. We love what they’re doing and hope to work together down the road as they bring environmental awareness to schools in fun, creative ways. If it takes off in LA, then we hope to see it expand nationwide!

Warner Brothers
Janet also put us in touch with friends of hers in the media industry, who promptly invited me to their home for a private screening. The husband in that friendly couple is an executive at Warner Brothers, and he was extremely impressed by the YERT project and immediately started brainstorming with me on ways to get our film funded and our footage out into the world. We’ll keep you posted on those efforts as they develop.

Sony Pictures
The Sony presentation was a highlight of the week, and I spent most of the day on-site at their massive studio facility in Culver City. It was a “green Sony day” of sorts, and after lunch with my friendly hosts, I proceeded to attend an event in which they discussed all the ways in which Sony was going green. Kind of amazing to see such a massive business grapple with the early steps of greening their entire organization. They introduced the YERT project by name and encouraged all attendees to go to our screening later that evening! Next I spent a couple hours downloading newly finished film chapters from the all-nighter-pulling dynamic-editing-duo of Ben and Scott, integrated the footage into the presentation, ran through it a couple times, then wandered off to meet my hosts for happy hour, and then on to the screening room for the presentation. I had two full hours in a beautiful screening room– perhaps the most beautiful setting of any YERT screening to-date! I ran through a handful of film chapters, combined with short films, brief video clips, photos and stories. The audience (probably about 25 people) was delighted by the results and I stayed for a while afterwards meeting with viewers who were eager to offer their support and assistance. I’m still busy following up on all those leads as I write this…

EPA and Berkeley
The next big event was a lunchtime presentation at the EPA in San Francisco. I shared stories and videos with the employees there, and made a few contacts with scientists who may be able to help us fact-check elements of the film. Then I drove over towards Berkeley for a private presentation at the home of YERT fans and family Erin and Dio. We had over 20 people that evening, and once again the response was overwhelmingly positive. People laughed and smiled and reflected and talked about what they saw.

Green Festival
I spent the remaining days connecting with friends in San Francisco, including a visit to the SF Green Festival, where I met up with YERT friends Joey Shepp (green new media consultant/entrepreneur – http://www.joeyshepp.com/ ), Theo Chocolate, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and a few others. I also found a couple of new things that I felt were worth sharing with you: DogFlushies.com sells water-soluble dog poo baggies that you can flush down your toilet after walking your dog. Amazing. And Rentalic.com, a website that lets you rent items that you own (or want to borrow) (like lawn mower, vacuum cleaner, garden tools, video projector, or other tools that you may use once in a while) for a small fee– helping people do more with less consumption. Everything else was green and interesting, but didn’t jump out like Rentalic and DogFlushies.

Presidio Green MBA Friends and More
I also want to give a shout out to Ali Hart and Ted Ko from the Presidio Sustainable MBA program for helping to spread the word about YERT throughout California. They were instrumental in getting the Sony presentation set up and continue to be thoughtful inspirations and sounding boards for YERTy ideas as they surface. And I also want to thank Damien Somerset (http://Zaproot.com and http://ShiftLogic.org) for more great connections and helpful brainstorming in Los Angeles.

Wrap-up
It is difficult to put into words the support and encouragement– not to mention the joy– that I felt and received from enthusiastic old and new YERT fans during this recent adventure. It put wind into the YERT sails and gives us a good feeling that the film to which we have (yourselves included) dedicated so much time, money, blood, sweat, tears, will make a powerful difference in the lives of those who experience it. All we need to do is finish it up and get it out there– and that will surely come in the months ahead.

ChicoBags for Sale!
We’re still low on funds and need thousands to properly finish the film. Please consider a tax-deductible YERT donation this holiday season: http://www.yert.com/donate.php . A healthy, YERTy planet may well be the best gift you can give to your children. We are also sitting on an inventory of nearly 300 YERT ChicoBags, and would love to sell them to continue funding the film. They make great holiday gifts (and gift WRAPPERS) — please check them out and buy a few at our online store: http://www.yert.com/shert_shop.php .

Thank you all for your continued enthusiasm and support for YERT and our planet. It’s going to get more and more interesting as these days pass…

YERTfully Yours,
Mark (and Ben and Julie!)
team@yert.com

See YERT in LA and SF!

Hey, YERTians!

Mark is visiting California right now, giving all sorts of presentations to drum up support for our upcoming feature film– that’s right, the YERT feature film that Ben and Scott are constantly improving from their awesome editing lair in Louisville, KY!

Please invite your Californian friends and family to either one of our public events…

In this update message you’ll find details about:

* Public YERT Event in Los Angeles on Wednesday, 11/11/09
* Public YERT Event in the San Francisco Bay Area on Friday, 11/13/09
* YERT @ Sony Pictures, All Saints Church in Pasadena, and USC!
* Calling all Colleges!

Public Event in the Los Angeles Area
Mark will be giving a live YERT presentation on Wednesday, 11/11/09, 7pm, at a private residence in Pasadena. The presentation will include a tiny “sneak-peek” snippet from our feature film! Space is limited, but if you would like to attend, please contact mark@yert.com and he’ll share the address with you.

Public Event in the San Francisco Bay Area
Mark will also be giving a live YERT presentation on Friday, 11/13/09, 7pm, at a private residence in El Sobrante, CA (outside of Berkeley). Similar to the LA event, we will be including a tiny “sneak-peek” snippet from our feature film! If you would like to attend, please contact mark@yert.com and he’ll share the address with you.

Other YERT Events in CA
A couple months ago we were delighted to be invited to present about the YERT project to Sony Pictures here in LA. So we combined that opportunity with a few others that were brewing and flew on out! One of those other opportunities was at All Saints Church in Pasadena, a powerful progressive Episcopal church community– that Mark attended while he lived in Los Angeles from 2002-2004. That presentation took place last Sunday and was very well received– leading to a couple of additional events including a presentation opportunity at USC!

Calling All Colleges!
We continue to build momentum for YERT and the film. A few weeks ago we had a GREAT presentation for the college students attending the Pennsylvania Power Shift conference. Inspired by that success, and all of the other extraordinary college events we have participated in during the last few years, we would like to reach out to EVERY SINGLE COLLEGE in America for a YERT presentation and/or a screening of our feature and short films. Our two marketing interns are working on how to build out that campaign, but if you have contacts inside ANY college in America– particularly environmentally clue-having contacts– we’d love to hear from you. Also, if you know people who lead organizations that work with multiple colleges on environmental issues, please connect us up! This will take a monumental but extremely worthwhile effort, and we need your help. We must inspire a new generation to take on this sustainability challenge and kick it in the butt– with tenacity AND joy! If you have suggestions/contacts/ideas, please send them to mark@yert.com . THANKS!

We are also getting low in the funds available to pay for Scott’s editing time– and that’s with Mark and Ben *still* working for free! If you can spare a bit of your hard-earned money to keep this YERT project liquid, we’d be thrilled AND we’ll add you to the growing list of over 80 people on our “Awesome Donor” list .

Thanks for all of your continued support, and hopefully I’ll see you at a YERT event soon!

YERTfully Yours,
Mark (and Ben and Julie)

P.S. Ben was scheduled to join me here in CA, but his family in Kentucky has been temporarily knocked down by the flu, so he was needed at home– that, and there is an infinite mass of editing to do. 😉 Thanks for kickin’ butt on the home front, Ben!

YERT Visiting California in November!

Dear YERTians!

Mark and Ben are headed to California (SF and LA) for a film-screening, fundraising, film-networking visit, and we’d love your help! The approximate window for our visit is 11/6/09-11/15/09.

We’re looking for venues where we can give snazzy YERT presentations, show sneak peeks of our feature film, and raise a bit of money for our feature film post-production work (i.e. $$ to prevent our starvation, pay for editors, motion graphics, and custom music). Check out our presentation page for more detail.

We’re also looking to meet with potential donors, filmmakers, and distributors who may be interested in helping us finish this film. We want them to see our feature film trailer and synopsis page.

You’ve seen the Fund-O-Meter on our website. We’ve received about $4,300 towards our post-production efforts, but we need to get to $60,000 to do it right, and every dollar helps! We’re shooting for $1,500 per presentation… Maybe you can host a screening/meet-the-filmmakers event at your home, with a “suggested donation” for entry? Maybe you know of a local university (Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC) that would enjoy a visit? Or a business that might like some green biz eco-inspiration (Google)? Maybe you’d just like to help us afford our plane tickets by giving us a tax-deductible donation? We’re open to every form of support, and thank you in advance for reaching out on our behalf.

So far we have scheduled presentations/screenings at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Los Angeles and at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena– but we’re hungry for more events/meetings and I have a hunch that you can help.

And, if YOU live in California and would like to meet us and see a sneak peek of the feature film, let us know so that we can keep you informed about such opportunities as they develop!

Humbly Yours,
Mark (and Ben and Julie!)

team@yert.com

YERT Presentations Everywhere!

That’s right! We’re off to a month of road-tripping adventures, this time through New England and the Tri-State area. We’ve received requests for presentations in Maine, NY, and Philly, with ongoing presentations in Pittsburgh and Louisville. Check out our calendar below to see if we’re headed your way and on what dates… and tell your friends to stop by the events!

Here’s the calendar…

Cheerio,
Mark

YERT at Bioneers in Maine!

Kindle Bioneers Logo

Heya! Mark here. I’m headed off to speak on a panel about “new media” at the upcoming Bioneers conference in Portland, Maine! The Bioneers conference started near San Francisco in California, but has now expanded to include satellite events and around 15,000 attendees all around the country. The Maine satellite event is called “Kindle” and I encourage you to check out its website here.

The Bioneers conferences and their enthusiastic attendees and panelists were an inspiration to me and the YERT team before and during the YERT road trip, so it is exciting to be attending as a panelist. It feels like home. And I suspect you can catch a flavor of our enthusiasm for it all in the video that we created about our visit to last year’s Bioneers at their event’s HQ in San Rafael, CA…

I’ll keep you all posted about this weekend’s event as time allows, but there is probably a Bioneers event near you! Take a look at the map below and also this page to learn more about these distributed “Beaming Bioneers” conferences.


View Larger Map

BEN’S BIG BELATED BABY BLOG!!

Julie and I are thrilled to welcome Bailey Elise Evans into the world!! She arrived at 11:14 am on Saturday July 19th, after 33 hours of intense labor and, finally, a successful C-section. We had decided to try to have as natural a childbirth as possible and, to that end, availed ourselves of some Bradley “husband-coached childbirth” classes. This made for a very interesting hands on and profoundly participatory birthing experience for myself as well as Julie. In spite of our best intentions, sometimes life has other plans, and because of some extenuating circumstances, after many hours of labor, we were left with no other option but to have a C-section. It may not have been the optimal situation, but when a healthy baby and a healthy mother are the necessary outcome, one’s perfectionism flies right out the window. I have never been so proud of anyone in my life as I was of my wife for those 33 hours – I was literally moved to tears by Julie’s courage, strength, and unbelievable focus during what became a very long and intense labor. What a truly amazing woman. Never have I been so in love…never, that is, until little Bailey showed up.

Bailey arrived as 6.85 pounds and 19 1/2 inches of life-changing wonderfulness – we are completely smitten! Holding a newborn in your arms as she falls asleep on your chest to the sound of your heartbeat has to be one of life’s most sublime pleasures. People always said, “Just wait. Having a child will change your life.” I always believed them, of course, but there really was no way to wrap my mind around the depth of that change and the capacity of my own heart to leap out of my body with love until I cradled that piece of soft innocent magic in my arms for the first time. Then I got it. It just hits me like a wave – completely heartbreaking love every time I look at her. I know there’ll be many more life-changes to follow from parenthood, but I swear I could spend the rest of my life in a rocker with my tiny baby girl and be in absolute heaven.

(Also, our apologies for the belated announcement, but the C-section made life a little more interesting and even less restful than we had anticipated. We’ve just returned from recovery in an internet-free hospital and have each had a total of about 14 hours of actual sleep in the last seven days…literally. Julie and I had no idea that after 3 days of zero sleep you actually start hallucinating – now we know.)

That said, enjoy these pictures from Bailey’s first couple of days. Lots of love to all the YERTians! And now….sweet slumber…..

delirious with joy and sleeplessness,

Ben & Julie

PS – Julie’s breastfeeding right now, or I’m sure she would have written this blog. Poor thing is a nursing machine :).



Day 318 Honk if You’re Carfree

Bike/Walk to Work DayWe are still in catch-up mode as we excitedly welcome Ben and Julie’s new baby into the world and rev up for the next phase of YERT.  Bear with us as we work to get you caught up on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen! Now to spend a couple more blogs wrapping up Minnesota . . .

* * *

Many people recognize PortlandBike/Walk to Work Day, Oregon as one of the most bike and public transit friendly cities in the nation.  The city is so well known for its mass transit efforts that help the environment, in fact, that YERT’s Oregon green video is centered around this theme.  But would you have guessed that Minneapolis- a city known for its chilling winters- would come a close, unofficial second?

On the Twin Cities’ Bike/Walk to Work Day walkers, bikers, and the sun were all out in full force.  The parks scattered throughout downtown help to break up the high rise buildings and the Greenway- a bike/pedestrian path that extends for twenty miles- provides a straight pathway for commuter cyclists riding to work downtown.  We camped out at the Greenway and stopped a few riders for some of our ‘peeps’ on the street. For some, even the chilling winters were only a small worry compared to the benefits of saved parking fees, additional exercise, a shorter commute (in some cases), fresh air, and smaller carbon footprint.

Also while in the twin cities area we interviewed Ari Ofsevit with hOurcar, a car sharing service in Minneapolis.  Like most car sharing programs, the concept is simple- rather than drive a car Ari of hOurcarof your own, you reserve one online for only the hours you need it. Pick it up at a designated neighborhood spot, drive it around for the hours reserved, then return it to the same spot when finished. Gas is included in the hourly price.  It offers a lot of convenience without a lot of hassle.  Unlike many of the larger car sharing services, however, hOurcar is a nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of promoting environmentally sustainable communities.

 

Here are some ideas and tips that might make a carefree, car-free lifestyle a bit easier.

Buy a great book- Who wants to sit in traffic, anyway?

Carpool- Yeah, you’ve heard this one before, but this time actually do it!

Pimp your ride– Take pride in your bike. Get it ready for a trip to the grocery store, for transporting papers to the office, and for riding after dark by outfitting it with side bags, a light, and a basket.

Hitch a ride- Type “ride share” into Google to find a bunch of sites that offer ways to meet up with others interested in carpooling or dividing the expenses and driving of a longer trip.

Live near work- Probably the easiest way to cut down on the amount of driving is to live, work, and play in the same area. If having all three isn’t a possibility, at least try to live near where you work, as commuting accounts for 734 billion miles driven by Americans each year.   

July 4th, 2008: 50 Down, NONE to Go! YERT Completes Initial Travel…

50 States in One Year? CHECK.
Happy 4th of July, 2008! So here we are – one year later, one year older, and one year wiser. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last 366 days – through 50 states and nearly 45,000 miles of travel (excluding the ferry from Alaska and the plane to/from Hawaii), we’ve logged over 450 hours of footage and interviewed more than 800 people. And we’ve only accumulated a mere 43 pounds of trash & recyclables over the course of 12 months – including junk mail! We’ll be taking suggestions of what we should do with it – perhaps sculpt it into a giant “garbage unicorn.”

Life-Changing? CHECK.
We left on our 50-state YERT adventure on the 4 of July, 2007 and, my oh my, how our worlds have changed in just 12 months! Julie and I are expecting our first child any day now – conceived and “baked” on the YERT trip. Mark, through this adventure, met Erika, who valiantly jumped in for Julie and me as baby duties took over in these final weeks. And we’ve all gained some really good new habits and learned an incredible amount about how better to live on Planet Earth – all of which we will continue to share with you over the coming months. We still have all sorts of fun videos to create before we declare this project complete, and our first priority is to finish at least one video per state. So to those of you out there in Ohio, Texas, Alaska, and the 25 or so other second-half states: HANG IN THERE! Your videos will be coming out ASAP. We’ll be targeting one video per week, with a few breaks built into the schedule.

World-Changing? CHECK.
While our lives may have changed, the world around us has also changed dramatically. Gasoline prices have risen about 50% in the last year from an average of $2.93/gal in PA when we started to $4.57/gal in CA today (and $4.07 in PA). Oil futures have more than doubled in the past year from about $70 to $145 per barrel. Only San Francisco had banned publicly funded bottled water when we started – ten days ago, a majority of 250 US mayors voted to “phase out” government use of bottled water. Only one US city (San Francisco, again) had banned disposable plastic bags when we started – now that movement is spreading across the globe and numerous cities and organizations around the world have either severely curtailed or begun to ban the use of plastic bags. Numerous “green” TV channels, shows, and environmental initiatives and legislation have taken off in the last year – “green” is going mainstream…big-time. This country is finally turning a corner, and it’s been exhilarating to witness this over the past 12 months – to “hang 10” on the “green wave” as it sweeps the nation – and to have helped turn the tide in some small way. It hasn’t been a perfect process, and huge challenges lie ahead, but there are certainly encouraging signs that people everywhere are starting to wake up.

Party! Party! Party!? COMING…
To celebrate the completion of the road trip, YERT will be holding two finale events, and you’re invited to both. You can expect stories and videos and photos and fun, at special venues with unique environmental features.

The first is a shindig in San Francisco at The Temple – the perfect location for a sleek meet and greet. It kicks off at 6:00 P.M. on Friday, July 11, at this renowned club with its very own sustainability coordinator and a slew of groundbreaking initiatives in place and on the way. And the place just looks cool. Please RSVP on eVite or Facebook.

The second is our Grand Finale in Pittsburgh at the Rachel Carson Homestead – Join us for our final gala at the home of the famous author of “Silent Spring,” on Saturday, August 9 at 3:00 P.M. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book opened the world’s eyes to the unintended consequences of chemical pest management and essentially jump started the modern environmental movement. YERT’s first stop was her home, and it will be our last stop, too—at least on this particular adventure. Please RSVP on eVite or Facebook.

YERT’s Feature Film? COMING…
It seems that there are few better ways to tell a story these days than in the form of a feature-length film. So for as long as we can scrape up enough money to pay for food, we’ll be working to compile our footage down into a feature-length film with YERTy zip and eco-fun built into every moment. We’ll need plenty of help for the film, so if you’d like to volunteer for a role, make yourself known by writing to us at team@yert.com. We’ll need outreach coordinators, video watchers, musicians, editors, and some angel investors – not to mention things that we don’t even know we need yet.

Start Spreading the News!
If you think that YERT’s story is worth spreading around, we’d love it if you did just that—spread it around! We’ll be presenting audience comments at our finale events, and we’d love to include yours. Just send a note to team@yert.com. You can also help us enter film festivals, screen our videos at your school, tell all your facebook friends about us, or invite us to give a presentation to your community. We’re open to ideas and want to share, so drop us a line. Make it YOUR Environmental Road Trip.

Thanks to YOU!
This trip wouldn’t have been what it’s been if you hadn’t been a part of it – if you hadn’t tuned in, given us suggestions, helped us when we needed it, inspired us, fed us, housed us, and given so generously of yourselves in so many ways. If nothing else, this year on the road has reaffirmed our faith in the incredible goodness of the American people and of humanity in general. As we heard recently in the New Mexico video, “we’re all in this together” – and together we can meet any challenge. This entire journey has done nothing but confirm that. Our deepest gratitude to all of our YERTian friends out there who have helped make this entire project possible made this adventure truly special. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! And stay tuned – this is just the beginning…

sincerely,

Ben, Mark, Julie, and Erika – Your YERT Team

We Bid Ben Bon Voyage to Baby

Ben laughing…
After nearly a year of continuous YERTy travel and 49 states to his name, Ben boarded a train yesterday morning in Montana near Glacier National Park to begin the journey home to Kentucky. That’s right, he’s answering the call of his “Dad Duty” and joining Julie to nest at home and prepare for the birth of their first child.

Ben brought an enthusiasm for YERT and all things environmental that never seemed to die, even when it seemed like everybody around him was about to do just that. He always managed to find one more person, one more interview, or make one more call to make the most of whatever time we had in a particular state. Also, as the consummate b-roll hound, there was never a shot that he didn’t get excited about and he would always go the extra mile to get it just right.

Ben’s Button
And then, of course, there was Ben the comedian. He’d make the YERT team laugh, and he brought that sense of humor to the “stage” and the editing suite as he painstakingly made sure that we had enough laughs to keep folks on board.

Ben and Mark…
There were some tense moments if we didn’t agree about one thing or another, but we always knew that we were all acting in the best interest of the project and we’d ultimately sort things out.

Here’s a big blog high-five and gigantic thanks to Ben for devoting his blood, sweat, tears, and scent to YERT now, then, and well on down the road as we begin the monumental task of finishing the remaining short videos and then embark upon… the YERT Film. (Erika and Mark will be driving up to Alaska for about the next 5 days. Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath as we hunt for Internet access in the Canadian wilderness.)

Ben and Mark

WWOOF! WWOOF! in WYOMING


At the beginning of the YERT trip, I declared that at some point on this adventure we should find a way to do some WWOOFing. WWOOF used to stand for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and recently has been revised to stand for World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (which technically should be WWOOOF, but we’ll cut the organization some slack). It’s all over the world and it’s really a truly awesome concept and right up YERT’s alley. The idea (at least in the US version) is that you pay 20 bucks to join WWOOF-USA and in exchange for that, WWOOF-USA gives you a WWOOFing handbook that connects you to all sorts of organic farms in every state in the country who are looking for help in exchange for room and board. The farmers get very much needed help and, as a WWOOFer, you get free food, lodging, and some really cool organic farming experiences. In typical YERT form, we’d waited until the 11th hour to explore our WWOOFing options. With Wyoming and Montana our only viable remaining WWOOFing states (and Montana filling up too quickly with other stuff) our options were dwindling quickly and we hadn’t even “joined” WWOOF-USA yet. I put in a desperate call and email to one of the directors of the organization and she was kind enough to fast-track the process and give us access to the online directory of WWOOFing farms. We looked over the list and there were literally dozens of WWOOFing locations in Montana and…exactly 1 in Wyoming. What?!?! Only 1 in the whole state!?!? Fingers crossed I gave them a call to see if they could break WWOOFing etiquette and take us on one day’s notice for only a few days of WWOOFing (most places want you to stay for at least a week or two). To our delight they were thrilled to hear from us and would welcome us with open arms…in about 24 hours. This was exciting stuff – I’d wanted to WWOOF for the past 10 years or so. I had even joined the New Zealand WWOOFing organization with Julie several years ago in the hopes of WWOOFing out there, but we never got around to going. So finally getting to have a WWOOF experience (and in the midst of making an environmental documentary, no less) is fulfilling on a whole slew of levels.

Thursday, May 29th
Around 9:30pm Thursday night, driving from Rapid City, SD, we arrived at our WWOOFing hosts – Mona and Steve Mitzel – outside of Leiter, WY. We’ve spent nights in some pretty darn remote places on this trip, but this is very nearly the middle of nowhere. The entire town of Leiter, WY consists of one small building that houses a post office, bar/cafe, and small motel – and they live on the “outskirts” of Leiter. Trying to make time, we hadn’t eaten dinner, and our sweet hosts were quick to offer us elk steak that Steve hunted and salad while we sat around the kitchen table chewing the fat and getting to know each other. After our late meal, they took us out to our trailer about 1/2 mile down their “driveway” where we’d be spending the next several nights and got us set up. The next morning we’d be working by 8am so we hit the sack pretty quick.

Friday, May 30th
Shockingly, I got up even earlier than necessary – by well over two hours! To be sure, I am generally NOT a morning person, but I should remember that being in the country and in clear view of daylight always puts my body on a pretty wonderful circadian rhythm. In this case my bedroom window was facing due east and my head was facing the window, so I was gently but inevitably awakened by the sun each morning. It’s my absolute favorite way to wake up – getting bathed in early morning light with the sounds of the stirring morning countryside slowly seeping into your subconscious until they pull you out of your sleep. As I caught sight of the predawn glory outside my window at around 5am, I was compelled to leap out of bed, grab the camera from Mark and Erika’s room, and take full advantage of the opportunity to film a really wonderful sunrise out our back door which opens, stairless, about 3 feet above the ground. By 6:30 I was back in bed asleep ’til just before 8.

By 8:10 we were at Mona and Steve’s house ready for our first day of WWOOFing. Donning our work gloves in the Mitzel’s muck room, we headed down the hill for a “barn raising” or, more accurately, a “canteloupe tunnel” raising. Mona is trying to expand her growing season for a few key fruits, so we were going to be helping her and Steve erect a greenhouse of sorts – or at least the ends of the greenhouse. There was a skeletal steel frame in place so we’d be attaching the front face today. The directions told us not to attempt to do this in the wind and, sure enough, the wind was picking up a little by 8:30am, but we decide to sally forth anyway. It should be noted that attaching the front of the greenhouse involved stretching a giant white tarp over a 12 foot tall steel semicircular frame, clamping it down, and tech-screwing it into place while, and this is the most important part, riding 12 feet up in the shovel of their front loader to do all of this. Sweet! Any excuse to ride around in the shovel of a big orange front loader!

Because none of us had actually assembled one of these before, we spent the first hour or so prepping and debating which side of the “tarp” was the front. We ended up putting the exposed zipper side out to face the elements. This, of course, turned out to be backwards (we think), but we didn’t fully realize this until it was well attached and far too late to reverse our decision. Luckily, there was another end to attach to the greenhouse, so we would get another shot on Saturday. Erika and I hopped in the shovel of the loader to attach the top while Mark supported the bottom of the front face and coordinated efforts to line it up. After an exhilarating morning of riding the shovel, negotiating the pesky wind, and attaching clips, we broke for a lunch of egg salad sandwiches. Mark and I spent the afternoon attaching numerous other supports to the greenhouse while Erika ran interference for Mona’s two precious granddaughters (5 yr.-old Annie and 3 yr.-old Jillian) as Mona did some work on one of her planting beds and the active greenhouse. Then we all broke for dinner (pesto pasta and sauteed veggies) and an even earlier bed-time. We had decided to try to beat the wind on Saturday morning, to keep the other face of the greenhouse a little more slack-free, but this would mean starting at 6am. We’d also gotten wind that we would be performing a cattle drive on Saturday – the anticipation was killing me.

Saturday, May 31st
Saturday saw us at Mona and Steve’s house by 6:10am ready to tackle the back end of the greenhouse. The wind was cooperating with us so we got started quickly – attaching this side with the protected zipper to the outside. Mark and I went up in the shovel this time and the back side went up reasonably smoothly without the wind. We spent the rest of the morning finishing up attaching the side supports and Steve set about tech-screwing in a U-track along the ends of the roof frame – an insanely tough task given that the tech screws were woefully incapable of penetrating the steel pipe – this was definitely the most arduous part of the assembly.

Early in this tech-screw process, Steve needed someone to lift him up in the shovel of the front loader. A chance to DRIVE the front loader?!?!? Sure! Next thing I knew Steve was explaining the workings of his front loader to me and I was trying not to tear down the entire greenhouse maneuvering him around 12 feet in the air. It was awesome – and Steve’s still alive! Later in the morning, Mark and Erika worked on helping Mona build a pipe from the river to her current greenhouse while I helped Steve finish attaching the U-track to the greenhouse frame with those blasted tech-screws!

After sucking down some delicious quesadillas at lunch, we got down to the real business of the day – the cattle drive. Normally, we could just drive the cattle across the small river in Steve and Mona’s back yard, but they’ve had such a wet spring in NE Wyoming this year that the river isn’t crossable, which means a four or five mile cattle drive around the “back way.” Steve and Mona brought over two horses to help with the drive and to give us a chance to do it “old school.” With help from Steve’s neighbors we mounted our respective steeds (Steve and I on the horses – Alice and Shawnee, respectively; Mark and Erika on the four-wheeler; and Mona and the granddaughters on another 4×4 called the Mule). Cattle driving on a horse was a totally new life experience for me – and utterly thrilling. Mark and Erika, Mona and the grandkids, and a couple of the neighbors buzzed about on the 4-wheelers keeping an eye on things while Steve, his neighbor Jeremy, and I trotted and cantered around trying to keep the cows together and moving in the right direction. Pleasantly surprised by my modest horse skills, I felt like a cowboy (albeit, a totally clueless one) for about 4 hours as we spent the better part of the rest of the day shuffling the cows (about 100 or so) over hill and dale and several miles down the dirt road to some fresh pasture that Steve has started leasing for the first time this year.

There were a few unforeseen variables that made the cattle drive even more interesting. Half way through, two calves somehow got separated from the herd on the wrong side of some barbed wire and Jeremy, one of the neighbors, had to pull some smart maneuvering to get the calves back to the herd. Shortly after that, we were visited by a thunderstorm that soaked us pretty good and added the wonderful variable of lightning into the mix. Finally, we had to pay careful attention to the bulls in other pastures that were making every attempt to “get with” Steve’s cows as they passed by. This required some serious diligence – nothing like trying to foil foreign bulls from mating with cows in heat to keep you on your toes. Jeremy and I (and eventually Steve) slowly rode the horses back to the ranch which took another hour and a half. A bit saddle sore with knees that were barely functioning after being on a horse for the better part of 5 hours, I stabled Shawnee and headed to dinner, ready for some delicious homemade soup. After dinner it was off to bed before another early morning – this time helping Mona in the large garden across the river.

Sunday, June 1st
So far in our WWOOFing experience, the one thing we hadn’t done was some actual organic gardening, but that was about to change. Mona is in the process of becoming organically certified and has been using organic growing methods for several years. Today we would be doing some planting with her.

We started Sunday off at about 7am helping Steve attach the rototiller to his frontloader tractor and then heading into Mona’s greenhouse to soak plant seedlings in a diluted organic fish solution. I still don’t know what exactly fish solution is, but, as expected, it smells totally nasty and fishy. We did this while doing our best to keep the granddaughters happily occupied with a little kitten they’d been literally loving to death the past few days – seriously, if that cat makes it to Christmas, I’ll be amazed.

After loading up Mona’s pickup with seedlings, we took the 5 mile “long way” over to her large garden just beyond the pasture where we’d left the cows the day before – which is only about 200 yards from her house as the crow flies. Mark and I rode over in the Mule 4-wheeler and stopped to shoot some B-roll on the way enjoying a gorgeous view of the Big Horn mountains in the distance and revisiting the cows on the way. The last cow fence was nearly impossible to put back – Mark and I had to both pull together with all our strength for several minutes before we got it back in place. We totally felt like wussie city boys.

In the garden, Steve rototilled the alfalfa field into a great seedbed, while we spent several hours planting seedlings with Mona and little Annie and Jillian. We planted onions, kale, cabbage, and two kinds of lettuce. Erika showed up on the other four-wheeler after the first hour and joined in the fun. It’s awesome digging in the dirt – really one of my very favorite things.

Around 2pm we headed back to the ranch house. On the way back, Mark and I stopped in the cow pasture on the hill overlooking everything to film a short WWOOFing intro and shot some B-roll of antelope. Lunch was leftover soup and then Mark rested his sore back and slept, while Erika did some homework and I caught up on email, did a little trip planning, and finally got to check in with Julie by phone. In the evening, I headed outside with Steve to ride Shawnee again and create a little more horseback B-roll. Shawnee was MUCH more skittish and freaky this time (not sure why), so we cut the ride short. We stabled the horses and then headed out with Mona and Steve to check out a blue heron rookery that they have on their property. We all 4-wheeled our way out to this huge tree further down their river where close to a dozen blue herons were nesting in a tree. It was a pretty unbelievable site. What’s more, the river/marsh itself was also teeming with life – frogs, fish, all jumping and making noise to their heart’s content right around sunset. After we headed back to the house, I interviewed Steve about life in Wyoming – WWOOFing, coal, ranching, environmental concerns. Then, after about an hour, I headed back with Mark to the trailer and, there, we were all greeted by a spectacular thunder and lighting storm. This kept me up until 1am filming. Really a treat. It was a nice way to cap off our WWOOFing experience.

Monday, June 2nd
We slept in – all the way until 8:30 when Erika busted out some blueberry pancakes in the trailer for breakfast. Then we packed up, headed over to the house for a few final interview questions with Steve, and said goodbye to our fine WWOOFing hosts. I have to admit, in retrospect, our WWOOFing experience was all we could have hoped for and more. Great people, great experiences, and a great concept. And, if you ever want to WWOOF in Wyoming – this is THE place…literally. Can’t wait to do it again sometime soon!