A locally produced film documentary aims to tell the story of Athens County’s unique local-food economy.
The Athens-based Trout/Fisher Productions is producing the two-hour feature documentary called “Hand to Mouth: The Athens, Ohio Food Cycle.”
The film will tell the story of the interconnected farmers, food artisans, restaurants, and consumers that provide the framework for the sustainable local-food economy in Athens.
“Contrary to popular belief, not all farmers want to make the biggest buck possible,” explained Barbra Fisher, the writer and producer of the project. “They want to get their food out there to as many people as possible. It takes innovation and it takes thought,”
Riding the wave of popularity of local food movements and food documentaries, Fisher and her collaborators hope to share the uniqueness of the Athens local-food scene with a wider audience.
“Athens is getting a lot more national recognition for what’s going on, so now is the time to strike,” said Daniel Trout, director and cinematographer for the project.
According to Trout, the idea was planted about seven years ago when he, Fisher and sound engineer Heather Irwin all attended a town hall meeting following the opening of Snowville Creamery.
All three had been good friends long before the beginning of the project, which both helped and hindered their collaboration on it. It took years of individual contemplation, they say, before they realized they could all fulfill their dream of working together on a local-food documentary.
When Fisher returned to Athens to start a family, she found people frequently talking about the uptown restaurant Casa Nueva and ACEnet, a community economic-development organization that focuses on technology and food sectors.
“That was sort of the crystallization; those were the two pivotal pieces right there,” said Fisher.
The food economy in Athens has continued growing since then, spawning numerous local businesses and restaurants.
At first, members of the local food community had their reservations about the film project.
Fisher recalled that some people feared the documentary mught be just one more university research project, or be put together by outsiders from Hollywood. Soon, however, she said, the community realized that the team could be trusted.
“These people are our neighbors,” said Trout. “We wanted to tell their story rather than having an outsider come in. We break bread with these people.”
“We’re all children of Appalachia,” added Fisher.
The group is aiming to share the model of Athens with other communities, so they can replicate it by choosing what works for them and creating their own food system.
“We all have lived in other places and have seen that other communities want to this kind of thing or that they don’t know they want to do it yet but have the pieces in place,” said Irwin.
The filmmakers noted that despite the county’s rich food economy, many of its residents still face hunger.
But according to Fisher, with a growing small business sector based on agriculture and foods there are more jobs to offer and more mouths being fed.
“It’s addressable, it’s fixable,” Irwin insisted of the hunger issue. “Food can be made accessible and affordable.”
Trout/Fisher Productions hopes to have the documentary spread across the nation to cities and towns that want a more vibrant food economy.
“We didn’t want this film to preach to the choir,” said Trout.
“And we didn’t want it to preach to anybody, because I don’t think that is an attractive way to get your point across,” added Fisher.
Fisher is funding the documentary personally and although it is not a cheap endeavor she keeps it manageable by working with a small crew.
“When it comes time for stuff that outsiders have to do (post production costs) like color-correcting the entire film to make it look uniform, that we will have to pay for someone to do,” she said.
Although the documentary is moving forward, production will not be finished until this summer.
All three agreed that shooting a two-hour feature is really intimidating, and that getting started was the hardest part.
The trio hope to screen “Hand to Mouth” on the film-festival and sustainability-conference circuits.
“The story that we’re telling is such a wonderful human interest story,” said Trout. “Here we are in one of the most economically depressed areas of Ohio and there is this wonderful thing happening.”
*This story was also published in The Athens News.