Stories from the brainreels guests Elaine Velasquez and Barbara Bernstein

Listen to this post: 

(The podcast episode is at the bottom of this page.)

This month’s episode is a real treat for me as a woman filmmaker. I interviewed Elaine Velasquez and Barbara Bernstein about their new documentary, “Gaining Ground” for KBOO Community Radio’s Bread and Roses show. This was aired in mid-September, 2016. It’s a food justice film that covers a lot of territory:  environmental racism, food deserts, and the stigma that can come along with wanting to grow food free from pesticides and other harsh chemicals. In addition, it’s super positive, shining a light on the real-world solutions the people in the film are working on with great success.

It’s funny because before we had all the fancy bug sprays and weed sprays and genetically engineered crops, we just didn’t have them. We farmed without them. And before we had the capacity to transport food all over the country and the world, we ate local. Now, I’m not saying the best way to live is to do everything like we did in the past or that just because something’s older it’s better. Burning women at the stake is a great example of an older tradition that I personally don’t miss! But when it comes to growing food and keeping communities healthy, I feel pretty strongly that our overly-processed, overly cheap, profit-driven models of food production and distribution aren’t healthy for growers or for eaters. So I’m excited by the topics in “Gaining Ground” and also humbled and overjoyed to talk to women who’ve been making social issue documentaries, radio, and other media for decades.

While I was getting ready for the interview, I came across a vegan rapper and organic gardener named DJ Cavem Moetavation. I’d just watched “Gaining Ground,” and then listened to his song “Food Justice,” and my head fell off. Please check out his work on Reverb Nation and YouTube.

And check out the huge range of work Barbara and Elaine have done in their award-winning careers at The Media Project, where you can find the trailer for “Gaining Ground.” It doesn’t have captions, but since we played it in the radio interview at KBOO, and I transcribed it, you can find a transcript below the video in this post.

Click here for an accessible transcript of podcast episode #053.

[hip hop music]

♪Yeah…urban tilth.

♪Grow your own know what I’m sayin’?

♪get down and dirty with it.

♪If you grow it…they gon’ eat it.

♪Watch it, Watch it, Watch it Grow yeah.

♪Watch it, Watch it, Watch it Grow yeah. ♪

DORIA: When we first started that garden with just a few beds, but it was like, “Oh! What are you doing? Why are you doing that?” And they’re like, “It’s kinda trashy. Nobody wants to eat that food. It’s out here.” Six years later, 42 beds now. The food’s constantly being eaten, and we were told not to do it.

[heavy machinery rumbling]

VICKI: Back when we milked cows, they ask what you were. If they couldn’t smell it on your boots and already know what you were, and you told them, then they go, “Oh, OK.” And that was about the end of the conversation. But nowadays, you say you’re a farmer:  “Well, what do you grow?” And then you say, “Fruits and vegetables without the use of chemicals.” And all at once, there’s a crowd.

HARRY M: He’s been a chemical farmer for as long as I’ve been an organic farmer, and his wife has been on him for 16 years they’ve been married to get rid of the chemicals and grow some food.

WILLOW: I’ve never been comfortable growing lawns and golf courses when there’s a worldwide food shortage.

HARRY S: We are grass seed farmers, and by damn it, we’re gonna be grass seed farmers. We’re not gonna switch over to organic farming, especially organic farming. My gosh. You know, I have to live in this community.

DORIA: We live in a classic food desert. It’s a lot of concentration of people who are having a hard time, families that are in disarray, a lot of struggles with drugs and violence. We have a grocery store. The other grocery store’s just about to move out. Safeway is about to move out.

VICKI: Maybe people have to change their eating habits. Maybe they gotta quit eating tomatoes in December and bananas year round. I mean, you could live on it. You just gotta quit wanting so much. And if the consumers could get that mindset, then I think we could get this valley back into something edible.

HARRY S: When we first came on board with planting organic food crops, I would try to avoid the coffee shops as much as I could and other farmers. I just couldn’t take it. It was just a constant harassment:  “Well, what do they have you doing now? What do those women have you doing now out there?”

DORIA: Some people ask me, “Why are you having an apprentice program, and you’re training all these kids to be farmers? Are they really gonna get a job being farmer?” And I’m like, “You know, that’s actually not the point. Growing food from a seed to a fruit is the best project management training you can possibly get.”


NEWSCASTER: There continues to be a shelter-in-place for Richmond, North Richmond, and San Pablo due to a fire that was first reported this evening around 6:30 at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

DORIA: Sirens started to go off everywhere, and I realized that the refinery was on fire.


HARRY S: You have some of the largest seed companies in the world doing their best to destroy our market. I just wish they would leave us the hell alone.

DORIA: Before the fire, talking about environmental justice wasn’t a part of our main mission. And then the fire happened, and all of that destruction, all of that pain, and the response of the company of just really…not caring. It was just important for us to really hold this ground and say, “This is sacred. It shouldn’t be polluted. This is where we come from.”

Green the Block
Green the Block
Green the Block