“Young farmers” may seem like an oxymoron, but fortunately for all of us there’s a young generation committed to agriculture. On the frontlines of the battle for environmental sustainability in the face of climate change, the four farmers in Spencer MacDonald’s Conservation Generation are as devoted to a vocation that’s equal parts livelihood, lifestyle and sacred cause as they are clear-eyed about the challenges. While the National Young Farmers Coalition, which produced Conservation Generation, represents a broad movement, the focus here is on the specific problem of water scarcity in the arid Southwest. Two of the four are farming in northern New Mexico, and two are farming near Telluride, Colorado.
Master Maine wilderness guide Ray Reitze has spent his life leading people into the woods via snowshoes and canoes. A teacher of specialized skills not typically offered in the classroom or used in the boardroom — think basket weaving and canoe shaping — Reitze believes that guiding “…is the means to help people connect…with nature.” A philosopher and consummate outdoorsman, Reitze grapples with his own mortality and passing his knowledge to future generations as he reaches his twilight years.
To be alone on a cold northern island every winter, charged with caring for the brooding hulk of a huge, old, deserted (possibly haunted) hotel, may hold little appeal for most. For an introspective photographer who dreamed as a child of tall ships and a life at sea, it makes for a perfect retreat.
Wild Harvest: Alaska poses the question: What if we thought about our clothes like we think about our food? In the wilds of Alaska’s dense greenery, a group of environmentally conscious textile producers are doing just that. Using plants harvested from the woods or purchased from local growers, a company called Botanical Colors is employing safe and sustainable methods to make bright yellow, deep purple and vibrant red from natural dye sources found in their backyard.
In an age of speed, convenience and ease, artist Lindsey Ross does things the hard way. Packing her truck with unwieldy vintage cameras and gallons of chemicals, she makes arresting portraits and lovely pictures of iconic Yosemite landmarks using wet collodion photography. The method is from another century (the 1850s to 1890s, to be exact), and the process is painstaking, yielding often-disappointing results. But when the stars align, the result is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. A Less Convenient Path is a profile of an artist who isn’t afraid of a little elbow grease and is intimately familiar with the beauty that’s born of struggle.
He lived with his parents until he was 26, took a minimum-wage guide position at the age of 39, and at 52 still hasn’t landed what society would deem a real job. But refusing to grow up has worked out well for John Shocklee, who splits life between ski guiding at America’s rowdiest ski mountain, in Silverton, Colorado, and rowing dories down the ultimate river, The Grand Canyon. He lives in an alley shack, wears Teva sandals like they’re going out of style and doesn’t make much money. But he doesn’t want to. John Shocklee, A Fairy Tale taps into Shocklee’s fountain of youth. Hint: It involves mountains, snow and ’90s hip-hop.
Cellist, singer-songwriter and political activist Ben Sollee spent a lot of time on whirlwind tours, flying over and driving through America’s towns and cities. He was becoming burnt out, and his health was suffering. So he bought an Xtracycle cargo bike, strapped his cello to it and set off on a five-year, 5,000-mile journey. His Ditch the Van Tour brings hardships, like broken wheels, tornadoes, unfriendly motorists, and takes twice as long for half the money as a traditional tour. But it also offers meaningful experiences and a more human pace of life in a frantic world, allowing Sollee time to ponder the big questions, such as: What is worth sacrificing? And what story is he trying to tell?