In 1972, when a “hippie” journalist by the name of Jed Riffe planted a one-acre organic garden in Mendocino County, a local food movement consisted of little more then young folks moving back to the land and natural food stores selling bulk dry goods and peanut butter.
Farmers wouldn’t be allowed to sell their produce directly to consumers until Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Direct Marketing Act in 1978.
“Nevada City Farmers Market would have been illegal in 1975,” said Riffe.
Now a filmmaker, Riffe is known for the PBS documentary about California agriculture, “Ripe for Change,” that he produced with award-winning filmmaker Emiko Omori.
Riffe will visit Nevada City to screen and discuss his film during a fundraiser for Nevada City Farmers Market. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. at the Nevada Theatre, Monday. The cost is $8.
“This film provides a profound and moving explanation for why the decision to support sustainable and local agriculture is not just a personal or aesthetic choice, but a choice that affects Nevada County, the State of California and, ultimately, the world as we know it,” said Farmer Alan Haight of Riverhill Farm.
Riffe will stay at Riverhill Farm during his visit to Nevada City and board members of Nevada City Farmers Market will prepare him a local farm dinner.
“Ripe for Change” looks at the intersection of food and politics, industrial agriculture versus sustainable farms, and the many challenges of feeding a growing population.
“We are the largest food producer in the world. … There’s so many opportunities here in California. You can really produce high quality, organic and nutrient-dense foods and feed our population,” Riffe said.
First premiered at the Eco Farm Conference in 2006, the film is part of a four-part series, “California and the American Dream” funded by the California Council for Humanities.
Though it was produced seven years ago — before films like “Food, Inc.” became mainstream — the themes of the film remain relevant today, Riffe said.
In the film, Riffe explores agriculture’s dependence on oil, biotech seeds and GMOs, herbicide use and the effect on the environment and the success of small and medium-size organic farms.
Local food advocate and founder of Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant and organic peach farmer David Masumoto, author of “Epitaph for a Peach,” are featured in the film.
“I try to find topics that last,” Riffe said.
“Ripe for Change” has shown on four continents at 160 different venues around the world and continues to be sought after across the state as a tool to inform, educate and motivate people.
Riffe, an experienced print, radio and film journalist, is also known locally for his documentary, “Ishi — The Last Yahi,” which screened in Nevada City during the 1990s.
With the exception of sponsorships by local businesses, the budget of Nevada City Farmers Market subsists on vendor booth fees.
The market’s budget pays for a market manager, promotion and advertising, musicians and infrastructure. In order to grow, the market needs more funding.
“All these things people don’t realize are needed to make the market vibrant,” said Mary Ekiss, a community market board member with her husband, Brian.
Living Lands Agrarian Network grows food on a small farm in the couple’s backyard.
This year, the market needs to raise $1,500 to replace its traditional shade sails in the Robinson Plaza with 10 new tables and five new umbrellas.
Putting up shade sails every Saturday morning meant volunteers were climbing ladders.
“For obvious reasons, we decided shade sails could no longer go up,” said founding member Jane Sangwine-Yager.
“We think it’s going to look more attractive,” she added.
Films about food are popular in recent years as seen with South Yuba River Citizens League’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival and BriarPatch Co-op’s ongoing free film series.
“Often, we see many of the same people at the films throughout the series, the regulars who are passionate about knowing about food,” said the store’s Marketing Manager Stephanie Mandel.
The idea of a film fundraiser is meant to bring people together out of the heat, said Mary Ekiss, who looked at a number of films before deciding on “Ripe for Change.”
“We were looking for a timely message about food … this film bubbled to the top out of a handful of choices,” said Ekiss.
Besides the film, Nevada City Farmers Market is rolling out a new Friend of the Market Initiative this summer to allow people to support the market through membership.
Soon, the market will offer tastings, similar to those happening at Nevada County Growers Markets by University of California Cooperative Extension offices. Local cooking pioneers like Wendy Van Wagner of In the Kitchen will prepare food and Pauli Halstead, author of “Primal Cuisine — Cooking for a Paleo Diet,” will offer a book signing in coming weeks.
“The more funding we have, the more we can do,” Ekiss said.
Contact freelance reporter Laura Brown at 530-401-4877,.