For the love of the land — ‘Working Lands: Volume II’ set to air on KVIE | TheUnion.com

For the love of the land — ‘Working Lands: Volume II’ set to air on KVIE

Jennifer Nobles
Special to The Union

In 2016, Nevada County's own Matthew Gottschalk was asked by his friend and colleague David Nicholson to edit Nicholson's pet project, a documentary that would later be called "Working Lands." The film captured the deep and rooted history of some of the county's oldest and most well-known family-run ranches.

The piece — which eventually ran to high acclaim on PBS — was peppered with the names of those who had held their land for as long as seven generations. Personeni, Gallino, Reader; a who's who of western Nevada County ranching were interviewed about their age-old practices and the challenges that modern sprawl has presented. The lands, it seemed, were dwindling in acreage and families were fighting hard to preserve their traditions as well as their livelihoods.

Two years later, Gottschalk and his partners at Radhaus Creative — a high-end production company "always for hire" — set out to create Volume II of what they hope will become a "Working Lands" series. This time, Gottschalk took on both director and editor roles.

The second installment focuses, according to Gottschalk, on smaller family farms and ranches throughout the region.

"The Nevada County Resource Conservation District funded both projects," he said. "Jan Blake was executive director — it was her vision. The whole point was education and awareness. The first one was about legacy and the second one is really just to get a more intimate look into the day-to-day practices of smaller farms."

"We talked to family farms, and to people who moved up here specifically to become farmers and learn how to run a small business. They're making it work. These are really hard working people, and they are unbelievably devoted to their product," Gottschalk said.

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Gottschalk and his team — which includes his wife, Becky Johnson, and video/photographer Camen Hodges — spent about 15 months on Volume II. They were determined to honor the legacy of the ranchers and farmers featured in Volume I while looking to the future of agriculture in Nevada County.

There were a number of things Gottschalk found the featured farms and ranches had in common.

"The farms commonality was flexibility; being really malleable in what they were doing from season to season and being creative and changing with the seasons. The seasons here are intense and unpredictable and there's never going to be one way to go about farming in Nevada County. You have to change. They all were changing their practices as needed."

Farming challenges

The challenges presented to those working the lands are few but considerable.

"[Nevada County] is not a geographically ideal space for most agriculture," Gottschalk said. "When farming cattle you need grazing area — you need open land and space, and it is really limited here. With vegetable farming, the tree cover is beautiful but it makes it trickier to have acres of farming land.

"There's competition; small farms in competition with a million or billion dollar corporation? It's hard to compete against that. A lot of them sell at farmer's markets and co-ops; they can't compete with big companies."

Big corporations can be tough to deal with but the people who farm in Nevada County are strong and fight for their lifestyle.

"These people are real, and [they] are completely invested in what they're doing. It's totally the lifestyle of these folks. No one is getting rich. Best case scenario, you break even," Gottschalk said. "You only do this work because you absolutely love it. It is pretty much a struggle every step of the way; you have to be passionate."

And with passion comes a goal. Gottschalk has a few but his main goal is to shed some light on farming in Nevada County.

"I want to raise awareness on these things, and get their passion across. I found it really inspiring — they are directly making the world a better place. Not just raising healthy food, but they are adjusting their practices to help the environment. If cattle ranching is done right, the landscape flourishes because of it. That's remarkable."

Gottschalk and his Radhaus crew feel lucky to have the support of public broadcasting so that they can better share both volumes of Working Lands. "PBS has been a nice outlet," Gottschalk said. "They have been really into it, and they want to show it."

They look forward to a likely Volume III.

"One thing about Nevada County: it's beautiful and really nothing is stopping us from having farms," he said. "[Riverhill Farms owner] Alan Haight says that if you want to support local farms all you have to do is find out where local products are being sold and get them. Know where your food comes from."

"Working Lands Volume Two" will air on KVIE public television on April 11, 13, and 15.

Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at jenkrisnobles@gmail.com.