Posted on May 10, 2011 - by

Never Say Never: Mobilizing Support for a Smash-Hit Community Screening


Photo: David J. Owen Photography. Used with permission.

Minneapolis restaurateur Tracy Singleton has been putting local food on the map in her community since 1995, long before the locavore entered public consciousness.  That was the year she opened the funky Birchwood Café to carry on the legacy of the neighborhood grocery store that had occupied the spot since the 1940s, and the community dairy there before it. Minneapolitans flock to the Birchwood for “good real food,” much of it sourced from area farms.  So it was only natural that Tracy should play a leading role in rallying the Twin Cities around a movie like FRESH.

When she signed on to cater an urban agriculture conference in the spring of 2009, Tracy had no idea what an outpouring of passion she was about to unleash, both within herself and among the community. She was speaking with urban farmer Will Allen, who would be headlining the conference, when he mentioned FRESH. Tracy was intrigued, so Allen put her in touch with Ana Joanes, the film’s director.

“I spoke with Ana over the phone and felt a really immediate connection with her and her worldview,” Tracy says. “I hadn’t even seen the film yet, but I was so inspired by her and by Will, it just lit something up in me. I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in.”

A short Minneapolis run was already lined up for two weeks away—two sold-out screenings at a small cabaret theatre with a capacity of about 45 people. “I said to Ana, ‘More people need to see this film…we need to do better than that,’” Tracy recalls, “and I went nuts!”

With no time to lose, Tracy leapt into action, booking the Riverview Theatre—which seats 700 people—for a third showing, mobilizing the networks she’d built over the past 15 years as a community fixture to spread the word.  She brought the Land Stewardship Project, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Twin Cities Natural Food Co-Ops on board as co-sponsors and sold tickets at the Birchwood Café and through a community ticketing site online. Through contacts at Minnesota Public Radio, she managed to score an on-air interview for Ana on the day of the Riverview screening. She arranged a panel of local food experts to speak at the event, recruited volunteers to keep everything running smoothly, and even made sure the popcorn came with butter from Hope Creamery, one of the only independent creameries in the state still churning butter in small-batches from local cows’ milk.

The screening was s smashing success: the movie played to a sold-out crowd of 700, the FRESH e-mail distribution list grew by several hundred names, and the crowd moved over to the Birchwood for a community party following the show. “I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Tracy says, ever humble about the integral role she played in making it all happen. “I had no idea of the effect this event would have on me personally and on my business. The film has been like a ‘shot in the arm’ for the local food movement here: we’ve seen a huge jump in the proliferation of CSA subscriptions, farmers’ markets, and the popularity of home gardening since 2009. The Homegrown Minneapolis Initiative was taking off then. The timing was just perfect.”

What advice does she have for others interested in organizing a community FRESH screening? “Use the screening resources on the website. Try to engage the audience by making room for conversation. Have a farmer there to talk to if you can. And meet people where they’re at: even if they can only do one thing, whether it’s buying one CSA box, or making one trip to the farmers’ market, or yes, trying local butter, that’s one step closer to plugging into the local food movement. If they like it, they’ll tell others.”

And as Tracy herself has proven, one person can make a big difference.

E-mail me at jenny@freshthemovie.com.

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