Homelands producers

Homelands producers Bear Guerra, Ruxandra Guidi, Cecilia Vaisman, Sandy Tolan, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Weisman

Back in the early 1990s, Homelands’ four founder-members lived together in a rented house in Costa Rica while working on the Vanishing Homelands series. But after that we scattered, and for the last 22 years or so we’ve been a pretty virtual crew. It’s a rare treat when we’re all together in one place.

So it was when we gathered for a day and a half in Los Angeles last month, to catch each other up on our comings and goings and hatch plans for the future. It was the first Homelands convergence with Rux and Bear, who were on their way from a fellowship year in Colorado to a new life in Quito, Ecuador. We were also joined by our excellent board member Maria Blanco, who snapped the picture.

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We are thrilled to welcome journalist Ruxandra Guidi and photographer Roberto (Bear) Guerra to the Homelands family. As our newest producers and members of our board of directors, they bring a wonderful mix of skills, experiences, and ideas to our cooperative.

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Ruxandra Guidi

Ruxandra Guidi, a native of Venezuela, has reported throughout the United States and Latin America, for both magazines and public radio, and in both English and Spanish. She has worked extensively as a freelancer, and recently held staff positions at Southern California Public Radio, where she covered immigration and religion, and at KPBS Public Broadcasting, where she covered the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the Fronteras Desk initiative. Her work has aired on PRI’s The World, NPR, CBC, Marketplace, Deutsche Welle, NPR’s Latino USA, and Radio Ambulante, and has been published by Orion Magazine, National Geographic NewsWatch, The Atlantic, and others.

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Bear Guerra

Bear Guerra’s images, photo essays, and multimedia stories have been published by Orion Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Le Monde, On Earth Magazine, NPR, Texas Monthly, and many others; they have also been exhibited widely. In the past few years he has worked on stories in Mexico, Bolivia, Haiti, Brazil, Panama, Peru, Turkey, and Thailand. He was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in Photojournalism in 2010. He’s currently a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

In addition to their individual work, Ruxandra and Bear co-founded Fonografia Collective, a multimedia collaboration that produces stories about human rights, the environment, and social issues. They have also co-produced a daughter, Camila.

Homelands Productions was founded in 1989 by Sandy Tolan, Cecilia Vaisman, Alan Weisman, and Nancy Grey Postero. Rux and Bear are the first new producer-members to join the group since Jonathan Miller signed on in 2005. We look forward to dreaming big and doing great work with them!

The Homelands blog may have been idle, but that doesn’t mean we have been! Clearly, though, it’s time for a quick catching up.

School snack bar in Crete

Many schools in Crete have voluntarily banned soft drinks and sweets from their snack bars. The percentage of overweight children in Greece is higher than in the US. Photo by Jon Miller.

In October, Jon Miller’s feature Greece’s diet crisis aired on Marketplace as part of the “Food for 9 Billion” project. The story looked at the rapid rise of obesity in Crete, home to one of the world’s healthiest traditional diets. In November, Mary Kay Magistad (China correspondent for our new radio partner, PRI’s The World; more about that below) joined forces with Cassandra Herrman and Serene Fang at the Center for Investigative Reporting on China strains to satisfy growing demand for meat, which aired on PBS NewsHour.

Then, just before the holidays in December, Jon’s piece Taking the climate fight to the table aired on Marketplace. That story, which looked at how our own eating decisions might affect the world’s ability to feed itself, wrapped up our fruitful and enjoyable year-long partnership with Marketplace (a shout-out to our excellent editors Ben Adair, George Judson and Sitara Nieves). 

For the last few months we’ve been laying the groundwork for a second phase of Ff9B — a series of ten or more stories for The World, to air in a two- or three-week burst this spring. The topic is much more focused than what we’ve done so far; we sometimes describe it as “the future of food in a climate-changed world.” Jon Miller and Sam Eaton will do most of the reporting; as we write this, they’re madly preparing for trips to Singapore, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uganda, The Netherlands and Qatar. We also expect to continue working with CIR on a handful of companion pieces for PBS NewsHour.

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Homelands producers Alan Weisman, Sandy Tolan, Jonathan Miller, Cecilia Vaisman and Beckie Kravetz (Alan’s wife) in Los Angeles in January.

Finally, in January, Sandy, Cecilia, Alan and Jon descended on Sandy’s place in Los Angeles for a weekend retreat. We are spread around the country (western Massachusetts, upstate New York, Chicago, LA) and rarely find ourselves together in the same place. It was wonderful to talk and plan and recharge each other’s creative batteries. A highlight was a party on Saturday night for a few dozen radio friends in LA. Being radio people, nobody thought to take any pictures.

Rajendra Singh is known as “The Water Man” for his work on community-based water management in India. Photo: Jon Miller/Homelands Productions.

It’s been more than a month since I posted anything on the Homelands blog! Too busy producing and planning “Food for 9 Billion” stories. Yesterday, a feature I reported in India aired on Marketplace. It profiles Rajendra Singh, a charismatic leader in India’s grassroots rainwater harvesting movement. You can read a blog post I wrote about the story’s take-home message. (A hint: it’s less about rainwater harvesting than about the tremendous promise of bottom-up approaches to water management.)

On April 4, Marketplace broadcast a piece by Homelands co-founder Cecilia Vaisman about Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” program. Brazil has declared food a basic human right; “Zero Hunger” is the government’s attempt to deliver on its pledge to make sure that everyone has enough. The story shows how hard that is in practice. Idealistic planners originally saw the program as a way to spur rural development by linking small-scale farmers to poor consumers; over time it has become much more about direct cash payments using tax money generated by agribusiness.

In her story, Cecilia asks what other countries can learn from the Brazil experience, noting that “Zero Hunger’s” longtime director, Jose Graziano da Silva, is now head of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN. Her answer is that it’s not enough to declare food a right, nor to expect hunger to disappear as an economy grows. It takes a society-wide commitment, and many boots on the ground.

I want to take a minute to welcome Ceci back to radio land. This piece was the first story she has produced for national broadcast since 2003. We missed her voice. It’s a joy to have her on the air again.

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Homelands senior producer Cecilia Vaisman, Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and the production team at Magnum in Motion have created a powerful multimedia feature about the struggles of farm workers to meet their basic food needs as they grow older. “A Harvest Out of Reach” is the third part of AARP’s “Hungry in America” series about food insecurity among seniors. A Spanish language version is also available.

The first two stories—”A Little Goes a Long Way” (by Jonathan Miller and Christopher Anderson) and “Hard Choices” (by Sandy Tolan and Larry Towell)—were also collaborative efforts between Homelands producers and Magnum photographers. A fourth and final piece is on its way.

Loyal readers will be pleased to learn that the entire Homelands Productions oeuvre is now downloadable from our website. For the last couple of years you could listen to our radio features on a special streaming audio player; now you can take them with you on your workout or commute. There are roughly 140 pieces available going back to 1991. We think there’s some pretty good stuff in there and encourage you to poke around.

The link in the first sentence (and also here) takes you to our “series” page; click on a series name for a list of stories, then click the “download” button to get the mp3.

Note that the Worlds of Difference link takes you to that project’s home page, at least for now; you need to click on the “stories” link in the banner (or just click here) to get the full story list, then click on the individual story title. Note also that the mp3s don’t include introductions, “outros” or credits. One of these days we hope to launch a podcast, in which we’ll provide a little context and give props to the producers. Keep checking this space!

Homelands producers Jonathan Miller, Sandy Tolan, Cecilia Vaisman and longtime collaborator Deborah George are teaming up with Magnum Photos on “Hungry in America,” a four-part multimedia series commissioned by AARP. The first piece, “A Little Goes a Long Way,” about efforts to increase participation by seniors in the SNAP (formerly food stamp) program in Texas, is now live on the AARP website. The story was reported by Jonathan Miller, photographed by Christopher Anderson, and produced by Magnum’s multimedia studio, Magnum In Motion.

Next up is a piece about the challenges faced by elderly people living in rural northern California, with reporting by Sandy Tolan and photos and video by Larry Towell. We’ll keep you posted as more of these stories come online.