FERN’s Back Forty: Behind the ‘Hot Farm’ podcast with producer Eve Abrams

New Orleans-based producer Eve Abrams spent more than a year working on FERN’s new podcast, Hot Farm. Focused in the Midwest, we hear from farmers about climate change is affecting them and what they are going to do about it. Right now. Agriculture generates 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s scrambling to adapt to a global crisis it helped create. In the past year, farmers have risked their lives to save their dairy cows from flash floods and fallowed their orchards in the face of record drought. Crop yields are projected to drop as extreme weather intensifies, potentially upending the global food supply. But if we’re going to tackle climate change, then farmers need to be part of the solution.

Over the course of four episodes, Abrams and her team connect with farmers who are quietly changing agriculture as we know it—whether they believe in climate change or not. “I think we’ve put an incredible amount of pressure on [them],” says Abrams, talking about the series. “They’re doing the best they can to do the incredibly important work of feeding us.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Producer Eve Abrams

A lot of people don’t know much about where their food comes from, and I thought you did a great job of making agriculture accessible to outsiders. Before producing this podcast, you were an outsider to all this yourself. How did you go about immersing yourself in this world?

I talked to farmers, and I just asked questions. I think a radio producer is a stand-in for the listener, so in many ways it’s a great advantage when you don’t know about something, because you ask—and when you do know something, you forget that other people don’t know it. So I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t confused, and in the process, hopefully none of our listeners will be confused either. I’m always paying attention to when I’m excited, when I’m interested, when my mind is blown, because if I don’t know something, then chances are the listener won’t either.

Agriculture and climate change is such a vast topic, and you chose to focus on a subset of the agricultural community: farmers who grow crops in the Midwest. What drew you to that community?

I think this fantasy of the American farmer lives large in how we think about food. When our food is advertised by big companies, they show us these family farms. Obviously, people who live in farming communities know plenty of farmers, but people who live in cities? Most of them don’t. I strongly believe that when you’re making an audio story, you need to meet the listeners where they are, and what many listeners picture is some storybook version of farming from grammar school, or Old MacDonald. So that’s where I wanted to begin. I was trying to paint a picture of what farming really looks like and what the reality of our farms is.

This podcast in no way is pretending to say everything about farming and climate change. We focus on a lot of major issues faced by farmers. To me, this felt like the right place to begin the conversation.

Hot Farm is solutions-oriented, and as someone who covers climate change, I know it can be challenging to maintain that focus. How did you keep it focused on potential solutions to a crisis of this magnitude?

I think I was able to do that because I reported on farmers who are doing the work. They’re all pretty stellar human beings, so I simply took my cues from them and I just documented it.

Anything else you want to make sure listeners know about the show?

This is a show about people and their stories. Yes, it’s about food, and yes, it’s about climate change, but these are extremely listenable narratives about people, and that’s the most important thing.

The other thing that I want people to know is that we live in a climate right now that is politically toxic, and this show is an antidote to that. I think farmers get demonized a lot in the climate debate, and I think that’s ridiculous. Something that I really took away from my reporting trip is that all farmers care about the land, all farmers are trying to make a living, all the farmers that I met are trying to keep farming.

This is a purple podcast. It’s not about divisions. This is about common ground.