“When media calls, we don’t have the option of saying, ‘Don’t do the story.’ They’ll do it with or without us,” said Danielle Veenstra, ABC’s Senior Manager of Reputation Management and Sustainability Communications. “Either way, you never have editorial control. What we can do is tell our story, give them context, show them how we care for the land and help them see the industry in full so they hopefully tell a thoughtful, holistic story.”
Veenstra and her team talked with producers, gave them background and statistics, explained the industry’s sustainability initiatives and goals, connected them to ABC president and CEO Richard Waycott and then ABC director of agricultural affairs Bob Curtis, and walked them through the fundamentals of the almond industry.
“It was refreshing that they wanted that level of information – and that they really wanted to learn,” Veenstra said. “Then they went quiet.”
Actually, the BBC crew was traveling the world, producing and shooting other segments in the five-episode docuseries in places like the Gran Desierto of Mexico, snow-covered forests in Finland, the fynbos shrubland of South Africa, the Rainbow River in Caño Cristales, Columbia, Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, and an ancient rainforest in Australian. Late in 2019, they called back. They wanted to visit California and shoot bloom in 2020.
The Green Planet team arrived that February and spent three weeks in the orchards and homes of Veenstra, a third-generation almond farmer whose family farms near Escalon, ABC communications specialist Kiku Severson, a fourth-generation almond farmer with family orchards in Ballico, Ceres grower (and now ABC board member) Christine Gemperle, and former ABC board chair Brian Wahlbrink, who farms with his family in Roberts Ferry and Denair.
“When we get media or someone visiting a farm, it’s for maybe three hours, not three weeks,” Veenstra said. “We all built really great relationships. We worked with them to helped them see what they wanted to see, what we wanted to showcase.”
The results aired in the final episode of the stunningly filmed docuseries on PBS stations Aug. 3 and is online on the PBS website. The series has also aired on BBC channels and affiliated networks globally, including in the UK, Germany, Japan, China and more. The portrayal of California almonds is nuanced and positive. It shows the scope of the industry fairly as well as the efforts to protect bees and be good hosts to pollinators year round.
While they were filming, the BBC crew did long interviews with the growers, but gently cautioned that they’d most likely just be background. People talking rarely make the final cut, they said.
But the producers were impressed enough by the industry’s stewardship efforts that they put Gemperle on screen – and in a significant role. Gemperle helped conclude the series by emphasizing one of the messages of the docuseries, which is also one of her guiding principles: “It’s about finding balance,” she says.
Want to learn more about the Green Planet crew’s time in California? This blog series profiles the farms that hosted the BBC crew back in 2020 and their behind-the-scenes experiences.