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Meet the Farms: Veenstra Farms

Go behind the scenes on BBC’s Green Planet, airing on PBS August 3, 2022.

6/30/2022

“The Green Planet” is a five-part, critically acclaimed documentary and part of the BBC Earth series. It looks at what narrator Sir David Attenborough calls the strange and wonderful world of plants. The production took the BBC Studios Natural History Unit three years to complete and was filmed in 27 countries. It airs weekly on PBS starting Wednesday, July 6.

As part of that ambitious project, a three-person crew – two photographers and a producer/director – spent three weeks in California almond country in 2020. They visited the orchards and homes of Christine Gemperle, Brian Wahlbrink, Danielle Veenstra and Kiku Severson to film the wonder of bloom and pollination and to capture the character of almond orchards. These farms feature in the final episode of the series, airing on Wednesday, August 3.

Meet Veenstra Farms

Before the Green Planet crew could begin filming in the Veenstra orchard, they needed a special permit, of sorts.

“My family has been farming there more than 60 years,” said Danielle Veenstra, a third-generation farmer and the Almond Board of California’s senior manager of sustainability communications. “My grandma Joann is still the boss. She tells us what to do. I had to get her permission for the crew to use our farm as their home base.”

It wasn’t that Joann had any issues with the Green Planet crew. It was just that the crew planned to be there for three weeks and she’s a woman used to country quiet. Plus, they’d need to use her bathroom from time to time.

Joann is in her 80s. She walks around the orchard every day for exercise and saw the crew working hard, out filming sunrises and sunsets and carefully developing time-lapse shots. She was impressed. Her country warmth took over.

“It didn’t take long,” Danielle said, “She was baking cookies and taking them out to the crew.”

Working with the Green Planet crew

On most of the days on her family’s farm the three-person crew started before sunrise and shot until after sunset to capture the shades and moods of the orchards and the honey bees through the day. Danielle and her family were both guides and unofficial production assistants, lending supplies like duct tape and explaining the cycles of their orchards and the sustainability steps they’d adopted over the years.

“They had just been filming in India and Africa,” Danielle said. “They produce world-class nature documentaries and were the nicest people. I told them what they did was a dream job. But they said we had dream jobs because we’re so connected to our land, we pace our lives to growing cycles and grow a plant-based food that is good for the planet. They really appreciated what we do.”

About the farm

Fred Veenstra, Danielle’s grandfather, planted the first orchard on 40 acres of land outside Escalon in 1965. Today, Danielle’s father, John, is the farming lead on that same 40 acres and the whole family works the farm, including her brother, Derek, who owns a small orchard nearby.

Since the Green Planet filming, Danielle purchased her own six-acre farm right next to the family land, planting it in pollinator habitat. “Growing next to my family’s orchard, it provides food for the honey bees – a rewilding approach that the Green Planet team is featuring in the upcoming episode,” she said. “It’s something I really believe in. It’s so important to provide a home for pollinators and for the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. It’s working because this year we’ve had a ton of lady bugs outside my house, and some of them inside, too.”

Lasting impressions

“The photography is just so beautiful. Watching the slow motion and time-lapse shots, seeing it all through their eyes, just made me appreciated the beauty of the orchards and what we do even more,” Danielle said.

“I grew up here,” she said. “Working in orchards picking up sticks was my first job. I graduated to pruning and checking irrigation systems. That’s still my night and weekend job. So introducing my family’s farm to people new to agriculture and talking about all the improvements we’ve made and continue to make, it just makes us all really proud and really humble knowing what we have.”

To follow along with Veenstra farms you can find them @seedaniellefarm on Instagram.

Topics: Growing Good