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Food Project hits the big screen

The film “Green Bag Solution” opens with a video essay of Ashland. Images of the rolling hills, tree-lined streets, and colorful awnings on Main Street roll past as music plays gently in the background, and Mayor John Stromberg speaks with pride about his town and its people.

The "Green Bag Solution" is a 24-minute film that explores the Ashland Food Project, which began in 2009 with a core group of 10 people who created a system of giving. They would provide recyclable green bags, people would fill them with nonperishable food and leave them on the porch, someone would pick up the full bag, leave an empty one and take the food to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

Its first drive netted about 600 pounds of food. By the end of 2016, Food Projects throughout the county had collected more than 2 million pounds of food. Their most recent drive, in February, netted 16 tons. 

Now the film is bringing the project national attention. The documentary was produced locally by Laney D’Aquino and her studio, Illustrated Sandwich, which sits atop the Plaza in an office with wide windows overlooking the heart of the town.

“This felt like being a participant,” said D’Aquino as she screened the film to a core group who helped raise money and make the film a reality. “This is a civic responsibility. There’s some ethos in documenting the time we’re living in."

It took roughly a year and $7,000, $6,500 of which came through individual donations from community residents. “This town getting to see itself at home is important,” said D’Aquino.

The film gets at the challenges its producers weren’t sure everyone understood. For instance, according to the filmmakers, 18 percent of Ashland’s population lives below the poverty line and 46 percent of Ashland’s children go to school hungry. The film asserts the program has helped reduce that level of hunger.

“Whatever the issue, you can solve it within community," said Steve Russo, a producer and a founder of the Food Project. “This film is a pat on the back for the 2,500 families who are doing something. The last pickup was 33,000 pounds of food. This started here, we need to celebrate that.”

The Food Project idea eventually grew into the nonprofit Neighborhood Food Project (name corrected from previous version), which is teaching other communities how to create a similar program. It’s in 50 other communities, from Medford, Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Eagle Point and Central Point to Portland and Berkeley, California.

Producer and Food Project participant Ron Mogel described growing up with a single mom and two siblings. His father died when he was still a child.

“My mom provided a roof and food, and we all went to college,” said Mogul in describing why the project and film resonate for him. “It wouldn’t have taken much for the fortune I have to have disappeared. I see the people on the streets as my brothers and sisters who at this point in time are suffering, and if I can help them, that’s wonderful.”

Gregg Gassman, who serves as a consulting producer and works with the Ashland Food Project, said he is inspired by how many people who once got help are now part of giving it back to others.

“We met a lady when we were doing a pickup who had just moved to this house. She wanted to be part of it because she used to be a client and she wanted to give back. That’s a powerful story.”

The “Green Bag Solution” will be shown at the Ashland Independent Film Festival at 9:40 p.m. Friday, April 7, and 12:40 p.m. Sunday, April 9, at Ashland Street Cinemas.

Producers hope that’s just the start. They are currently raising money for greater distribution.

“The biggest thing we all have committed to is the fact that we wanted to do something that’s inspirational, and hopefully jumpstart a project like this in other communities,” said Russo. “Once we show it here, we’re going to figure out how to get it into other film festivals.”

The group said they need another $10,000 to get the film into other festivals to grow the project nationally and even internationally. They have a fundraising page at www.kickstarter.com/projects/469474133/the-green-bag-solution. As of Thursday, $6,245 had been raised.

Admission to the film is free, but a ticket is required in the “locals only” category. AIFF tickets go on sale March 26.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

Paul Giancarlo unloads food to a volunteer at the Ashland Food Bank during a June 2010 Ashland Food Project collection day. [Mail Tribune / file photo]