Growing Local Roots

Reporting Experience Blog

By: Travis Smola


 Writing about Hunters helping the Hungry almost turned into a complete disaster.  Things seldom turn out the way I hope. My original hope for the story was to have it done a week early. Yeah, right…I should have known better, writing about a subject about deer hunting that is due only two days after Michigan firearm deer season opens.


 The first interview actually was easy. I called and set up an interview and then drove over to Climax to Bowman’s Deer Processing because they are a participating processor. I made sure to get over there about a week before firearm deer season opened on November 15th. Thankfully, it was a small operation set in a small barn-like building out in the middle of the country. I actually drove right by the place; it had no sign and was set back off the road. (For some reason I seldom want to trust my Garmin Nuvi GPS, but granted “Karen” has gotten me into trouble a few times with her bad directions.)


 I went in the middle of the week. Things were pretty slow with it still being bow season, only one deer was brought in while I was there and it happened as I was leaving. It appeared to be a family operation, and they were more than happy to talk to me and allow me to take photos of the ground venison all set for donations. In one stop, I had an interview and my multimedia. All right, I’m already ahead of schedule. This is where things got frustrating though.


 The next sources I needed were all located on the other side of the state, requiring phone calls. In Michigan, the main organization is the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger. Since they are located near Detroit, I knew it would have to be a phone interview. So I called and left a message probably the same day or a few days before I went to the processor. A few days passed with no response. I went on the site again and sent an email. I then went to a Michigan Hunting Message Board. It just so happened that the vice president of the organization had an account there so I messaged him through that site as well. I think I also left a second message on the machine.  This is really the only organization that does this type of work in Michigan, and if I can’t get a hold of someone from there I’m pretty much screwed as far as this story goes.


 Days pass….it gets to November 15,th and I still have only the interview with the processor. (I wanted to interview someone from the organization before I got a hold of a food bank to help me develop questions for the food bank).  At this point I’m getting into panic mode because the story is due in two days. So I do some research on the Internet and find this large organization called Farmers and Hunters Helping the Hungry -- they’ve been around since the mid 90’s. The only problem is they are based out of Virginia, specifically right outside the Washington, D.C. area. Well, it may not be local, but they do the same type of work and I needed a source two days ago, so I made the call hoping to get a hold of the founder. Pretty soon I was talking to a guy who quickly informed me that his dad was the founder of the organization. This was exactly who I wanted to talk to. His son told me he would get a hold of his dad and have him call me back. This is at around 2 p.m. on the 15th. About 45 minutes or so later, the guy calls me back. He quickly agreed to an interview on the phone, so I asked my first question which was simply how he started the organization. To my complete surprise, he launched into this awesome, half-hour long story of how in the early 90’s he ran into this woman loading a road-killed deer into her car and how it inspired him to start an organization dedicated to donating deer meat to the hungry. The story included how the Virgina DNR got a hold of him and asked him to take over the state-founded program, and a long part about how the organization nearly folded due to money troubles but was saved time after time by donations that came at just the right time. I was absolutely floored, this was an awesome story. Truth be told, this guy’s story of how the organization was founded could stand on it’s own as a story.


 I filled up nearly two pages of notes. 30 minutes later, he finishes the story, and says to me: “So that’s pretty much how it was founded, I’m sorry to go on for so long…umm, did you have another question?” I just had to laugh and inform him that was just the type of story I was looking for. In reality, he saved my story because I used this story for my narrative. I asked him probably a dozen more questions, but hearing the story of the organization’s founding was the best part. It was a really memorable interview. Probably the best source I’ve ever had for a story. I only wish I could have interviewed him in person because it was clear this guy was passionate about what he does.


 The next day, the 16th (day before the story is due), I get a voicemail message on my phone. “Hi Travis, this is Neal Easterbrook of the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger….” Of course, this is how it always works. I quickly called him back. Turns out he had been away hunting (exactly what I had wanted to avoid by trying to get a hold of him earlier). In any case, I managed to get an interview with him as well. In the end, it worked out very well having information from both of these organizations. They operate in a very similar manner and are founded in much the same way. I ended up getting information more specific to the Michigan organization’s doings which was really helpful.


 After that I interviewed the director of a food bank, while she gave good information, it was not nearly as interesting of an interview as the two directors of the hunger organizations. In any case, I was able to construct the majority of the story that night and finished putting it all together on the 17th (day it was due).  I really, really, hate doing that. This was a fascinating story to cover, but in the future, I think any story I write dealing with deer hunting in Michigan will require working much more in advance of the season opening!