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An Introduction to the 806: An Audio Storytelling Project

By mónica teresa ortiz

 

Workers, farmers, journalists, scientists, and people from all different walks of life in Texas are witnessing and adjusting to climate change and its challenges in so many ways. Climate is changing the way we live in relation to land, water, nonhuman life, and each other, and asking us to shift away from capitalism and its structures that extract and exploit resources and people. 

I created the podcast, The 806, to examine the stories of people in Texas adapting to and resisting a rapidly changing climate by focusing on the experiences & cultural shifts of communities impacted by a chang(ed) climate & disaster in the places they call home. How are we adapting to climate disasters as communities? This journey begins in the area that I have known as my home since I was born in 1981 – the Texas Panhandle & South Plains. 

Although the 806-area code is limited to this region, I am interested in connecting to the narratives of communities across Texas facing climate change and creating conversations and building relationships through audio storytelling. The 806 also aims to explore how tradition affects how we respond. I was born and raised in the Texas Panhandle but left in 1999. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020, I returned to the Great Plains and to my family. Despite having grown up in a rural farming community dependent on agriculture, as an adult, much had changed, and I revisited my own memories of a childhood spent alongside my abuelito – a migrant and farmer. 

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I am no stranger to the effects of human-designed climate disasters. In the evenings, big thick rolling clouds of dust obscure the clear horizon of the plains. But it isn’t ordinary dust or dirt. They come from neighboring feedyards. As a result of living in close proximity to these feedlots, many people in the Panhandle have recurring health issues, such as respiratory ailments: allergies, asthma, etc. My family, and others I know, can certainly attest to respiratory problems and allergies from growing up on the Plains. Because of my own personal experiences in my community, I am deeply invested in discussions around climate change and the effects of pollution and environmental racism upon vulnerable communities. This is how and where I became interested in these concerns.

My approach may not seem traditional in terms of what Folklife means as a practice, but it’s important to document and provide a space for oral histories of communities and their cultures affected by exterior forces such as climate change. I hope through this work to expand the possibilities of what folklife means and can do for our communities. 

For the first episode, I did want to focus on farming – much of the style of farming on the Plains has been westernized and become reliant on nonregenerative methods. However, because of climate change (such as severe drought & extremely hot temperatures) & over-extraction of resources such as land & water, crops are being lost. In this opening episode, I use audio storytelling as a device to speak with people raised in the Panhandle & South Plains with different connections to farming & agriculture to provide context to the conditions we are facing as a community. 

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For context, in the area where I live, much of the farming techniques have relied on tilling, spraying pesticides, monocropping, and drip irrigation. These contribute to the destruction of soil and the depletion of water resources. Add to this the large feedyards of cattle contributing to air pollution, and the past few summers I have been home, I noticed how much dustier and drier the area has been. As a child, we were part of Tornado Alley and received days and days of rain. I remember sitting in our garage with my dad and grandfather watching the rain drench the land. After I returned in 2020, and especially this past summer of 2022, that is no longer the case. The red clay soil is cracked and dry, and many have compared Summer 2022 to Summer 2011, when the drought and heat broke records across the state. Many industries are being affected by long-term examples of climate change – from crop & flower farmers to beekeepers.

Although I began with a general idea of what I wanted to do for this podcast, the inspiration for the first episode came one Saturday morning in May, when I visited the local farmer’s market. Located at the local radio station, KDHN, I pulled off the highway into the small parking lot. It was the first time I had seen a farmer’s market in Castro County, and I was curious about what there would be. However, there were only two vendors – one was the owners and operators of the radio station and the other was another local selling fresh eggs. The owner of the station had a booth set up with bottles of honey, and I was surprised to find that all the honey being sold was from an apiary in Houston. I found that odd as I usually bought local honey in the grocery store from an apiary called Tule Creek, which is about 30 miles north of where I live. The woman, Nancy, told me she and her husband moved to Castro County two years prior and were hoping to grow the farmer’s market. I asked why the honey was from Houston, and she told me that the drought was making it difficult to find locally grown honey.

After I bought a dozen fresh eggs, I went home and began to build the idea for the podcast. The culture of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains is tied heavily to its main industries – agriculture and cattle – but the way that drought has become more and more common each year in the past 20 years is affecting that culture. However, the entry point for me into opening up a conversation about climate change in Texas starts on the ground – with workers, farmers, people who are living and experiencing and writing about these changes. Since I have long had an interest in beekeeping, and after that conversation with the radio station owner, I started researching local apiaries and that is how I came across Creek House Honey Farm, a family-owned apiary located about 50 miles north of where I live. I discovered that Creek House had been in business since 2011 and offered bee tours. This was how I found the first interview for the podcast. 

I emailed the contact and set up an interview with Paige Nestor, a former art teacher with a degree in biology. We arranged an audio interview inside a large building, where Creek House hosts a shop full of their bee products, as well as a café & brewery. I was interested in learning about what effects climate change and especially drought were having on the bees, but I was also curious about the oral history of one of the Panhandle’s bee farms. Our interview lasted about 40 minutes total, and after, I signed up for a bee tour. I wanted to see what a hive looked like. During the interview process, I learned that most hives were not located at Creek House, but about 200 miles west. They were placed there partly because of drought conditions in the Panhandle, where the drought and wind were affecting the honey bee production. 

Through this conversation with Paige, I realized the importance of people being able to share their stories through oral history and, archiving a moment in our lives when so much is changing. Aside from this interview, I researched and scheduled additional interviews with a horticulturist at Texas Tech, Dr. Vikram Bilaga, who hosts a podcast on plants, that provided insight into what was happening to plants during the drought, and how we can start adapting to climate change. The final interview I conducted was with a journalist from the Texas Tribune, Jayme Lozano, who covers agriculture in the South Plains, and talked about the trends she is seeing in agriculture and how farmers are making changes. 

The process of producing, researching, editing, writing, and assembling a podcast and thinking about the meaning and making of tradition has been simultaneously challenging and rewarding. I have really enjoyed the workshops that Texas Folklife has put together for our cohort. They have been great teaching tools and very informative when developing and exploring a praxis in this project. I have especially appreciated the availability and generosity of each of the guest facilitators in offering us support, resources, and feedback individually. During my time working on this project, Maria Martin and J.A. Straub have been helpful in my efforts to produce and edit the 806. I also learned who I am as a researcher, interviewer, oral historian, and storyteller which surprised me. For the past 20 years, I have worked as a poet and been dedicated to my craft. The experiences of being a poet assisted and supported me in this process, as I approached the podcast from a different background than others in my cohort. I found being specific when talking about my podcast to be one of the most difficult challenges I faced, but with the support of the workshops, was able to find a way to work through that.

Overall, I have really enjoyed this experience. As someone who had no audio or formal journalism training, I learned many hard skills throughout this process and felt I had an abundance of resources to support me in this project. The workshops were interesting, and the facilitators followed up with additional support in one on ones. Also, having J.A. as support and providing technical backup has been a relief. I feel that I have the basic tools and knowledge now to continue to produce, edit, and develop my podcast.

As I am wrapping up this project, I have been looking for more resources in terms of funding and generating income from this podcast, as I would love to pay for a sound editor in the future. I think that would be a useful resource: having a list of places, conferences, etc. where we can find a community and audience for our podcasts. I would like perhaps an additional workshop or more information on how to platform our work (Spotify, Audible, Apple, etc.). 

My intention is to continue with the 806 in some form, as I would like to extend the reach to the Gulf South. I think having a space to create audio storytelling and record the oral histories of people – from workers to migrants to Indigenous people – adjusting and reacting to climate change is an important issue. The US South is ground zero for organizing movements and radical liberation work, and I know that will extend into climate change as well. These are communities with a majority of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people facing these challenges because of corporate extraction, pollution, environmental racism, and corruption of local, state, and national government. Community and mutual aid work are essential to our future. I would love to produce episodes on the fight against highway expansion in Houston or the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, just to name a few. I hope to continue to learn and grow in this work, and I appreciate the opportunity that Texas Folklife has given me.


About the Author

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mónica teresa ortiz was born and raised in Texas. ortiz has work published in Scalawag Magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and forthcoming in Fence. View her work at https://linktr.ee/ridingwiththepoet 

 

About Texas Folklife's Community Folklife Fellowship

The Texas Folklife Community Folklife Fellowship program is a statewide, NEA-supported pilot program that provides training in oral history, interviewing, audio storytelling, archives, and podcast production for adults. Participants learn to document community traditions in their own cities and towns throughout the state, through workshops and community partnerships. The program supports applicants from diverse regions and communities of the state of Texas.

Learn More About Community Folklife Fellowship