Fruits of labor: Local photographer holds exhibit at Main Squeeze

Dan Hemmelgarn's work features 24 photos of farmers and food at the café on Ninth Street.

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Photographs dot the right wall of Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café on Ninth Street, each image displaying some aspect of agriculture — organic black lentils escaping between a farmer’s fingers or palms embracing a piglet, a goat and a rooster.

“The World is in Our Hands” photo exhibit by local photographer Dan Hemmelgarn features 24 photos that have a continuous theme of farmers and the naturally grown food they produce. The exhibit will be displayed until the end of March.

Hemmelgarn says the main focus of the exhibit is the way in which farmers grow their food and the impact it has on the environment and people’s health.

“I hope to get people to start questioning and learning more about how their food is produced,” Hemmelgarn says. “(The organic farmers) take pride in how they produce the food, the nutrient content, and they’re producing it without poisoning the water and poisoning the soil.”

Spurred by his and his wife’s organic lifestyle, Hemmelgarn started taking the series of photos that are on display in this exhibit in 2008. For many years, Hemmelgarn and his wife, Melinda, have purchased a large portion of their produce from the Columbia Farmers Market.

At the time, the market was trying to create a pavilion as a protection from weather. In order to contribute, Hemmelgarn and his wife came up with the idea of creating a calendar as a fundraising project, each month donning a photo taken by Hemmelgarn.

“It gives me an opportunity to create an image, to capture a moment in time that will elicit an emotional response from viewers and hopefully to tell a story, whether it’s a landscape photo that helps people understand the significance of beauty or the importance of protecting it,” Hemmelgarn says.

Main Squeeze owner Leigh Lockhart says the café tries to present a new exhibit once every month, ranging from showcases of paintings to sculptures to photography.

Lockhart is also a subject in one of Hemmelgarn’s photos, her hands holding a cabbage. Because Main Squeeze serves all-natural food, Lockhart believes the current exhibit provides “a beautiful match.”

“He’s really captured what’s important about agriculture,” Lockhart says. “Look at my hands. … We use our hands in the field, and he really captures how gnarly they look.”

Hemmelgarn also began a series of eight greeting cards with one of his photos of a farmer’s hands as the front cover, a thumbnail of the farmer’s portrait on the back and a quote from the farmer about why they farm the way they do.

He and his family extend their involvement in agriculture beyond the calendars and greeting cards. Melinda, a registered dietitian and food writer, has a show on KOPN called Food Sleuth that airs at 5 p.m. every Thursday. Hemmelgarn produces the show. Melinda interviews farmers and researchers. Their daughter recently finished a summer internship on an organic farm in Quebec. She is also a subject in Hemmelgarn’s favorite photo at Main Squeeze. Her hands are cradling the last tomato she picked while in Quebec.

“The most important thing you can do for yourself and your children and your children’s children is to eat organic,” Hemmelgarn says. “The other food is just a slow steady process of poisoning.”

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