Sunday, 12 September 2010

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" ~ a documentary about organic farming and an extraordinary man

I love this film and recommend it most highly to anyone interested in the quality of the food they eat, the source of their food, organics, sustainability, farming and so on.

It is the story of farmer John Peterson, who presents a compelling story of growing up on a farm in America's mid-west, inheriting it, giving it up twice - and going back one more time.   Finally  he arrived at style of farming that worked for him, biodynamics, a form of organic agriculture. 

He certainly is an unusual man.  At a time in history when the display of natural emotions still incurs censure he generously lets us into his private world: his joys and sorrows, anger and frustration, his relationships, and ultimately his celebration of farming life, the people who make it happen and the land itself.

Movie trailer:

His commentary includes a social history, beginning with the times when small family farms prospered and then fell on hard times, most of them being sold off; of the prejudices of a rural community against one of their own who chose to live and express himself differently to them, and of how these difficulties were gradually overcome. 

The film is dedicated to his mother, Anna Peterson.  Farmer John describes her as the reason he has the farm today.  Thanks also to her enthusiasm with a video camera the documentary contains much video footage from his childhood.  John has continued this family tradition with the result that the documentary is enriched with plenty more from throughout his adult years.

During his adult years he experienced multiple set-backs and difficulties of the sort that would crush many; the viewer gets an insider's perspective on what these were.  Faced with what seem like insurmountable odds he came across and was inspired by the writings of Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian mystic and scientist whose teachings
"completely altered the way I view nature, community, education and the spiritual world".
These teachings also inspired Community Supported Agriculture in the United States and initiated the world-wide biodynamics movement.

Initially diffident about the idea of others being closely involved with his farm he came to think that farming should be 
"where you have a direct relationship with the people you grow for."
He decided to re-launch the farm as a Community Supported Agriculture farm.  In this structure shareholders include those consumers who not only put money up front, but are also involved in the work of the farm.  In exchange they receive a box of freshly picked produce a week.

Change and growth came gradually on a business front as well as agriculturally.  John relates:
"I started to blend diverse elements into a whole: forest, wetland, orchards, flowers, chickens, ducks, cows, horses, birds, worms. This began to heal the farm..."
The results as seen on film are impressive.

At the time the film was made the farm had expanded to include a neighbouring farm, purchased with the pooled funds of twenty shareholders and leased back to the main farm so that it can  be used to grow additional produce.  What used to be a single family farm had become a farm involving over 1,200 families and harvesting two tons of vegetables a day.

I found this movie deeply inspiring as well as moving.  All power to you, John!

The farm is named Angelic Organics. Here is the farms web page about the movie:
Other interesting links:
For American readers interested in Community Supported Agriculture groups...
In New Zealand the shift to organic farming has an enthusiastic following as can be seen in this collection of television episodes from the farming show Country Calendar now available on DVD :
Individual episodes of Country Calendar can be watched here:
And just in case you're interested here is:

1 comment:

Penelope said...

Okay, going to hunt this one out, Thanks, Leigh.