Rain on the farm guarantees certain things.
1) My Farmer doesn’t feel the need to escape the house at 5 a.m.
2) The honey-do list is completed.
3) We are more likely to go out to dinner (with a trip to Farm & Fleet included).
This week’s cool temps and sporadic rainfall idled tractors and assured me a date night, one that My Farmer and I haven’t shared in 12 years – dinner and a movie – in the big city to boot.
Last night, we attended the premiere of Farmland hosted by Illinois Farm Families at the AMC Theaters downtown Chicago. We left early for our trek to the city. The goal was to avoid traffic in order to enjoy dinner at an Italian eatery just down the street from the theater. Unfortunately, traffic had other plans.
Farmland, a documentary from Academy-award winning director James Moll, is a short 1 hour 20 minute glance at the lives of six young farmers and ranchers and their families. Unlike other agriculture themed documentaries, this film isn’t out to reveal any big secrets buried in rural America. Because for family farmers seeking to connect with folks asking questions about food and farms, there really are no more secrets. As one of the film’s farmers stated, “We have nothing to hide. What do you want to know?”
Instead, movie-goers received a very accurate snapshot of life on a farm. Moll did well capturing the diversity of American agriculture. His subjects included a self-proclaimed commercial organic farmer, a corn farmer, hog farmer, poultry farmer, cattle rancher and produce farmer. Each individual had very different stories of how they came to be the next generation on the farm, or in the case of the lone female farmer profiled, how she came to start her One Woman Farm.
What was evident, in spite of the differences in production methods, crops, and livestock, these farmers shared a palpable passion for their craft. You could taste it as they described the why of farming.
We found ourselves nodding in agreement, chuckling at the challenges and smiling at the accomplishments of our fellow farmers on screen. Because we’ve been there and for me, seeing a true and accurate portrayal of American farmers validated what we do inside our own fence rows every day.
Afterwards, speaking with others in the theater, I was reminded that the medium of farm storytelling will not change an individual’s personal worldview. As one woman said, “It was good, but focused on industrial agriculture and not, you know, food.”
WHAT? I had to step back. How could someone watch those families – members of the tiny 2% who farm and ranch – and see industry instead of legacy, tradition, commitment, faith and family, always family. Her explanation mirrored the conversation I shared with two young bike riders who visited our farm last summer. “All this corn and not a kernel to eat.” The panoramic shots of wheat and corn fields, barns, open spaces and tractors did not resonate; she didn’t see what I saw.
I wonder if the film included a farmer who milks cows twice a day or plucks apples from an orchard . . . would she have seen something different? I don’t know that I would have. Because they are farmers too, challenged by my challenges – markets, weather, labor and legacy. A farmer is a farmer.
Critics say this was a missed opportunity to tackle the hard-hitting buzzwords plaguing the farm/food conversation these days. I say, buzzwords be damned. They do not drive the everyday of farming. We get up; we head out and tackle the day, whether planting, harvesting, or waiting out the rain. That much is true whether raising corn on 5,000 acres or carrots on one acre.
Thank you to the farmers and ranchers who agreed to open their lives to cameras and probably more critique than appreciation from non-farmers and farmers alike. I am grateful for your efforts as advocates for agriculture, but more importantly I am grateful for your efforts as farmers.
To find out where you can see Farmland, visit farmlandfilm.com.