One measure of a documentary film’s success is how it gets people talking — and, hopefully, thinking — about the world around them. Over the summer, the movie “Food Evolution” did just that. “Farmers For America” appears to be doing that, too, and in the past week since the film premiered at the historic City Market in Indianapolis, many voices have chimed in on social media with their perspectives.
The only problem: very few people have seen it thus far, so there aren’t as many people weighing in as there could be.
The day after the premiere, AGDAILY published a review of the movie, noting that it was largely a celebration of the niche ag sector and how young farmers are finding their place there. While that component of agriculture is important, the film also seemed to discount the value of anything “corporate” in the industry and didn’t factor in how high school- and college-level ag education is shaping the younger generation in the fields of ag technology, business savvy, marketing, and networking.
One other review published by someone at the premiere echoed many of the observations AGDAILY had about the film’s direction and tones.
One lesson that has come out of the social media discussions linked to the AGDAILY review is that we spend so much time focused on educating the public about today’s farmers that we sometimes fall short on educating one another. You can be in the thick of farming on a daily basis and not know what your neighbor is working on, let alone what someone a state or a region away is doing. A key piece of the movie review stated: “We’re in a world that needs a varied approach to agriculture, where big and little, conventional and organic, and young and old farmers collectively contribute to feeding and clothing society.”
During these online discussions, I connected with Megan Brown, a California cattle rancher who was featured in the Graham Meriwether-directed “Farmers For America.” Her ranch has been devastated by wildfires, but she was still generous enough to offer her insights and perspective on the film (the only downside was that we had to do this over email rather than on the phone, so we weren’t able make it a perfect environment for real conversation).
Overall, Brown was happy with how the film portrayed agriculture for today’s young people. Here’s what she had to say:
AGDAILY: What were your thoughts about how the movie turned out and the message it conveyed?
Brown: I think any time we are able to get a movie out to our consumers that isn’t based on fear, that does’t make farmers and ranchers look like faceless monsters, it’s a good thing. So often the messages that get out to the public are not flattering for agriculture. I like how Graham let individual farmers and ranchers tell their own story about their operations. It’s important for people to see there are many different niches within agriculture, part of that is the local food movement. There is something people really like about seeing young people working hard to carve out a place.
I understand why people are upset at the trailer, when the farmer mentions “dousing in pesticides” — but we need to remember, a farmer said that. And if farmers in our own industry still think and say that, it’s not the filmmaker’s fault. It’s ours, as an industry.
AGDAILY: One of my primary concerns was that there are so many ag students who are getting hands-on experience with robotic milking and drone use and the science of seed technology that it seems disingenuous, in a movie about young people in ag and the industry’s future, for it not to talk about all of the skills and training young people can receive.
Brown: While I will agree the technology involved with agriculture is amazing and an important part of most farms and ranches, not everyone in production agriculture has been able to adopt it. As a rancher trying to diversify from my families ranch, some technology is simply out of my reach until I expand and grow. But in the meantime if I can capitalize on not using technology by marketing to a segment of our popular who value that way of doing things, why not make the best out of the situation? Personally, I lean toward Ms. Haspel’s train of thought, but I also live in California, where there is a huge market for local and organic. Talking about all the different technology we use is all the different aspects of agriculture is a film series in itself. And I would like to watch that very much.
AGDAILY: The film talked to a couple of FFA kids, but it didn’t really explore that angle much. Through FFA, the leadership opportunities and networking that these young people are doing is exactly the kind of things that are preparing them for a career in ag. The film also didn’t touch on ag degrees or education at all, which most farmers these days are getting. To you, how important are those pieces to someone entering the industry?
Brown: First off, anytime I see 4-H or FFA being talked about, I get excited. I think these are wonderful programs, and I am a product of both. To do them justice, we should probably make a movie purely about them. I also earned a degree in agriculture from CSU, Chico. I benefitted greatly from my experience with ag organizations and my education. But because I do have the privilege of coming from a production agriculture background, they weren’t imperative. However, I think for someone that wants to enter agriculture, without growing up in or around it, they would become much more important. I really can’t imagine trying to enter the ag industry without either growing up in it, being a member of 4-H or FFA, or earning a degree in it. It seems like the odds would be stacked against you. I seem to remember talking to Graham about his during one of our interviews, so hopefully/maybe he’s planning a follow up film?
AGDAILY: Tell me a bit about your impressions of Graham.
Brown: I’m very fond and appreciative of Graham. He and his family spent a lot of time out here on the ranch with me. I know he wants to help farmers and ranchers. And he spends a lot of time dedicating himself to that. We’ve definitely had differences of opinion about some topics, but he is always willing to hear me out — which is huge to me. That’s why it was, at times, embarrassing to me to see ag people attacking this film, or even him, without even seeing it first. I guess agriculture is used to be slandered in most films, so I am trying to be empathetic to that defensive point of view. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
AGDAILY: Another key area of concern for me was simply having a polarizing figure such as Joel Salatin in it, and the Leave it Better production company having Chipotle as a backer. I’m not asking whether there is an inherent slant in the film, but in your opinion, would it be better for a filmmaker (Graham or anyone down the road) to use different/neutral subjects and funding sources to simply avoid the perception of bias?
Brown: I agree, I find Mr. Salatin polarizing. But he also has the public’s attention. Something he is saying is resonating with a vocal group of consumers. To not mention him in a film about small, local and young producers would almost seem disingenuous. Many people consider him a “pioneer or leader” if you will. I’m sure to many that fall into Mr. Salatin’s camp, Mr. Hurst could be polarizing as well, or even me, since I am conventional agriculture in terms of our beef. I’ve never had to get funding for a project like this. But I can’t imagine it’s easy. And I supposed in a perfect world a filmmaker would love to use neutral backers about neutral subjects. However, the funding issue is something I see people on all “sides” criticize, remember when Monsanto donated to 4-H? Or Monsanto donated money to help Dr. Folta expand science literacy. As near as I can figure on this topic is we all have a bias, and there is always going to be someone who will find issue with who funded what, to say what.
Ryan Tipps is the managing editor for AGDAILY. He has covered farming since 2011, and his writing has been honored by state- and national-level agricultural organizations.