Who doesn’t love a good food documentary? It’s important that farmers’ voices are heard and the uplifting and beautiful story of agriculture is told in a mainstream way.
So many documentaries that look at the agricultural sector are bankrolled by companies or organizations that aim to tell just one side of the story — they intentionally deceive in order to turn a profit. But a good food documentary isn’t about that. Food and farming documentaries should be about the farmers and their generations-long stewardship of the land, along with the continued pursuit of doing things better and more sustainably.
Here is a list of the top films and series to watch that tell the firsthand (and truthful) story of agriculture and are accessible via platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vimeo, and YouTube:
Academy Award-winning director James Moll helms an in-depth documentary spotlighting six young ranchers and farmers and uncovering the high-risk/high-reward of farming. Nothing is off limits from organic to GMO, large farms and small. Throughout the documentary, the farmers (all in their 20s and 30s) struggle to maintain their farms and make the operations more and more sustainable.
BEEF Magazine explains that “Moll told his documentary subjects that, as a Los Angeles urbanite, he had little understanding of food production. If he was curious about how food he buys in the grocery store is produced, he figured thousands of consumers were, too.” So, he gives us a day-to-day look at each of his subjects.
A high-end restaurant in Toronto, Canada, called Canoe traces all of the ingredients from one dish back to the Ontario province farms where the ingredients originated from. The film is all encompassing: from organic farms to beekeeping, large cattle ranches and sunflowers — a wide array of foods and production methods! The ending of the film will leave you with “the feels.” You may even shed a tear or two over the remarkable connection you feel to the honest pride from the family farm.
Canoe Chef John Horne’s authentic curiosity propels Before The Plate. He asks questions, both broad and nuanced, and is fascinated by so many farm facts — from the oil in sunflower seeds and the longtime waste of undersized carrots to the hefty penalties for having traces of antibiotics in milk to a large greenhouse’s incorporation of CO2 byproduct from a nearby ethanol plant. It was clear that he was on a journey of discovery and that his revelations about agriculture could be your revelations or the revelations of any member of the public. (Read our review here.)
Have you ever seen broccoli in the forest? It is a tale involving two Dutch friends: one is Hidde Boersma, a scientist who sees remarkable potential in GMOs; the other is Karsten de Vreugd, a man who celebrates organic production and is skeptical of GMOs. They go from their native Netherlands to England and then to the farms in Bangladesh.
This film explains the importance of genetic modification, and the pair explore how our first-world privilege may very well be harming the Earth and how farmers in the poorest countries need biotechnology the most. (Read our review here.)
A short film featuring science-based moms who share the same common goal of feeding their children without fearmongering!
From GMOs to vaccines to a whole host of other things used to scare today’s parents, these five moms boil down the science the right way.
A film that encourages farmers to speak up and tell their stories with messages devoted to bridging the gap between farmers and consumers. Will farmers be allowed to feed 9 billion people?
The short documentary looks at the science, sustainability, and food safety aspects of modern agriculture and encourages farmers to stand up for their right to farm.
A balanced film that showcases the debate on GMOs, narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and directed by Academy Award-nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The filmmakers have a deep understanding of what drives people to make decisions about their food — there are more emotional factors at play than there are rational ones.
Overall, the film shows GMOs in a favorable light. It respects science and technology. It would be a disservice to play down the consensus among the scientific community and how widely celebrated genetically engineered traits are for drought tolerance, disease resistance, and the ability to feed the hungriest among us. (Read more on the film here.)
In this feature film, actress Clare Danes plays a young Temple Grandin. Based on a true story, the film tells her life story growing up with autism. Grandin eventually finds her life’s work and passion lies with working cattle and is currently professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an autism spokesperson.
She is one of the first autistic individuals to publicly share insights from her experience with autism and is famous for her breakthrough research on cattle handling and state-of-the-art livestock processing facilities.
A crowd-funded film made by Fin and Fur productions from Montana, it follows four men and sixteen mustangs on an epic 3,000-mile journey from Mexico to Canada through the American West to inspire adoptions for the 50,000 wild horses and burros in government captivity. It celebrates the American mustang as they travel through some of the most beautiful public lands in the country.
The Audience Award winner at Telluride Mountainfilm and Hot Docs Film Festival, Unbranded is a soaring tale of danger and resilience, an emotionally charged odyssey that shines a bright light on the complex plight of our country’s wild horses.
A short film that explores bonds between mustangs and combat veterans. This documentary was created and filmed by Heroes and Horses, a program that inspires veterans to move beyond the difficulties experienced from years of war, toward a life of restoration and hope.
According to the filmmakers, 500 Miles intends “to start a new, universally-understood conversation around the necessity of struggle, challenge and perseverance as they relate to creating meaning in one’s life – without one, you cannot have the other. The 500 Miles film communicates the importance of this concept by telling the story of the un-purposed wild mustang and the un-purposed veteran, following both as they learn to face and navigate challenges, with the ultimate goal of discovering what their greater purpose in life is.”
This drama highlights Amberley Snyder, a nationally ranked barrel racer who, at 19, barely survived a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors told her she’d never regain use or feeling again below her waist — despite that, 18 months later she was back in the saddle.
In a Today interview, Snyder explained where the film’s title comes from. “The very first day of therapy, when my nurse asked me what my goals are, I tell her, ‘Walk, ride, rodeo, that’s it. There’s not an ‘if,’ there’s not an ‘and,’ there’s not a ‘maybe,’ this is what we’re doing.’ ” (Read more on the film here.)
Cowboys is a feature-length documentary that offers the opportunity to ride alongside modern working cowboys on some of America’s largest and most remote cattle ranches while working on horseback. Narrated through the firsthand accounts from the cowboys themselves, the story is steeped in authenticity and explores the rewards and hardships of a celebrated but misunderstood way of life — along with the challenges that lie ahead for the cowboys and ranches critical to providing the world’s supply of beef.
A few honorable mentions: The Farmers Wife, Landline (Australia), Duke and the Buffalo, and Losing Ground. There are many more wonderful films out there, but these are some of the best ones I’ve come across that do a great job highlighting the real and positive story of agriculture and the farmers and ranchers who lead this industry.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.