June 11, 2009
King Corn is a Mosaic Films documentary released in 2007. It is the story of two east-coast college grads that move to Greene Iowa and rent an acre of corn. They show the corn process from planting to spraying to harvesting to drinking to diabetes. Although a lot of the information in the film has been publicized recently, it was revealing nevertheless.
Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis took us to the yard sale of yet another family farmer out of business. Community members commented on how small farms are dissappearing and being integrated by their large scale neighbors. There are a couple of reasons for this. Large scale farming has become the work of machines rather than agriculturists. There is no monitoring of the land. In fact this type of farmer may never even touch his soil. He uses a machine to till and plant, a big truck full of chemicals to fertilize and an even bigger machine to collect the corn once it is ripe. The other problem is that small corn farms are no longer viable. This is because growing corn is not profitable. Any corn grower would be in the red without government subsidies which deal out more money for more corn. Growing corn isn’t profitable because there is always a huge surplus ensured by governmental policies.
The movie was powerful because it showed what many people already know, but have yet to confront: our agriculture is far from healthy. Driving a huge tank of anhydrous ammonia back to the farm one has to wonder why getting in an accident could be worse than letting the chemical enter our food and seep into our water systems. One must also wonder, what are we doing this for?
Thats why Ellis and Cheney follow their acre. They see that most corn ends up as HFCS (each American consumed over 28kg in 2005), which has a very serious correlation to obesity and diabetes. The rest of it ends up in various other unhealthy processed foods and feeding millions of livestock. These livestock, namely cows, are not built to eat corn. Frankly it makes them very sick, gives them ulcers and ultimately kills them. However, feeding them corn and keeping them stationary allows them to reach market weight faster, and having them packed into one space makes it easier for processing plants.
The film makers never tell us what they think about the state of things, but it is pretty clear. We are in an age where surplus is not a plus. Instead of figuring out more places to stuff corn we should figure out better uses for the land that suffers for it.
Fantastic film the combines personal histories and farm stories with revealing facts and even some funnies. Great to see especially if the corn debate is new to you.