The Real Dirt on Farmer John
July 18, 2009
I saw this movie because WorldPeas (my CSA) was having a showing. Although I couldn’t make it, I checked out the film from the library and was blown away. It is an amazing story of a third generation Midwestern farmer who had full responsibility for the farm by the time he was 20.
When his father died, he had no choice but to go to college close to home so that he could keep the farm running. The farm soon became a hang out for young artists and hippies, and was filled with life and excitement. However, loan sharks and bad roomers led to farmer John having to sell most of his land in his early thirties. He was devastated and felt like a great failure to his father, family and community, especially as he watched all of his farm equipment being auctioned to his neighbors.
In reality farming is just extremely difficult, as evidenced by family farms across the country being swallowed by bigger, more efficient technologies, and as subsidies awarded the wrong kind of farming. After some soul searching and some money borrowing from his mother, John was finally able to start farming again. He needed to. He knew it was his destiny.
This time he wanted to go organic. Bugs and lots of rain followed. But so did a group of city dwellers requesting to start CSA with John. They wanted to eat fresh, organic vegetables and to support local agriculture. They wanted to be able to meet their farmer, to see and pick their vegetables, to have an investment in their foodstuff. The CSA flourished. When John turned to his shareholders to tell them the land could not take constant planting any longer, his shareholders purchased the plot next door and leased it to John, whom they trusted to grow their food. Angelic Organics is now a thriving, polyculture, organic farm about community involvement, interns, and people that want to touch the soil, maybe even give it a taste.
This film was incredible because of its artistry, because a man has documented his entire life in video, and because it is an emotional and important story. But most of all it is about the connection between the body and the spirit. Angelic Organic was only successful because the people were invested in the earth, its health, its growth, and the well being of its farmer. This is the only approach that will lead to healthy, sustainable food. A holistic approach where the people give back to the land and the land produces nutrients for the people.
(No one is more devoted to this holistic approach than Wendell Berry –check out “The Art of the Common-Place”, but more on him later.)