Saturday, January 02, 2010

Movie Review: The Real Dirt on Farmer John

I beg you forgive my lack of detail in the following review. After all, I watched htis documentary a few weeks ago, and I can barely remember what I did this morning.

As she looked over my selection of chicken-raising related books, the kindly Monona librarian recommended I check out this film. I promptly put in a request for it as soon as I got home.

The Monona librarian had warned me that the film started slowly but also had urged me to stick with it through the first 20 minutes or so. I don't necessarily agree that the beginning is slow; it's meant to give some background on the early family and farm life of John Peterson (aka Farmer John). (For those who don't know, Farmer John is the famous celebrity-farmer/proprietor of Angelic Organics in Northern Illinois.)

John came from a family in which everyone--grandparents, parents, aunts & uncles--farmed. John was raised on his family's farm, for which he took over most of the responsibility while still a teenager. While in college during the late 60's, John hooked up with a group of what used to be known as hippies--you know, dope-smoking artists and other free spirit types--who came to live and work on the farm with him. The rural northern Illinois farming community neighbors did not approve, and soon wild rumours abound concerning John--who himself is a bit of a character by most standards--and the goings-on at the farm.

I don't want to spoil this for those who might be interested in it, so I'll stop there. Let's just say that the film is about much more that John's personal story. It's about the loss of family farms/the rise of big agriculture and how that has affected our land and how and what we eat. It's about reclaiming the overworked, poisoned land with a healthier and smarter, albeit often more demanding, way of farming. It's about the farmer reconnecting with the people for whom he's producing, and those people in return learning not just about where their food comes from and how it's grown but also how they can give back to the farmer.

4/5 stars. I say rent it. It'll make you think. And, there's plenty of eye candy for farm junkies such as I.

Favorite part: (Probably) the bit where John explains the "salad" of the fallow field.

Heartbreaking: The auction of a family's farm equipment, an entire family's farming history sold for peanuts.

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