Rethinking Agriculture

There are a growing number of great food- and farming-related documentaries out there. We’ve previously recommended three: Food, Inc., King Corn, and SuperSize Me!. All are exceedingly worthwhile investigations into modern agricultural policies and methods and their impacts on our health, our food system, and our planet. This month we recommend two more:

Farm for the future 2Natural World: A Farm for The Future is wildlife filmmaker Rebecca Hosking’s exploration into farming without reliance on fossil fuels. As her father approaches retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, England, intending to become the next generation to farm the land. Stunned by the farm’s fuel bill and the realization that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is. Alarmed by the answers, she realizes that the sooner she figures out how to farm without fossil fuel inputs, the more secure her own family’s farm—and by extension, global farming—will be. With the help of similarly concerned farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that the key is enlisting nature as an ally, not fighting it as the source of pests, inopportune weather, or other challenges that, conventional agriculture advises, should be dealt with chemically. Instead, Rebecca adopts various permaculture techniques, including fully pastured cows and “food forests,” shuns chemicals and uses the power of biodiversity to increase yields and reduce labor and fuel use.

The film presents the connection between oil and food in a way that leaves little doubt that today’s farms, even organic ones and small ones, are utterly dependent on oil and, to a lesser extent, other fossil fuels. There’s a wonderful explanation using a simple deli sandwich of just how fuel-dependent our food is. But this is not a scare-us-to-death disaster film—it shows that “post-oil farming” can be done.

A Farm for the Future also makes clear that industrial agriculture is a necrotic system—the soil is dead, and without constant inputs of chemical fertilizers, crops would not grow successfully. As part of a move to sustainable farming techniques, soil can be reconditioned and nutrient cycles can be reestablished to once again create a living system with naturally fertility.

Originally shown as a 48-minute special on BBC, A Farm for the Future can now be downloaded and watched for free via several websites.

Ground OperationsGround Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields is a documentary film and social action campaign on behalf of the growing network of combat veterans who are transitioning into careers as sustainable farmers, ranchers and artisan food producers.  At a time when America’s farmers are aging into retirement and the USDA is calling for one million new farmers and ranchers to replace them in the next ten years, thousands of GIs are returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in need of emotional solace, peacetime job training, and a new purpose in life. For many of them, agriculture’s problem is their solution. “As a combat veteran, I was involved in a lot of destruction,” says one former Marine in the film. ”Shifting from that to growing something, seeing something thrive, causes a very deep spiritual transformation.”

Another story told is that of Sgt. Adam Burk, who made a promise to God after being hit by a mortar in Iraq: if he could live to see his family one more time, he would do something to make his life worth saving. Two years later he started the Veterans Farm, a place of respite and job training in organic blueberry production for disabled vets like himself.

While these vets are transitioning into work that is healing and therapeutic for themselves, it is also answering the public’s growing desire for access to more affordable, locally grown, fresh, organic food in their communities—whether they’re in the urban core, the suburbs, or the rural countryside.

Produced and directed by independent filmmakers Dulanie Ellis and Raymond Singer, Ground Operations has won a slew of film festival awards and launched a support movement to get veterans the support they need in transitioning from the battlefield to the farmfield.


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