'Farmland' gives a glimpse of boots-on-the-ground agriculture

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Earlier this week, I was fortunate to be able to attend a screening of Farmland, a documentary that follows six young farmers and ranchers and highlights their challenges, successes and reasons for choosing to make their livelihood in agriculture.

Don Holtz The documentary will be released to the public May 1, and after seeing it this week, it is my hope that men and women – young and old, from the city and the country, vegan and meat-eater alike – will make the choice to see this film. Here’s why.

Agriculture is a diverse, technical, high risk-high reward, consumer-driven business.

Five minutes into the film and just brief introductions of the six young producers makes that point clear. There’s a rancher from Texas (be sure to read the April issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork to learn all about his story); a poultry farmer from Georgia; a corn and soybean farmer from Nebraska; an organic vegetable grower from California; a community supported agriculture (CSA) farmer from Pennsylvania; and a hog, corn and soybean farmer from Minnesota.

While each of the six were passionate about their little corner of the industry and held deeply-rooted opinions (that they were willing to share) about the production practices they choose, all six repeatedly reiterated that the diversity in agriculture today ultimately benefits the consumer.

The two producers who grow organic vegetables, the two who at first blush seem the most similar, were actually a prime example of diversity in this industry. On the one hand, there was the CSA farmer who is making it as a first-generation operator on a small plot of land with old equipment who sold her produce through the CSA, at farmers markets and directly to high-end restaurants. On the other, there was a fourth-generation vegetable farmer who had about 750 acres of organic vegetables, relied on big equipment and lots of hired labor. His produce was processed through big warehouses and shipped out on big trucks to supermarkets and retail outlets. They both use organic practices to grow their crops, but the similarities pretty much end there. From size to use of equipment and technology to marketing practices – the two couldn’t have been more different.

That’s agriculture. No two operations are the same and that’s the beauty of it all. The six shared a common bond in calling themselves agricultural producers but their day-to-day operations are extremely diverse. Most importantly though, they were able to carefully articulate why they do what they do to meet the demands of their customers without saying “my way is better than yours.”

That’s a valuable lesson for all. It’s one that I hope Chipotle’s marketing team hears. It’s also one that I sometimes need to be reminded of as well.

Big or small. Organic or conventional. Produce, row crop or livestock. There’s room, there’s demand, there’s need for all.

The documentary didn’t shy away from the challenges farmers and ranchers face – consumer scrutiny, financial risk and capital demands, natural disasters, generational transfer, government regulation, balancing farm demands with family life and more. Among the six, some entered this industry according to a long-established plan, one had a crazy idea when she was 20-years old, one was thrust into it out of a family tragedy. Regardless, of how they arrived at their present spot, they have each chosen to make their livelihood in production agriculture because of the sense of accomplishment that comes from growing and producing food to feed the world.

From my perspective, the documentary paints a pretty accurate picture of agriculture from the perspective of young producers today.

Will it be the silver-bullet answer to every challenge we face in educating consumers, influencers, government officials and policymakers, members of the mainstream media, and anyone else who questions how and where food is produced? No. It won’t. I think we’d be foolish to think it would. But hopefully individuals “outside the family” will choose to see it, will make an effort to learn, and will then be better prepared to ask educated questions and engage in a conversation about farming and ranching in the United States. If that can be achieved, then I’d say it was worth it.

To learn more about the documentary and to find out where you can see it next month, visit www.farmlandfilm.com


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