You may have heard about the documentary “Farmland” in the newspapers or at a farmer meeting. You may have even been among the leadership to see an advanced screening. But did you really understand the impact that film was expected to have?
In the following commentary by Randy Krotz, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), you’ll begin to understand that the film was about creating conversations. The data shows that a significant portion of the news coverage of the film has been positive, and that conversations between farmers and non-farmers are already happening.
Illinois Farm Families, a coalition of your Illinois associations and commodity groups, brought a screening of the film to Chicago and finished the experience with a panel of farmers in the theater ready to answer questions from the influential non-farmers in the audience. The conversations between the farmers and non-farmers, and the understandings between the two that resulted, are a significant step in the right direction.
By Randy Krotz
In March 2013, Academy Award-winning director James Moll announced plans for a documentary about the next generation of farmers and ranchers during South by Southwest. As part of the announcement, James disclosed that USFRA would provide financial support for the making of the film, later named “Farmland.” Since then, USFRA hasn’t really talked about our role in the making of this film, because we really haven’t had one.
Farmland was completed in early March 2014, and on May 1 hit theatres nationwide in a limited run. To say we were surprised at the response to the film would be an understatement. While we hoped it would spark conversation about American agriculture, and we anticipated a fair share of Hollywood critique, we didn’t expect this movie to draw such clear lines in the American landscape between those who grow our food and those who consume it. The geographic lines of delineation are a fascinating study in the way our opinions are shaped by our day-to-day experiences.
USFRA’s mission has been to bring agriculture into the day-to-day lives of the American public, by making farms and farmers, and ranches and ranchers accessible to anyone who has interest in learning about them. We know there is room at the table for everyone in the conversation about how our food is grown and raised. We believe the best way for people to learn about the work America’s farmers and ranchers are doing every day is to give those farmers and ranchers platforms to tell their stories and share their experiences with us, directly.
For three years, USFRA has worked to give farmers and ranchers that platform, to be heard on their terms. Through FoodDialogues.com, in-person Food Dialogues events, and our incredibly rich and diverse farming and ranching community on Facebook, we’ve been able to help US farmers and ranchers share their stories, knowledge, and insights on American agriculture.
Farmland was a project that extended the reach of farmers’ and ranchers’ stories far beyond the walls of the Internet, one that brings agriculture to consumers on their terms, telling the stories of farmers and ranchers on theirs. Farmland remains true to the director James Moll’s intent – to be a character study, not an issues piece. The film examines the daily lives of six young American farmers and does so without a third party narrator -- you only hear the voices of the farmers themselves. Their stories, set against the landscape of our nation’s farmland, stand strongly on their own.
Some have said that Farmland is an answer to other agriculture or food-issues films. It isn’t. Farmland is an answer to the growing divide in America between consumer and farmer. Farmland is the answer to every farmer who wants to help people understand where the food on their plates comes from, but doesn’t know how or where to begin that conversation. Farmland is the answer to the fact that a lot of people are talking about farmers and ranchers, but precious few are talking to them. Farmland is the answer to the regional and political divide that separates this nation, an answer that hopes to bridge the gap between those who live for agriculture and those who live because of it.
The issue we hear most about Farmland begins with the fact that we helped fund the film. Films are funded every day by organizations with an interest in the subject matter – your favorite Hollywood zombie blockbuster was funded by some organization, and so was the last issues-based documentary you watched. This is not new and not revolutionary – it’s merely a red herring to stop the conversation before it begins. It’s no different than calling someone ‘anti-science’ the moment they ask a question about GMOs, or calling them a ‘corporate shill’ as soon as they speak in support of technological advances in agriculture.
The issue Farmland has bubbled up is the cultural and regional divides in America. We think we can bridge those divides. In fact, we think it’s already happening.
Whenever you try to change the conversation, you encounter pushback from those maintaining the status quo. We see everything that’s come since Farmland’s release as a great opportunity to further the conversation about food and food issues, to introduce you to the people who have dedicated their lives to growing the food you eat and to let them tell you the real stories about your food. We need to come together more now than ever to continue this conversation, really hear each other, and figure this all out together.
We hope that you will join us.
USFRA consists of nearly 80 farmer - and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners representing virtually all aspects of agriculture. USFRA works to engage in dialogues with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. The alliance is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers and ranchers efforts to increase consumer confidence and trust in today’s agriculture.