The Farmer in the Dell
"The filming of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" essentially began on that day in the 1950s when John Peterson's mother, Anna, brought home a Super-8 movie camera. A farmer's wife and school teacher from Caledonia, Ill., she filmed her family working in the fields, her children playing in the yard, the raising of a barn, the changing of the seasons and the harvest dinners supplied to neighbors who came to help with the threshing.
Her husband died at about the time her son, John, started to attend nearby Beloit College. By then it was the 1960s, and John and his friends took over the filmmaking; he was a farmer who was also a hippie, and his friends descended on the farm to create their art and, as was said in those days, do their thing. John had his hands full running the farm, a dairy and hog operation, and eventually too many bank loans came due and he had to sell most of it."
That's the set up of the film, and the old Super-8 scenes are particularly effective. After John sells most of the farm, he wanders around Mexico and returns to the farm from time to time, ultimately borrowing money from his mother, who is very much the heroine of the film, to help him buy seed to start up the farm again.
It was during this period that he started growing vegetables organically and his mother opened the "weigh and pay" stand in front of her house. Ultimately, John brands his farm products as Angelic Organics.
Ebert finishes with this:
"The miracle of Angelic Organics begins the day in the 1990s when some Chicago investors in Community Supported Agriculture buy one of his organic onions, call him up and offer to go into business with him. Today, the Peterson farm is co-owned and operated with his CSA partners, delivers fresh produce to hundreds of customers every week, has expanded and is working in a way Peterson's father could never have imagined. "
In case you've never heard of it, CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become "members" (or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA.
Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up-front, but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season.
In its most formal and structured European and North American form, CSAs focus on having:
A transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year;
A common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and
A ‘shared risk and reward’ agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing.
Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for "x" pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers—and on serving the customers.
It's also an example of how cooperation, not competition can work for each of us, if we will only band together and invest our energy and resources together for our common goods. For me, it was a wonderful demonstration of how we create the kind of world we all want.
As resource depletion, and climate change begin to truly effect the present system in ways that cannot be totally predicted or even modeled, new forms of social contract like community supported agriculture may well provide templates for our future well being.
Later in the evening, as we discussed the film, I mentioned how I thought the name wasn't such a good one, but I didn't have a better one in mind until I started writing this morning.
Maybe the "The Farmer in the Dell," the story of Farmer John.
A dell is a hollow or a small valley,
and as John, and Willie Nelson, and most family farmers know:
For the last generation,
theirs has been "a valley of dispair".
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