Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Farmer in the Dell

We went to see the Real Dirt on Farmer John last night. It gave us a chance to try out the newly renovated Ritz Theater. Thank goodness we found a friend who moved over for us, because the theater was pretty full by the time we arrived. We enjoyed it a lot. Here is Roger Ebert's take of the film which was actually released in 05.

"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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is merely the ramblings of an idle mind and may not be worth your while.

Jan. 23rd, 2008

To myself,

If my computer skills were better I would start here with that famous color picture the planet earth taken from outer space, and I would say "who owns this thing?".

Now that I see in writing what I have just said it is immediately obvious to me that I have already prejudiced the answer to conform to my cultural mind set. The use of the words "who" and "ownership" are the clues as to where my mind is headed . A better starting point would have been to ask "what life forms" have "use rights" here and who can fairly represent those particular "life forms" that are merely content to exist without participating in the conceptual realm that is so dear to the writer and so indispensable to making judgments?

I will leave that question to the reader because the answer is beyond me. One thing for sure the writer has not been engaged by any of the above for the purpose of representation so he can only speak for himself and even that speaking is to an audience of one rather insignificant conceptual type being. Before I become entrapped in my own cleverness I want to say that I believe that all forms of life have a "right " to use a piece of the planet. If I wish to act rationally on this belief of mine that all forms of life are due respect then I will not unnecessarily injure anything. That does not mean that I am unaware of the food chain or the need of society to have rules. It just means that I will remain mindful of the fact that what goes around comes around or "do unto others " if you prefer the biblical version.

Peak oil, climate change, and the commodities market have inclined some of the more thoughtful to wonder if our culture is sustainable
and if not what are the practical and moral implications of that lack of sustainability. Before I was taught that "ownership" was nothing more than a bundle of rights protected by a sovereign with guns, I used to think that if I owned it it was mine to do with what I wanted for all time! The culture that I live in supports that idea so strongly that I could not see that the facts of my everyday life totally contradict this idea. Consider how zoning affects what a person can do their property or try conceptualizing the ownership of running water.

What ever it is that I think I own, the condition is only temporary for when I am gone I no longer own it. The moral implications based on the biblical standard of the golden rule should make it obvious that I might want to have second thoughts about digging up and using all the stuff on my piece of ground and then dumping the wrappers from my lifetime of consumption in the hole where the minerals used to be. It is some how hard for me to imagine that from such a life I will have earned a place in the rapture where I can look down on others that cleaning up the mess I have left.

Did the creator of this whole thing intend that the homeless should have some uncontested place to sleep and that the other creatures of the earth should have the same, and that I should not use up everything nor spoil it before I go? I think so.


12:59 PM  

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