On Food: Interview with the directors of GROW!, a film about young organic farmers in Georgia
As part of our pre-Thanksgiving “On Food” series, today we feature a story about Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson and a film they created called GROW!, which highlights the challenges and dreams of young people who are trying to make organic farming work in Georgia. The filmmakers had worked for over ten years as commercial photographers until they decided to make their pictures “move.” Here, Dowser previews the film and talks with Anthony and Masterson about a demographic shift that is changing the face of farming, as older farmers age out of the industry and groups of young people elect to get their hands dirty.
Dowser: What distinguishes this film from others about agricultural issues?
Anthony and Masterson: GROW! is told pretty much exclusively through the young farmers. There are no ‘experts’ wagging fingers or predicting total destruction of the planet. There are no visits to the killing floors, large supermarkets, and no scary shots of conventional farming operations. Hopefully, the job of those movies is done and more people are inspired to act, instead of just wringing their hands.
Why did you decide to make this film now?
In a way it seems like a perfect storm is taking place, because with the economy being such a mess, young people are reconsidering what’s important. A lot of college graduates are having trouble finding jobs in their chosen fields. After the excesses of the 80′s and 90′s there is a sea change of values. A lot of young people no longer are drawn to earning a bunch of money working hard for somebody else in an unrewarding career. Many people of this generation want to work towards changing this world for the better, be it the environment or simply improving things in their local communities. In many ways, it’s a less selfish generation.
You mentioned that with GROW! you wanted to make a ‘solutions’ film – what are some of the solutions you envision?
Number one, we need more farmers, so by showcasing young people who have either been farming successfully for a few years or others who have just begun, we hope that their passion rubs off on others who may be considering farming, or perhaps appeal to others who are simply disenchanted with the way things are either in their personal lives or the world. We also feature a diverse bunch of what we call ‘enablers.’ These are the people that provide the land and/or opportunity to young people to farm. We speak with the developer of an eco-community which is built around an organic farm and we speak with a Mennonite pastor whose church has provided land for a Mennonite couple to farm. Two of our farms are on family land so we speak with a couple of farmers’ dads. It was important to us to show the different opportunities available to young people who want to farm but lack the finances to purchase land.
“Everyone in the film is looking for more out of life than a 9-5 job stuck in a cubicle answering to someone else.”
What practical advice would you offer someone who aspires to make a similar film?
A good pair of rubber boots is a necessity in this line of work.
Do you see young farmers as part of a trend today?
There is a bit of trendiness to the young farmer movement, but that’s okay — it frees more people up to explore it. And in the end, even if they don’t take up farming, at least they become more enlightened about where their food comes from and what it takes to grow it. It’s not going to stick with everybody, but most of the farmers in our film have been at it for a while and are not going to stop anytime soon.
What inspires the young farmers you’ve interviewed and what keeps them going?
Everyone in the film is looking for more out of life than a 9-5 job stuck in a cubicle answering to someone else. They are all fiercely independent and love being out of doors. They love that they are creating something that is tangible, that they are their own boss, and that they are providing good clean food to their communities.
Opportunities abound for people who want to take up farming in a small sustainable manner. Also, in the general population, more people are concerned about their health, more people are buying organic or sustainably grown food on a local level. So there is a larger customer base than in the past.
What do you think the film’s takeaway is?
It’s not ‘old MacDonald’ on the farm anymore: it takes a lot of intelligence, passion, energy and drive to do this kind of farming. We want people to know that this kind of agriculture can be a part of the big picture and that farm diversity is the key to the future of food in America.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo: Anthony-Masterson Photography