* * *I recently saw a new documentary "To Make a Farm” by filmmaker Steve Suderman. It follows five young people through a year growing food and raising animals on their small-scale CSA farms.
It’s a beautiful feel-good film and I was moved, uplifted and inspired by the passion, dedication and drive of these new(ish) farmers to grow food, steward the land and connect with their communities despite challenges that would test the most seasoned farmers.
After the film there was a brief Q&A with Suderman and two local farmers. While the consensus was that the film was both cinematically beautiful and inspiring, a few audience members dismissed these farmers as “romantic idealists” -- while it was great that these “city folk” wanted to move to the country, farm and save the world, could it make a difference on such a small scale? Was it realistic? Was it enough?
I didn’t respond at the time but on the drive home I ruminated about what I wish I’d said. And here it is:
Passion and idealism drive many people to their profession, be it doctors who want to save lives or lawyers who want to right wrongs or teachers who want to enrich children’s minds -- why must it be different for farmers?
While coming from a long line of farmers, or growing up on a farm, has its advantages, I don’t think either is a prerequisite for farming. Farming isn’t a birthright, it’s a choice, and the fact that city folk are deliberately choosing this life is something to be celebrated. In fact, it’s young farmers who are essential to the future of agriculture. Even if idealism brought them to the land, it’s clear-sighted realism about the benefits (and costs) of this life that enables them to stay there.
Yes, small-scale farming is physically demanding. It’s work that tests the body, mind and spirit. But as Wendell Berry writes, “We must learn to think of human energy, our energy, not as something to be saved, but as something to be used and to be enjoyed in use. We must understand that our strength is, first of all, strength of body, and that this strength cannot thrive except in useful, decent, satisfying, comely work.”
Farming is filled with risk and uncertainty, but it’s also transformative and joyful. (Ed note: I referred readers to two stories in the magazine that don't have much relevance here, so this sentence was actually much more interesting and relevant that it sounds.)
I’m not saying small farms are the solution to the complex challenges we face related to agriculture and food production, but they are one solution -- and one that shouldn’t be dismissed solely on scale.
So to those skeptics in the movie theatre, I’d say that for the local communities that are savouring the food grown by these farmers, for the land and animals that thrive under their care, and for the future farmers who are inspired to follow a similar path, “It’s enough.”
photo credit: Tarrah Young of Green Being Farm