Farm Film Festival celebrates alternative agricultural practices

In honor of Earth Day last Sunday, the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives helped sponsor the third annual Farm Film Festival with screenings of four movies at Images Cinema and one in Paresky Auditorium over the last two weeks. While each film had its own perspective on farming techniques and sustainability, all shared a similar interest in the farm movement that is being led by our peers all across the country and how that movement is creating a sense of community in places that were thought to have lost it forever.

The Festival started on Thursday, April 12, with the film The Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers. Director and book editor Severine von Tscharner Fleming presented her documentary film and read from a new book she co-edited, Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movemen. Her book is a collection of 50 essays from young American farmers. Von Tscharner Fleming is also the founder of the non profit organization Greenhorns, which boasts upwards of 5000 farmers and activists as members.

Before the movie started, Cricket Creek Farm offered grilled cheese made out of its homemade wheat bread and cheese for audience members – they were the heartiest, most delicious grilled cheeses I have ever had (note the plural there). The film was a visual accompaniment to the book: It traced the lives of several farmers across the country, all under 30, who have started farming. Narrated by a young girl, whose voice was similar to the one used by PBS, the film used many other child-like techniques to exaggerate the youthfulness of its subjects, including cartoon maps and diagrams.

The Festival didn’t resume until a week later with a screening of Urban Roots at Images. While the Greenhorns organization focuses on the struggles of land ownership for farms in rural areas, Urban Roots is based in the farming community of Detroit. Once I got past the shock of learning that Detroit has a farming community at all, the film was very enjoyable: In the same vein as the previous film, Urban Roots focused on interviewing several Detroit residents, including farmers, academics, children and city planners about the urban farms. Unlike the last film, Urban Roots used the cultural history of Detroit as the home of Motown and the car industry as the backdrop for a budding farming community. As one of the interviewees aptly noted, “We want Motown to be Growtown.”

The film Truck Farm was screened this past Friday and Saturday night. With a more lighthearted outlook on the problems of urban farming, the movie showed how filmmaker Ian Cheney transformed the bed of his 1986 Dodge pick up truck into a small garden in the middle of New York City. His innovative story is narrated musically in the film, which puts a fun twist on the traditional documentary. His creative garden space led others to seek out gardening spaces in the city, including indoors and on rooftops.

The two final movies screened over the weekend were Place of Stones and Small Farm Rising. Place of Stones, directed by local filmmaker Sharon Wyrrick, is considered a community document more than a documentary because it covers about two years of farming development in Northern Berkshire County in about four hours of runtime. Wyrrick’s film does not follow one narrative but instead tracks many stories within the community as the local food systems in Northern Berkshire County are revitalized. Small Farm Rising, a documentary about the rise of small sustainable farms over large subsidized ones, rounded out the festival on Sunday. The last two screenings were both supplemented by food from local farms and stores available for movie goers, including cheese from Cricket Creek, honey from Bee Sweet and bread from Pain Philippe.

The themes of small farms and urban farming should not seem foreign to members of this community: While in Williamstown it seems like issues of fresh food are not a problem, other parts of Berkshire County, most notably North Adams and Pittsfield, are post-industrial food deserts. The issue of growing food in a heavily-populated, seemingly-unfarmable area is just as relevant to us as to those living in New York City and Detroit, and the films in this year’s Farm Festival helped to highlight the way people around the country are finding creative solutions to this nationwide problem.