A positive face for farming
FARGO — Anyone with a connection (i.e. eats food or wears clothes) would probably find the movie “Farmland” worth 10 bucks. The documentary movie rolled out in a national limited release May 1, with a free premiere on April 30 in Fargo at the Marcus West Acres Theater.
The 77-minute movie was paid for by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance, a group of commodity organizations and agribusinesses. It drew applause at the end and generally enthusiastic reviews. The North Dakota Soybean Council, one of the sponsoring groups, hosted about 200 people April 30, including farmers, but also college students and long-time agriculture advocates.
Private showings were held across the country beginning in late February. Ellen Linderman of Carrington, had seen “Farmland” in Texas and was asked to sign a form indicating she wouldn’t say anything about it to anyone, on social media, or even with her husband Charles, a member of the soybean council.
“Farmland” doesn’t have a plot, but it has a story. Movie-makers have plans for its use in classrooms.
Farmers in this movie are good guys — trustworthy, hard-working, smart and loyal to families and their customers. They like technology and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or their hair filled with straw.
Stories of farm families will find familiar themes in the intertwined stories of six 20-somethings, selected from across the country — a Georgia chicken farmer, a Texas cattle rancher, a California commercial organic produce farmer, a Pennsylvania truck gardener. Upper Great Plains voices were from a Nebraska corn and cattle farmer and a Minnesota hog, corn and soybean farmer.
“Farmland” touches on a number of big topics in agriculture today — genetically modified organisms (GMOs), animal welfare, water usage and risk. A debate over organic versus conventional farming, or big versus small is discussed between polite people who are commercial farmers but not among the largest in the business.
Most premiere-goers mentioned that the movie correctly focused on the heart of farming and how the business has a different style of humanity than many other kinds of careers.
Rachel Arneson Finsaas, who farms with her father near Halstad, Minn., said the film served well for the “intended audience” — those involved in farming.
“I’m going to share it with my friends and encourage people to watch it,” she said, adding it serves as “support and encouragement to current farmers.”
Justin Zahradka, Lawton, called the movie a “good start.” The NDSU student said the impact of the movie “starts in the movie theater” but will continue.
Kayla Feiring of Cooperstown, said it would be “hard to cover everything,” but the film”covered the bases.” She and fellow members of the Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority agreed the movie told a different story about agriculture than the “media spin” often does, on things such as GMOs.
The memorable moments for most viewers will include David Loberg of Carroll, Neb., who took over when his father died of cancer, or Leighton Cooley who has taken over a poultry enterprise. There is the inexorable influence of weather and a familiar connection between farmers and religion that seems logical, considering nature is out of human control.
The movie addresses undercover videos by animal welfare advocates and emphasizes that “Farmland” subjects acknowledged every industry has a “few bad apples,” but that such treatment is neither professional nor acceptable.
“Farmland” isn’t a funny movie, but it includes the gentle humor of jabs between brothers and fathers and sons who work with each other from childhood to the end and see life as a continuum. The farmers in the crowd laugh at the familiar home movies of little boys getting toy tractors at Christmas, or when Ryan Veldhuizen of Edgerton, Minn., talks about how he learned to start recognizing health problems in pigs at age 4½, and playfully disagrees with his brother-in-law about who bent the spray boom.
“Farmland” isn’t a tragedy, but there are plenty of poignant family moments — the birth of twin babies, the drama about whether the corn crop will emerge. One 50-something farmer in the audience choked up when he said he could relate to the Nebraska family who, several years after their father’s death, still had a contact labeled “Dad” in their mobile phones.
Criticisms of the movie seemed few. One movie-goer was overheard saying he was surprised the movie didn’t showcase much of the computer technology in farming, or show farmers marketing their crops. Another noted the movie alluded to market and weather risks, but there were no stories of current suffering — only of high hopes.