Fresh, Ana Sophia Joanes’s documentary about the American food system and ways of farming is an eye-opening look at industrialized farming and at the importance and necessity of returning to more natural methods. The real stars of the movie are food revolutionaries like farmer Joel Salatin, a self-described “Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Lunatic Farmer” who by simply rotating crops and growing naturally can produce $3,000 worth of crops and animals on an acre, versus his neighbors who factory-farm cows and only make $150 an acre.
But for Salatin, it isn’t about money; his goal is to let chickens express their chicken-ness and pigs their pig-ness, to let natural grasses grow to feed the cows, which in turn fertilize the dirt. The cow patties also provide a breeding ground for worms and fly larvae which his chickens and turkeys eat. The fowl further fertilize the land. It’s a perfect cycle, designed by nature, and Salatin revels in it.
Guess what? By farming organically on a huge scale, America can produce more grain to feed the world, with less stress on the environment, and a greater biodiversity. As it’s pointed out in Fresh, monocultures–single species of grain or animals–are more prone to disease than cultures with more biodiversity Additionally, factory farming crowds animals, breeding disease and requiring more antibiotics–a nearly fatal lesson learned by farmer Russ Kremer, an industrial hog farmer who contracted antibiotic resistant strep from one of his pigs and had an epiphany: He was breeding super germs along with sausage meat. He got rid of his mono-cultured animals and started from scratch, raising his hogs organically and started an organic meat co-op with other farmers which owns their own processing plant, providing fair wages, benefits and health plans for the workers.
Urban farmer Will Allen, a former basketball star and son of sharecroppers, has an urban garden in Milwaukee and raises everything from greens to fish in a self-contained greenhouse. He teaches other how to create their own urban organic gardens.
Corn farmer George Naylor was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto and other biotech companies dealing with the negative economic impacts on family farmers by the introduction of genetically modified crops.
With the rise of Wal-Mart, Missouri grocer David Ball saw his family-run supermarket dying, along with a once-thriving local farm community. So he reinvented his business, partnering with area farmers who had formed a co-op to sell locally-grown food and specialty food products at an affordable price–and brought the local economy back to life, while providing families with fresh, local, often organic produce, plus locally raised and butchered meat and honey produced locally.
There is a glory and beauty and dignity in the stories of these farmers and food revolutionaries who show us the importance of caring for the land and for our food sources, for stimulating the local economies and for preventing a global disaster by ending our reliance on massive amounts of fertilizer on genetically engineered crops. This movie is a must-see for anyone who cares about food, thoughtfully made, beautifully filmed, deep and funny and true. It provides a renewed appreciation for farmers and for what comes to our tables.