Food

Farmageddon – The Unseen War on American Family Farms

Written by Zak Weinberg

Food-documentary Farmageddon – The Unseen War on American Family Farms premiered in New York last week and is scheduled to play at select theaters across the country until September. The film doesn’t paint a tale of apocalyptic measures as the title suggests, but its significance at least triumphs our latest hyperbolic “ageddon” (for some Southern Californians the two day closure of the 405 freeway signaled “car-mageddon.”)

Director Kristin Canty’s insight into the disappearance of thousands of years of culture, biology, and elegant human relationships with land prove Farmageddon isn’t all overstatement. With farms and interviews beautifully shot by Benjamin Eckstein, director of photographer, Canty outlines the abusive system between government agencies, small farmers, and civil rights.

Some of Canty’s inspiration for the project comes from the 2008 raid of Manna Cooperative in La Grange, Ohio. The cooperative makes food from local farmers available to about one-hundred customers and operates out of Jacqueline and John Stowers private residence.

On December 1st, during a homeschooling session, armed police executed a search warrant on the property. Ten children and Jacqueline and John Stowers were held for six hours, while armed police surrounded the house and police inside confiscated personal cell-phones, computers, and food supplies.

William Lesho, an agent from Ohio Department of Agriculture swore an affidavit before Judge Edward Zaleski and obtained a search warrant on November 26th, 2008.

But according to Maurice A. Tompson, Stowers’ attorney, the affidavit did not indicate that the Stowers were dangerous, would destroy evidence, or that there were any complex circumstance related to searching the Stowers’ property that required the use of force or threats.

“I decided I needed to tell this story,” says Canty. “My goal was to let these honest farmers using centuries old farming practices tell their side of the stories.”

The film also highlights a million-dollar U.S. Department of Agriculture project that monitored small farmers’ sheep for a potential disease similar to mad cow disease. One owner reported that USDA agents spied on her property from behind bushes and nearby mountain tops. Eventually officials, some armed, seized the herd to test for the disease.

After testing, Linda Detwiler, a senior government veterinarian, said it’s not clear if the sheep had mad cow disease or a  more common sheep illness called scrapie, which is considered harmless to humans. Ultimately, results were inconclusive.

“Some people might not care whether the milk they drink is raw or where their food comes,” says Canty. “But I would hope they do care how the government spends tax-payer money.”

An expose on the food system has been done before –  most recently with “King Corn” and “Food Inc.” and in recent years authors like Michael Pollen and Eric Slosscher have produced investigative pieces that continue to stoke a growing interest in food activism.

While Farmageddon picks up on many themes consistent with Canty’s predecessors, the film does well to distinguish itself from traditional food documentaries by avoiding corporate attacks and conventional left versus right stalemate talking-points.

“It’s not a preachy movie about food,” says Canty. “Farmageddon is in no way meant to convince anyone to drink raw milk, or eat grass fed beef, but rather an argument to allow those that want to make those choices to do so. It’s simply about freedom of food choice.”

The next screening for Farmageddon is July 22nd through July 26th in Portland, Oregon at the Hollywood theater (full list of screenings).

References:

Augie, By Mr. “Court Verdict on Manna Storehouse Food Coop; Results of a SWAT-like Team Raid on a Family Mini-Farm | Journal of Natural Food and Health.” Journal of Natural Food and Health | FOOD . WATER . AIR . LAND . HEALTH. Web. 18 July 2011. <http://wholefoodusa.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/court-verdict-on-manna-storehouse-food-coop-results-of-a-swat-like-team-raid-on-a-family-mini-farm/>.

Farmageddon. Web. 18 July 2011. <www.farmageddonmovie.com>.

Kershner, Isabel, and Mark Landler. “U.S., Cautious on Mad Cow, Seizes Flock of Sheep – New York Times.” The New York Times. Web. 18 July 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/22/us/us-cautious-on-mad-cow-seizes-flock-of-sheep.html>.

“Mad Sheep by Linda Faillace – Chelsea Green.” Chelsea Green: The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living. Web. 18 July 2011. <http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/madsheep>.

“Manna Food Co-op Heading to Ohio Supreme Court.” Farm and Dairy. Web. 18 July 2011. <http://www.farmanddairy.com/news/manna-food-co-op-heading-to-ohio-supreme-court-for-court-decision/26377.html>.

United States. Court of Common Pleas. Web. 18 July 2011. <http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2008/12/Manna%20Storehouse-%20Complaint%20Filed.pdf>.

About the author

Zak Weinberg

Zak is a third year environmental studies major, and writing minor, at University of California Santa Barbara. In his free time he enjoys reading, writing, and staying active. Zak also founded a college website in Santa Barbara called Ole Today.