The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Farmer John Peterson is an eccentric organic farmer from the American Midwest and the star of this strangely compelling documentary.

It’s a classic tale of triumph over adversity, which  centres around Farmer John’s struggle to keep the family farm going in the face of debt, depression and neighbours who are deeply suspicious of his wacky antics (which include driving tractors wearing a feather boa and hanging out with artists and hippies).

The real interest of the film is how, after being forced to sell most of his land, he manages to get it up and running again as a flourishing biodynamic, organic farm supplying 1,200 families with veg boxes. This is largely thanks to a community supported agriculture scheme, but also down the determination and flair of a farmer who so loves his land he even eats the soil.

Although it’s a highly personal story it encompasses much wider issues – the plight of family farms, price declines and the benefits of sustainable agriculture – which make the film resonate way beyond the fields of Farmer John.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John (DVD), directed by Taggart Siegel

This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2008

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