Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kristin Canty's FARMAGEDDON: Food-wise, are we becoming a fascist state?

Food-wise, hell. In what ways aren't we becoming a fascist state? But that's for another movie, another blog post. Right now let's concern ourselves with a new and perky little documen-tary about the con-tinuing farm crisis, FARMAGEDDON (nice title!). The "perky" comes mainly from the movie's producer/director and sometimes narrator Kristin Canty, whose voice is so like Barbie-come-to-vocal-life that, initially, it's a little off-putting. But we get used to it quickly, and Ms Canty, below, is only a now-and-then narrator, in any case. She smartly turns her movie over to America's small farmers, many of them women, telling tales of Federal agents forcing perfectly good raw milk to be poured out over the land (two photos below), while others break into homes, taking and killing "infected" sheep, who were, it turns out, completely healthy animals.

This is strong, nasty stuff, and most of it should strike you as more than merely believable. Maybe like a plan -- but whose plan and to what purpose?  It couldn't be that the big corporations of the agri-business behemoth don't want competition from the smaller farmers who are providing much healthier food? Goodness, why would you think that?  Perhaps because you've already seen various food-related docs such as Food Inc., King Corn, Food Beware, and Think Global, Act Rural (and so many more). You will certainly think it all over again after watching this film.

Interestingly enough, Ms Canty's documentary both profits and suffers from the same thing. Instead of behaving like a professional investigative journalist who follows leads and makes connections, thereby offering some kind of scenario of what went on and why and what the motives were behind it all, she simply lets her family farmers do the talking and point the fingers. Yet they do this extremely well, with a genuineness and an anger that draws us in and plants us firmly on their side.

Still, we would have liked to known more. To her credit, Canty seems to have tried to get the government to talk, but neither its representatives (save one woman from the Maryland Department of Health) nor those of the big agri-business corporations are cooperative. So we're left to the devices of the filmmaker and her farmers. We hear about those unfortunate sheep from their owners Linda and Larry Faillace (who are still waiting for some kind of justice in this case). From Jackie Stauers and her family (above), we hear about the SWAT team that raided their home, guns drawn, one very early morning, as though the family were some kind of terrorists rather than small farmers.

As we learn, government agencies such as the USDA and the FDA don't like to be disagreed with. And they are far too chummy with the very agribusiness companies they are supposed to be regulating. (That's an unnecessary "raid" against a small farmer that they're engaged in, above.) "Lie down and let us walk over you, and you'll still be alive and working. But go up against us, and we'll destroy you" seems to be the order of the day. For all this talk about "food safety," it has never yet been the small farmer whose product serves up the dreaded e coli bacteria. Instead, when the outbreak has been traced back to its source, that source is owned by one of the huge agribusiness corporations, that -- instead of being too-big-to-fail (like our banks) -- appears too big to produce healthy food and keep it safe.

In one of the film's rare "up" moments, we meet Joel Salatin (above) of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia, who shows us how he rotates his animals and birds (below), in a manner somewhat like crop farmers rotate their crops. This cow-and-chicken rotation makes such good sense in so many ways that, compared to the horrendous penned-up livestock and birds we see on the agribusiness "farms," Salatin's looks like some kind of paradise for the animals, while providing a lot healthier eating for us humans.

You'll come out of Ms Canty's movie angry and rightfully so. To her credit, the filmmaker gives you plenty of places to go and things to do to help ensure that the small farmers who are feeling us healthily continue to do so.

Farmageddon opened yesterday here in New York City at the Cinema Village (TM is sorry for his tardy posting) and will be hitting other theaters and cities in the weeks/months to come.  Click here to see the latest listing of playdates.

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