This week my wife and I went to a viewing of the documentary Fresh The Movie. The viewing was sponsored by a local food coop. We missed an earlier showing sponsored by our meat CSA), which is how we first learned of this 2009 movie. We joined about 15 others who came to watch this 72 minute film.
The movie examines the current dysfunctional state of our food system, and features farmers, business owners and activists who are trying to re-invent it. It manages to avoid being judgmental or preachy while exploring thorny issues such as agricultural pollution, loss of crop diversity, humane treatment of animals, and the increasing use of chemicals to grow our food crops.
The film visits Joel Salatin’s Virginia Polyface Farm (featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and shows his innovative and unconventional approaches to sustainable farming. Joel’s methods include moving his cows from one pasture to another every day to allow them to feed on fresh forage while their manure enriches the field. Then he brings in his chickens in portable coops where they can forage through the cow dung for bugs. We all laughed when he talked of the importance of letting the chickens express their “chicken-ness”, but he made his point.
Also profiled is former professional basketball player Will Allen and his not for profit organization Growing Power. At a 3 acre urban farm in the heart of Milwaukee, Will and his staff have created an “idea factory” to teach and inspire others how to grow food sustainably. The farm uses food waste and other organic materials (including waste from a local brewery) to make tons of compost to feed the soil and their crops. Vermicomposting (using worms to compost waste) is an integral part of their closed loop system that turns millions of pounds of local waste into compost and castings.
Another prominent figure in the movie is David Ball, a Missouri grocer and entrepreneur who reinvented his family supermarket chain by partnering with area growers to sell locally grown food at affordable prices. His success story serves as a model for other businesses to support local growers, and to offer consumers an alternative to food that has been transported long distances.
We had a nice discussion after the movie, which revealed an audience with many different backgrounds. Our host is a nutritional consultant, who purchased a license for the movie and is showing it to any group that is interested. We also had a local produce grower there, who told us of his frustrations in having one local supermarket after the other stop buying from him because he couldn’t meet their price demands and still make a living.
Another topic of discussion was a local farmer’s market that allows sellers to market produce bought from wholesalers and shipped in from who-knows-where. I refuse to buy anything there from a grower who displays pineapples and bananas and out of season vegetables! At another farmers market, across the river in Henderson, Ky, they got rid of the out-of-state-and-season produce by requiring the sellers and produce to be truly local. A newly elected city official has promised to work on cleaning up the Evansville farmer’s market.
I urge everyone to see this movie if they have a chance. While much of the material may not be new to those who have read Michael Pollan’s books, it makes for informative and powerful viewing. Be a part of this grass-roots movement to change our food system, one person and one plateful at a time. Our food system has gotten out of whack just in my lifetime, and together we can work to make it safe and sustainable again.