By Emily Paster
Did you know that of the 317 million people living in the United States, fewer than 1% are farmers? It used to be the case that the majority of Americans grew some or all of their own food. Now, a tiny minority grows and raises the food that everyone else eats.
Not only do those of us who live in the cities and suburbs not grow on our food, we almost never meet the people who do. While most of us have very little knowledge or understanding of life on an American farm or ranch, all of us are dependent on the products of those farms for the food we eat every day. It is sobering to think how much rests on the shoulders of so few.
Here is another sobering fact. Did you know that the average age of the American farmer is 60 years old? Sixty years old. Why is that and what does it mean for us as a nation? Is our agricultural industry in crisis? Will their be enough farmers and ranchers to meet our agricultural needs going forward?
These are the questions that award-winning director James Moll set out to answer in his new documentary "Farmland." The film explores the topic of who are the next generation of farmers and ranchers. What motivates a young person to take over a family farm or to start a farm or ranch of his or her own? What challenges do these young farmers and ranchers face and how are those challenges different from the challenges faced by a previous generation?
"Farmland," which was produce in cooperation with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, follows the lives of six farmers all in their 20′s. The farmers profiled in the film come from different parts of the country and raise a variety of crops and livestock under diverse production practices ranging from large operations to a small organic CSA vegetable farm. The film follows these six individuals as they go about their daily lives and chronicles the risks and rewards of life on the land. Intrigued? You can view the trailer for the film here.
When I read about Farmland, it reminded me of my interview with Kristen Strom, a farm wife from near Peoria, Illinois. When Kristen, a native of the Chicago suburbs, met her husband, she was surprised when she learned that he was a farmer. She thought of farmers as old, not cute young guys like her husband! But just as we want and need young people to become doctors, teachers, police officers and engineers, we desperately need people to become farmers. If we are going to have food to eat in the 21st century, we had better make sure that there are farmers and ranchers to raise that food. And if we as a society want to support our farmers, we need to understand better the challenges that they face. That is why a film like this one is so important.
If you are interested in seeing "Farmland" for yourself — and I think it looks utterly fascinating — the film will be coming to theaters all over the country starting on May 1. For my local Chicago-area readers, I have six tickets to give away to a special, private showing of "Farmland" on Thursday May 1 at 7 pm at the AMC River East Theater. This screening will be followed by a panel discussion with some Illinois farmers. There will also be public showings of the film once a day throughout the following weekend and the next week.
If you would like to attend the private May 1 screening, leave a comment to this post and tell me why you are interested in seeing the film. Let me know also if you would like one or two tickets. I will select the winners at random and I will just need your full names — there are no physical tickets, just a list at the event itself.
Even if you don't win the tickets to the private screening, I hope you will make time to see "Farmland." As the director James Moll said at a press conference following the Tribeca Film Fest screening of "Farmland:" if you eat, you should see this film.
Full disclosure time: In my role as a Brand Ambassador for Illinois Farm Families, I am being compensated for my time and writing. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.