Farmageddon Roundtable

from the new documentary Farmageddon

Several members of our team recently saw NY screenings of Kristin Canty’s new documentary, Farmageddon. And we haven’t stopped talking about it. We decided to share what it meant to us, and what actions we felt compelled to take after seeing the film.

What Farmageddon meant to us:

Jen Bunin - Program Assistant, Sustainable Table:
In the words of Farmageddon director Kristin Canty, “It’s hard to wake up America.” Kristin would know; she’s spent the past few years trying to pitch a film exposing how the federal government is persecuting its own citizens by enforcing laws against producing their own food, and in essence, taking away their right to choose what they eat and feed their children. When no studio would make her film, Kristin took things into her own hands and produced it on her own.

The catalyst for the film was her son Charlie, stricken with allergies that were only cured when she started feeding him raw milk, which is illegal in 22 states. Her battle to feed her son what he needed to survive led her to discover the stories of farmers and vendors who had been subjected to the extreme and senseless enforcement of rules and regulations that do little to protect public health. Farmageddon isn’t about food—it’s about civil rights.

As I listened intently to the stories—in one case, a family with 10 children held at gunpoint by USDA agents simply for running a co-op—I had to acknowledge how fragile our civil liberties are in this country. What Canty achieved, through both the subject matter and the grassroots nature of the film, is making her desperation and the need she felt to make the film palatable and cutting to the viewer.

The film places you on unsure ground as you listen to how the government spent a million dollars to monitor a small sheep farm in Vermont and eventually confiscate and slaughter the animals, purportedly to prevent mad cow disease, despite lacking any evidence to suggest that the sheep were unhealthy. As the farmer, Linda Faillace, mourns the loss of her animals, livelihood and business she loves, you see how innocent Americans are prosecuted because they threaten a broken industrial, unhealthy food system— and the message is clear: this affects you.

Erin McCarthy - Program Associate, Sustainable Table:
Wait, another food movie? To be completely honest, I didn’t even want to see Farmageddon. Over the past two years, there seems to have been an inundation of films about the food system. I'm not one to complain, because this means these issues are reaching a larger audience, but these filmmakers have (in their ambitious approaches) tried to capture every aspect of the industrial food system. The reason why Farmageddon is such a breath of fresh air is its intense focus on one critical, intensely debated aspect of the food system – raw milk legislation.

Personally, I don’t drink raw milk. Although I tried it when I was in Pennsylvania and California, where the laws aren’t as strict as those in New York, I don’t have a strong personal connection with raw milk advocacy. The reason Farmageddon resonated with me was not because of raw milk specifically, but because the film captured the audacity with which both the FDA and the various state departments of agriculture execute an attack on small family farms. Their claim is that the sale of raw milk is a threat to food safety. What they need to be doing is focusing on CAFOs and monocultures that pose far greater threats to our food system every day.

Michael Gately - Guest Blogger:
Farmageddon has not inspired me to try raw milk, but I found Kristin Canty’s documentary to be a wake-up call about overweening government authorities that threaten the freedom of small farmers and families to buy and sell what they believe to be healthy and nutritious food. I first found out about the film from a friend in Albuquerque who’s a fan of whole, organic foods and natural farming, who'd hoped that one of her friends in New York would see it and report back.

As someone with more of a background in ethics and political theory than in environmental or food issues, I can’t report on the science of raw milk, nor compare this film with other recent farming documentaries. But what resonated for me were the stories of individual liberty; of federal regulations, often driven by and favoring large-scale agriculture, in conflict with state laws and local, family farming and cooperative practices.

Canty was motivated to create a film following from a personal passion: her son’s illnesses seemed to disappear with the help of raw milk, but legal barriers often prevent people from finding or distributing it, and no one seemed interested in telling the story. So she made the film herself. (She is not an aspiring documentarian, and her next project is to start a farm-to-table restaurant in Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and four children.)

Jamie Leo - Senior Creative + Marketing, Sustainable Table:
What, as food and sustainable agriculture advocates, do we look for as inspiration? Having seen so many independent food documentaries swimming upstream against the clutter of info overload and bad news fatigue, I often remind myself that I'm not the target audience (I monitor the Michael Pollens and Marion Nestles and their sound bytes and am surrounded by brilliant, knowledgeable sustainability advocates). I wince at films' weak or unbalanced arguments and vulnerabilities (Michael Moore’s squandering all the power of Sicko with the indulgent and degrading boat of patients to Cuba – eagerly pounced upon by Moore-haters). And I sigh, knowing that the people I love in Iowa will never see these documentaries – and would never sit through the polemics anyway.

In Canty’s film, the scenes and accounts of taxpayer financed arms-drawn raids are jaw-dropping, but I had actually been with Californian friends, who were delighted to show me the lovely Rawesome Foods in Venice, CA; so hearing Rawesome’s manager James Stewart, and the surveillance footage of the weapons drawn as Federal agents stalk through the rows of produce was over the top.

I even like that Farmageddon attracts strange political bedfellows, from strict veggies who believe that clean, humanely raised meat is far better than CAFO horrors, to the libertarian crowds applauding the film’s stand on freedom of choice.

Then there’s the honest, passionate citizen activism of Kristin’s work. (Even the press-derided director’s voiceovers spared this viewer the fakey, greenwashy narrators of a Monsanto or Elanco propaganda piece.)

What actions we felt compelled to take:

Kristin Canty is not an aspiring filmmaker—she has no plans to ever make another film. The film is activism, pure and simple. My coworkers and I immediately knew that she is a force to be reckoned with, and we could sense the potential for collaboration. We are currently working with Kristin to promote our mutual goals—the protection of small family farms and the development of a sustainable food system. On a personal level, I saw the power of one person’s voice. I saw what storytelling can accomplish, and, more importantly, that you don’t have to be a professional storyteller to move mountains. Armed with narratives of these farmers, so relatable to anyone who values their personal freedoms, I have become more outspoken to friends and family about the unseen war on American family farms.

I'm interested in learning more about the legal struggles of these family farmers and their customers, many of which are ongoing and unresolved. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has a wealth of information about pending and proposed legislation to help protect free food choices.

I wrote a small-is-better-than-nothing check to Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; I tweeted and Facebooked the film; followed up with friends/colleagues for their take on it. I met the director, urged our team to see the film and am happy we are getting the word out about nationwide screenings.

I felt extremely fortunate that this film was playing in New York. I have friends all over the country who expressed interest in seeing it after I posted about it on Facebook. Although this armchair activism is all I've done so far, Farmageddon continually inspires me to sing its praises. Farmageddon was made by an activist who hopes to inspire others to stand up and demand a better food system. But as Kristin Canty asked our team, what does it take? Her film riles you up, makes you angry at the government and in my case, led me to question if I ever want to be a farmer given all the possible risks and threats. What do you think it takes to inspire real action? Post your comments below.