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Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by Ripple Effect, ana Sofia joanes
Directed by ana Sofia joanes
DVD, color, 70 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Agriculture, Environmental Studies

Reviewed by Maureen Puffer-Rothenberg, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 3/8/2010

ana Sofia joanes’ film Fresh looks at the hazards of industrial farming vs. the benefits of small-scale sustainable farming, and how some farmers have moved away from large-scale food production. Arguments for small-scale farming are presented through interviews with farmers and food/agriculture experts. Footage of cows, pigs, and chickens on small farms are contrasted with animals crowded into large production facilities.

In industrial, large-scale production cattle or pig farming, animals are fed grain and meat byproducts—an unnatural diet for herbivores—and given supplemental drugs and hormones to support their health and spur growth. Iowa farmer George Naylor, President of the National Family Farm Association, says farmers know there’s a down side to these methods; growing one crop on a large scale or raising large numbers of the same animal reduces resistance to pests and disease, making farmers more dependent on pesticides and antibiotics. Naylor says many farmers would make the transition “to something more sane” but they rely on government policies and subsidies to survive.

Agricultural economist John Ikerd, author Michael Pollan, and Executive Director for The Center for Food Safety Andrew Kimbrell talk about the economics of industrial farming and food production in the United States. Pollan points out that three or four large corporations provide feed and fertilizer for large farms, then buy their products. An Arkansas chicken farm family provide an example; over many years their farm has grown and adapted to industrial farming methods, and they now rely on long-term corporate contracts for chickens and feed—if they don’t agree to buy feed from a particular company, they won’t receive baby chicks to raise.

Joel Salatin’s Virginia farm is an example of sustainable farming. Salatin’s cows are moved from pasture to pasture to graze on a variety of grasses, while chickens are released onto pastures cows have just left to eat the fly larvae in cow patties and, as Salatin says, “fully express their chickenness.”

Missouri hog farmer Russ Kremer studied production farming in college, and ran a large farm for years. He says designing his family farm to raise more pigs more quickly led to more disease, and more time and money spent medicating animals. Kremer converted to natural farming after a boar gored him and he contracted a mutated, antibiotic-resistant strep infection; he did not want to sell pork or hogs if his animals carried that type of disease. Today he keeps a much smaller number of animals (he compares his 300 hogs to as many as 20,000 kept on industrial farms), but Kremer’s pigs are healthy, saving him money on antibiotics and veterinary care.

Further examples—the work of Milwaukee urban farming activist Will Allen, Kansas honey maker Raymond Hawley, Diana Endicott, founder of the Good Natured Family Farm Co-op; and David Ball, whose family-owned supermarket competes with chain markets by working with Endicott to market locally grown and produced foods--show how sustainable farming can work on a small scale and how small-scale farmers and artisan food producers can find independent markets.

Fresh is beautifully filmed, often focusing on farmers’ faces, healthy animals and pretty farm scenes. The film gives farmers ample time on-camera to talk about their work, bolstered by footage of their animals, crops and land to illustrate their points. Footage from production farms is used briefly but can be disturbing: chickens and pigs are dismembered by machine, chickens are shown with their beaks removed, and baby chicks are thrown, pallet after pallet, onto the floor of a large farm.

joanes does a fine job of presenting arguments for and examples of sustainable, small scale farming, and has also provided some insight into large-scale production from the farmers’ point of view. Six chapter selections are available.

Fresh is highly recommended as a springboard for discussion and inspiration for sustainable living projects. The producers offer a range of licensing options and promotional support for organizations or individuals who wish to show the film.