Mountain Lakes, NJ
Good Food" is a "feel-good" movie about many people who are happy with their careers and about pleasant adjustments of immigrants into our country. There are delectable photos of food, both growing on the farm and in kitchens and on tables. Its many stories are all in the states of Oregon and Washington, but Marnie assured us afterward that a similar movement toward local organic food is happening around here.
The introduction told us that suicide has been the number one cause of farmers' death. The narrator asserts this was because farmers would realize the terrible things they were doing to people and the environment through their poisons and energy-intensive practices. "Eight years ago 'organic' was a four-letter word, but now every retail outlet carries in it." Organic production has risen at the rate of 20% per year during that time.
After WWII industrial agriculture made shipping food routine. Now the typical morsel travels 1500 miles from harvest to plate. This, the fertilizers, and the farm machinery mean that 8 calories of fossil fuel is used to produce each calorie of food. "Thirty years ago was horse-and-buggy time in organic agriculture, but things can change."
Washington State University in eastern Washington has one of the few doctoral programs in the country in organic farming. A faculty member describes it as "ag education for misfits." A Ph.D. student articulates her eagerness to research food production methods that are good for the environment.
"All life depends on the soil."
One farmer tells us about raising a variety of wheat that is 20% protein that was used widely "in the first 5000 years of agriculture." She says that when you eat it, "You don't feel bloated." She makes and sells her own flour, which is popular in her local food market.
Much of the film is a series of individuals' stories, although some are in scattered pieces. One woman tells us she began farming organically in the 1970's, resisting the pressure that grew after WWII for larger farms. Another tells us that he is a fourth generation farmer on his land. A couple tells us that they had never farmed before, but they wanted to be together doing something important, so they bought land and now have a thriving organic farm. They work from 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM, but they glow as they tell us about their satisfying, joyful life.
A European immigrant tells about saving up to buy his farm, and loving the work. Now he has one of the most prolific farms in the Northwest with over a hundred varieties. "I want to keep my customers healthy. That's why I went organic."
A Latino immigrant says he worked on one farm until the owner was ready to retire. By then he had enough resources to buy the farm. "I planted these trees!" he says repeatedly as he shows us around his orchard, glowing with happy pride. He said it is challenging to hire enough workers to harvest, but the reward is, "The fruit is so beautiful!" Elsewhere, there were lamentations that farm workers are so underpaid. It was clear that farmers don't make much money either, but have lots of psychic income. The market owners and "middle person" between farmers and markets are proud to be able to help the farmers make enough to live.
Organic ranges provide organic meat with no anti-biotics or artificial nutrients including corn. Such animals are all grass-fed. A farmer tells us of the advantages of rotating cows, pigs, and chickens among three ranges. Another person says it is possible to have both delicious seafood and healthy oceans, but not much time was spent elaborating on how.
We even see an ice cream store, providing desserts made with local organic food.
We are told of CSAs and cooperatives devoted to disseminating organic food, and we visit a variety of farmers' markets. Over 100,000 people visit farmers' markets in Washington each year. One CSA farmer is proud to provide food for 4000 people who get deliveries picked the previous day. The farmers tell us repeatedly of their joy at hearing praise from their customers.
Food banks are the beneficiaries of the left-overs at the end of a farmers' market day. Over 40,000 pounds of food last year went to food banks from six Washington farmers' markets.
Providing food year round is challenging in Washington, but roots and greens are possible. We saw a CSA farmer who has two large greenhouses that he says produces as much food as 4-5 acres. He has heating elements 14" below the surface of the soil, which is very organic-rich. The lettuces and other greens were lush, and he even grows tomatoes in the winter. He uses no pesticides but regularly releases lady bugs and ??? to keep the unwanted visitors in check.
We also visit a number of restaurants, hearing from both managers and chefs. Both seem to ooze the joy of the farmers and they describe their careers. The supermarket managers tell of the delights of interfacing with local farmers and giving them proper publicity, income, and outlets. One "middle woman" describes the challenges of getting available farmers' crops to appropriate food markets. One chef tells us about the challenge of having a menu that changes daily according to what is available from local farms. "You get used to it."
One person who reappears several times is the Executive of Kings County, which includes Seattle. He talks about the importance of local food both to the health of the people and to building community. "What you eat is a significant factor in your health. Organic farming is a public health issue." If I remember correctly, he is the only person in the film wearing a formal suit and the only African American. He is clearly proud that Seattle proves, "It is possible to provide local food for a large city."
July's film, again on the third Thursday of the month at 6:30 PM in the Montclair Public Library, will be "Good Earth" about mud and housing structures.