September 18, 2011
Are farmers the new rock stars? The thoughtful new film GROW! focuses on young GA farmers sustaining an endangered profession
By Nancy Staab
- All photos by Anthony-Masterson
The beautiful and intelligent new documentary GROW!, written, directed and produced by Atlanta-based team Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson of Anthony-Masterson, is not only raking in the film awards (Winner 2011 Focus Award form the Montana CINE International Film Festival and Winner of Best American Documentary at the Rome International Film Festival), but shedding deserved light on a tight-knit group of young, hard-working and, yes, hip, organic Georgia farmers. Here’s the scoop from this filmmaking couple on how this gorgeous piece of agri-cinema came to fruition and why today’s young farmers are both quaint traditionalists and wide-eyed revolutionaries at the same time.
Sure, the documentary GROW! is filled with bucolic beauty and it share of pastoral scenes of lush farmland, iconic red barns, wheelbarrows, cute critters scenes of hosing down the pigs on a hot summer day or corralling frisky lambs, and earthy close-ups of carrots being pulled out of the dirt. The cinematography and lighting are beautiful throughout. However, this nicely edited 50-minute film is far from a romanticized portrayal of the farming profession.
Through the lens of a pack of 20 very committed, eloquent and young, local Georgia farmers, filmmakers Anthony-Masterson examines the notions of where food comes from; the fallacies in our current food chains; and why on earth such salt-of-the-earth yet cerebral twenty and early thirty-somethings (many who boast degrees in chemistry, physics, theology, English literature, computer science, history, accounting and pre-law) would nobly take up this near-dying profession with few creature comforts and lots of back-breaking work and unpredictable factors to boot.
Whether they inherited family farms or, in many cases, secured land through more difficult means such as apprenticeships, leasing and purchase, each of these farmers, male and female, possesses an indelible desire to work the land and literally produce something tangible as opposed to, farmer Elliot McGann’s words, merely “punching the clock.”
And thank goodness they do, because in the most chilling moment in the film, McGann of Hope Grows farm muses, “The average age of the farmer is now 57…who is going to grow our food in the future?” In the end, these hip and grounded young farmers emerge as a quixotic combination of tradition (what trade is older than farming?) and rebellion (eschewing the cushy office jobs of many of their cohorts and waving the banner of local, organic, sustainable); of idealism and hard-grained pragmatism, and altogether worthy of our thanks and attention.
You can catch many of these growers and their produce at Atlanta’s many local farmer’s markets and check out a special film screening of GROW! on Thursday Sept. 22 at 8:30 PM at The Goat Farm Arts Center, 1200 Foster Street, Atlanta, GA, 30318 as an official entry in the 2011 Docufest Atlanta Film Festival, http://docufest.com/home.html tickets$5.
GROW! Is also an official selection of the Savannah Film Festival Oct. 29-Nov. 5 and the Slow Motion Food Film Festival in Nova Scotia Nov. 11-14.
For more info on the film or to set up a private screening visit www.growmovie.net
ANTHONY-MASTERSON ON THE MAKING OF GROW!
Ok before we get started: can you fill me in a little bit on your background as photographers-- what do you shoot and whom are some of your clients?
Christine: We shoot everything but weddings. We actually do a lot of work for shelter magazines shooting interiors, which is probably what led us to making a film shot entirely outdoors.
Owen: We shoot in studio maybe 1% of our assignment work; the rest is out on location and I think that freedom, being mobile and traveling light, has enhanced our shooting style. Our approach is “see it, love it, shoot it.”
How did you two meet up originally and combine your talents?
We met in San Francisco when we were both involved in the music business. -Christine
That would be the late 70’s, early 80’s. I was playing in rock bands, recording, touring; it was loud, punk-rock havoc. - Owen
It took us awhile to combine our talents because we were both busy following other creative pursuits. After our musical interlude, Owen worked as an actor and model and I was involved in the culinary arts, eventually becoming a food stylist. -Christine
So how did you delve into the photography business?
Owen: We both had been working with great photographers and directors in Los Angeles through the 90’s. I think the desire to pick up a camera started there--being so close to such talent and creativity.
Christine: We always had a love of photography but it had really been limited to collecting photographs that we picked up in our travels and taking pictures with a beat 35mm SLR.
Owen: We were in Paris through the winter of 1999-2000 taking a break from the L.A./Hollywood grind and were taking pictures with our Nikon. The light and shadows of the city really opened our eyes and fired us up. We came back and started shooting.
Christine: The assignments began rolling in, we were picked up by a stock photography agency and we just went with it. We started with food, quickly expanded to people and places, interiors and exteriors for shelter magazines, restaurant and travel stories, and you have to remember that we are talking about film here, not digital.
You guys are a couple and also work together professionally: how do you work all that out—ie. What’s your secret?
Christine: Mutual respect and trust are pretty important. You have to be able to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to find the balance with your partner. The fact that we are crazy about each other helps a lot.
Owen: I have to agree with that, the part about being crazy. Really though, the give and take is an essential component; a different point of view, the two sides to every story concept while keeping your eye on the goal.
When/Why did you decide to make the leap to feature film and did you make any long or short films before GROW! to learn the technique?
Christine: We picked up a Flip Ultra to explore the medium and ended up making our first documentary short called FARM! It was sort of the prequel to GROW! and even has some of the same cast members. FARM! was an official selection of two film festivals in 2008, The Rome International Film Festival and the Athens EcoFocus Film Festival. After that we were hooked and soon thereafter, bought a ‘real’ camera (Panasonic HPX170HD)
Where did the germ of the idea for GROW! come from?
The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 57. Obviously, a new generation of farmers is needed. Also we have a broken food system with a lot of the problems being caused by ‘Big Ag. ‘ -Christine
Owen: We wanted to encourage more young people to consider sustainable agriculture as a viable career choice. The young farmers in GROW! were chosen to serve as role models to anyone who might be considering getting into farming.
How did you connect to the Georgia farmers and find them for your film?
Christine: Through our work with Georgia Organics we’ve gotten to know a lot of farmers really well. When we moved to Georgia in 2005 we were surprised that there wasn’t a lot of demand for local food, sustainably grown. We decided to offer our photography services to Georgia Organics, pro bono, to help put a face on farming and spread the word. When we decided to film GROW!, we had a few farmers that we knew we wanted to include. As we began filming, more great farmers were recommended by other farmers.
Do these farmers know each other, since they are all impossibly, young, smart, hip and advancing the local organic, small farmer trend here in Georgia?
Owen: There is a pretty tight community of young farmers in Georgia. A lot of them already knew each other and we were really happy that the ones who didn’t, have connected through our film.
How long did it take you to make the film and what did it involve in terms of travel, the elements, etc? Did you attempt any farming or critter rastling yourselves in the process?
We filmed during the entire growing season of 2010 from early April to late November. We traveled over 5,000 miles making multiple visits to the farms. We felt that it was important to show what the farmers go through on a daily basis so we did not shy away from the elements. If it rained, we shot. If it was hot, we shot. -Christine
How is the film funded if you don’t mind my asking?
Christine: Initially the film was self-financed until we ran out of money sometime in August. We then began a series of fundraising endeavors, the most successful being our Kickstarter campaign. We were fortunate to have friends, family and the kindness of strangers to help us to see our project through. Georgia Organics and Whole Foods Market also came on board and provided some generous support.
What is your favorite moment in terms of the making of this film?
A favorite moment in the filming, I’d have to say, was flying over The Glover Farm in Douglasville in a two-seater Piper Cub airplane. That was a kick. -Owen
Christine: Some of my favorite moments were when we were invited to sit down and eat with the farmers. We had so many great meals on the farms or in the farmers’ homes. I love to cook, so being asked to help out in the kitchen was always fun. To be able to enjoy the fresh fruits of their labors and come together over a meal was one of the most satisfying things for me.
Tell me a bit about the process of making this film:
In documentary filmmaking, the relationship between the filmmakers and their subjects is a bit of a tightrope; gaining a level of trust with the person you’re talking with and finding the way into their story, while remaining objective about that story. -Owen
Owen: I love when the walls come down and the answers less guarded and we get to the deeper parts of the “why, when and how” of it. The process is challenging in that we as documentary filmmakers have to not stage scenes or attempt to affect the outcome of events while capturing the naturalness of life as a farmer.
Christine: I love going out and filming, but I think what I enjoy most is the editing process because it’s there that you actually unearth and create the film. With a documentary you’re not working from a story-boarded script, it’s more of an organic exercise.
You lived in L.A. before relocating to Atlanta. Why the move? Were you already tapped into farmer’s market and local, sustainable, organic farming while in California?
Owen: We had lived in San Francisco for many years and then lived in LA for 10, so basically we had ‘done’ California. We wanted to experience a different part of the country.
Christine: I had lived in Italy for a while and really got hooked on shopping at the outdoor markets. In Europe, that’s just how people shop. When we were living in San Francisco, I was working as a chef so we were very tied into the food scene, which revolved around the Farmers Markets. That continued when we moved to L.A.
How does California food culture compare to that in Georgia?
Christine: In California you take ‘local’ for granted. There is such a wide variety and bounty of produce available year round. The people who go to the Farmers Markets in California are really into cooking and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, so you don’t see a lot of prepared foods, the majority of the vendors just sell produce.
What is the largest take away message, of the many messages in your film, in your opinion?
Owen: The passion that young farmers have for what they are doing and the hard work they have undertaken to bring this food to their communities.
After one of our screenings in Athens, an older woman came up to us and offered one of my favorite responses… “These kids are gonna save us.” -Christine
Who are you marketing the film to as an audience? And are you in the process of getting it on to the film festival circuits locally and nationally?
Christine: For now we are targeting schools, universities and community groups. We are finding that the film serves as a catalyst to inspire people to think about what they’re eating, land use, health and environmental issues etc. It’s also been a great fundraising tool for some organizations. Eventually we’ll make it available for home use. We’re working on the Special Features now. We are also entering GROW! into film festivals across the US and Canada and a few in Europe.
I know you guys are huge fans of local farmers markets here in Atlanta. Does most of your food shopping support local Georgia farmers and markets? Any favorite markets or stands?
Christine: A major portion of our food dollar goes to Georgia farmers directly. Our closest market is the Peachtree Road Farmers Market [www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com/] where we are able to buy fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy. We try to buy a little from everybody. We also try to visit some of the other markets like Morningside Farmers’ Market [www.morningsidemarket.com/], especially in the winter when all of the other markets are closed. East Atlanta Village Farmers Market [www.farmeav.com/] is another favorite.
What are some of your favorite seasonal produce and market finds? Any favorite crave thing? (I love the blue eggs from Many Fold Farm myself!)
Christine: We tend to eat with the seasons, so there is always something to look forward to. For special finds we like to see what Michael Hendricks at Indian Ridge Farm brings. He is not only a great farmer but a forager as well so you can count on him for some very tasty unusual items like Chanterelles and other wild mushrooms.
How about local chefs/restaurants that support Georgia small farmers: any favorites you can list? I know that Linton Hopkins was interviewed for this film as well as Steve Nygren of Serenbe
Christine: We were surprised to learn from the farmers that there are some restaurants that like to give the impression that they are supporting local farmers when in fact they purchase only a small amount of produce and meat directly from the farmers. The majority of the food on their menus actually comes off of a big truck. Happily, there are a lot of chefs that not only buy huge quantities of produce from the farmers but also do what they can to support the local food movement by donating their time and talents to a myriad of fundraisers. Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch is definitely one, as is Shaun Doty of Yeah! Burger, Dave Larkworthy of 5 Seasons Brewery, Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, etc. Look at the list of participating chefs for any event and you’ll see the same names all the time. Often overlooked, but just as important are caterers that support the farmers like Marc Sommers at Parsley’s and Cathy Conway of Avalon Catering.
Owen: Serenbe founders, Steve and Marie Nygren do more than their fair share. Serenbe Farms hosts so many fundraisers throughout the year for programs and organizations that either directly support farmers or other great food causes. Marie always lends her cooking talents, and their Farm House at Serenbe restaurant buys from farmers in the area.
It’s really cool that you shone a light on such an earnest, needed, back- breaking and under-hyped profession as farming. And you guys managed to convey the coolness of this profession and its bucolic moments without in any way over-romanticizing it or being too preachy. Care to comment on this?
Over the last couple of years there has been a spate of films detailing all the ‘wrongs’ with the world. They have experts finger wagging, predicting doom and gloom and the ever-popular visits to the killing room floor. We were getting depressed watching them so we decided to make a film with solutions, something positive that people could feel good about. -Owen
Christine: On the other hand, we didn’t want to make it appear too “Pollyanna” because that would give a false impression of what farming was all about. Charlotte Swancy of Riverview Farms sums it up pretty well. “Its not always that romantic notion of flowers and baskets of bounty and calico dresses. Its not that at all. The reality is work and worry and extreme stress. But there are blissful moments that you hang onto and you cherish.”
What impressed you the most about these young famers? They are certainly passionate and committed to their professions, and yet, it’s certainly not the kind of job that is going to lead to a cushy, indulgent material life.
Christine: The people who have chosen the agrarian life don’t ‘do’ cushy, nor are they interested in making a lot of money. They love being out of doors, they love the independence of farming. Their rewards aren’t material. Their fulfillment comes from knowing that they are doing something tangible and meaningful with their lives. They are inspired to help change a broken food system. Another plus is they eat really well. It’s an independent lifestyle that appeals to some, as Elliot McGann of Hope Grows says “We’re not punching a clock.”
I love the line about how farming is a form of activism for a way of life that is in danger”—both a counter-culture and rebellious activity to take up in our day and age and, yet, also a deeply traditional, old-school profession. Thoughts?
Christine: That is part of what inspired us to make a film about them. We’ve always been on the counterculture/rebellious side of life ourselves but we also have a deep respect for some of the traditional pursuits that benefit the common good. And it’s pretty astonishing that the average age of farmers in this country is 57. As the film asks: who is going to grow our food in the future?
What do you see as the solution to the farmer deficit? And what can one do as an average consumer to support these folks?
Christine: It’s simple. Buy their food and be nice to them, they work hard.
Owen: Get politically involved. Urge politicians both on the national and local level to help support programs to help small sustainable farmers.
I can’t wait to see what you do next. What projects are in your pipeline?
Christine: We have a few ideas percolating that definitely involve youth culture engaging in traditional pursuits. We are also considering more solutions-style films.
See a preview of GROW! here:
Check out a special film screening of GROW! on Thursday Sept. 22 at 8:30 PM at The Goat Farm Arts Center, 1200 Foster Street, Atlanta, GA, 30318 as an official entry in the 2011 Docufest Atlanta Film Festival, docufest.com/home.html tickets$5.
Links to some of the Georgia farms documented in GROW!
Sun Dog Farm: www.thesundogfarm.com/
Serenbe Farms: www.serenbefarms.com/
Jenny Jack Sun Farm: jennyjackfarm.com/
Manyfold Farm: www.manyfoldfarm.com/
Burge Organic Farm: burgeorganicfarm.wordpress.com/
Hope Grows: www.hopegrowsfarm.com/
W.A. Hennessy Farm: http://wahfarm.com
Love is Love Farm: http://www.loveislovefarm.com
Riverview Farms: http://grassfedcow.com
Ivabelle Acres: ivabellacres.com/
Support local farmers by participating in one of Georgia Organic’s CSA Program (Community Supported Agriculture). Invest in a share of a local farm’s harvest (or a combined group of farms) and receive a weekly bounty of seasonal produce: