Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Farmageddon": Governments shut down organic farming out of political motives

I snuck out from an on-call work situation to see the new documentary from Kristin Canty, “Farmageddon” at the West End Cinema in Washington this afternoon. It was surprisingly well attended for a weekday, with some entire families with teenagers old enough to see how important this film could be.  The film is in self-distribution mode on a platform release, showing only in a few cities. The DVD is due by late fall.

As the film opens, we see the stairwell of a rural house, and a woman narrating tells of getting up before dawn on a winter morning and seeing guns drawn and then police and federal agents out of the blue. We don’t know where that farm house home invasion (from the fibbies) takes place until toward the end.

The film spends its early time covering a family farm in Vermont that tried to raise European sheep organically, to be shut down by the USDA, which would even threaten the family into silence. The theory was a possible mad cow disease risk, despite repeatedly negative biological tests (and I don’t think sheep have had the disease anywhere since the 18th Century).

Most of the rest of the film concerns federal and state attacks on organic farms, especially those trying to sell raw milk, in a number of states, including California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Ohio.  In Maryland, unpasteurized milk is absolutely illegal, but in some other states if can be “sold” in coops in limited circumstances (but never cross state lines).  The film traces the formation of some coops, with some details as to one south of Elyria, Ohio, in a town called La Grange, operated by the Stowers family.   I spent my boyhood summers near Oberlin (actually Kipton)in the 50s and 60s, and I remember some family trips (on my maternal grandmother’s side) to buy fresh farm food, and we may very well have visited this coop or a similar one. I definitely remember Lagrange and Pittsfield.

Another victim is a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania, and still another is in California, where supposedly the law is more favorable to local organic farming.

Politically, the government seems motivated to protect large agribusiness from low cost competition so it hauls out “the law”. Imagine what could happen if the same thing happened with media companies. (It does.)  The film demonstrates well the conservative-to-libertarian arguments against big government, which often corrupt the law to serve the interests of those who keep it in power.

Medically, the pasteurization question is double-edged. We have taken it for granted since the 50s or earlier (because of the devastating but infrequent threats from a few bacteria like a few e-coli), but raw milk, produced properly, may be more healthful inasmuch as people actually benefit from exposure to more “good bacteria,” building stronger immune systems and probably less prone to cancer (especially colon and stomach cancer and probably lymphomas) as well as allergies and autoimmune disease.

The film has a lot of shots of farmers markets in New York City, especially the Village.

Farmageddon - Movie Trailer from Kristin Canty on Vimeo.

Picture: family farm from my mother's side, near Kipton, Ohio (not in film, about 15 miles from LaGrange in the film)

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