by Troy Bishopp
CAZENOVIA, NY — “If you share my addiction to chewing and swallowing, you’ll want to watch the documentary: Farmers for America,” says the movie’s narrator, Mike Rowe, of the famed TV show, Dirty Jobs and CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation.
The Cazenovia Public Library partnered with the Madison County Cornell Cooperative Extension and a panel of multi-generational, local farmers in screening a diverse look into the obstacles America’s young farmers face and the joys that they share in feeding America.
Sixty people packed a room to watch the 75-minute film. The documentary challenges American culture to make farming more accessible to new farmers and to become more supportive of an agricultural lifestyle. From the struggles of land accessibility, debt, lack of knowledge, and low pay, to the joys of working outside, being your own boss, and producing food for family and community, Farmers For America is a sweeping, optimistic look at the promise of our nation’s agriculture.
“The film traces the extraordinary changes coming to America’s food system as more and more consumers flock to farmers’ markets, embrace farm-to-table lifestyles and insist on knowing where their food is coming from. At the center of the film are the farmers, young and old, who provide the spirit and energy to bring urban and rural America together over what both share in common: our food. These farmers reflect nothing less than the face of America. With the average age of today’s farmer at 60, and rural America losing population as the cost of land and equipment soars, this film reveals the people waiting to take their place, the practices they’re championing and the obstacles they must overcome.”
“I want people to understand how less than two percent of this country’s farmers feed 300 million Americans three times a day. I want people to see the challenges our farmers are dealing with, and the reasons why agriculture is facing a looming skills gap unlike anything we’ve ever seen. I want people to get a sense of just how close we are to becoming completely disconnected from our food, and the people who grow it,” said the film’s Director/Producer, Graham Meriwether.
Meriwether spent four years crisscrossing the country, from Appalachia to the sun-swept pastures of southern California, from the abandoned lots of Detroit to the fertile fields of northwest Iowa — to find the farmers who inspire this film with their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Meriwether taps notable Virginia grass farmers, Joel and Daniel Salatin; Maine’s Organic Pioneer, Eliot Coleman, West Virginia Iraq war veteran, Calvin Riggleman and New York’s Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, Lindsey Lusher Shute to add star power to the film. Meriwether said the Mike Rowe-narrated movie had three goals: “To celebrate farmers, inspire young people to start farming and to support young farmers”.
The film, with its patriotic hue and iconic imagery of American farmland and the hard-working men and women who wake up before the sunrise to toil on the land, did strike a chord of immense respect amongst the group of spectators. It celebrated diversity but didn’t exactly represent the Northeast dairy farming community.
“The film doesn’t divide the public or farmers as aggressively as some documentaries of the past have, and that alone is a good thing. However, the narrative presented reinforces some distorted perceptions about what farming today is all about, and in its effort to highlight a diverse array of specialty crops, it actually fails to show how diverse agriculture really is,” said Ag-Daily’s Managing Editor, Ryan Tipps.
A panel of local farmers presented their impressions of the movie and discussed the future of agriculture. “The movie showcased the need to think outside the box when approaching any new venture within agriculture,” said organic dairy farmer, John Stoker of nearby Fenner township. “To me, it showed the passion for agriculture, large or small, that you need to have to succeed. That and the knowledge of business planning and working with mentors is a positive step in the right direction,” said Bret Bossard from Barbland Dairy LLC in Fabius, NY.
In the end, it’s an agricultural profile that makes farmers and consumers think deeper about their food system resiliency and how important the next generations of farmers will be in feeding a hungry nation.
The film’s partner organizations include the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, National Farmers Union, mikeroweWorks Foundation and the National Center for Appropriate Technology. To find a movie screening, visit