Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on August 28, 2011
“This film has cross-over appeal that connects with progressive hippies and Tea Party members alike. It’s about government raids on local and organic farmers.” I’d had a long working relationship with the distributor who was telling me this over the phone, but in the past Jessica had been a broker for classics of the silent era as well as representing some of the biggest names in both the realm of foreign and contemporary arthouse movies. This was a very different and far cry from Dersu Uzala. It was a debut low-budget documentary called Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms.
Farmageddon was shot by Kristin Canty who, in publicity notes, simply describes herself as “the mom of four kids.” When her four-year-old developed allergies, asthma, hearing loss, and a host of other issues she tried everything to alleviate his suffering; drugs, inhalers, no pets, no carpets or curtains. She even wrapped the beds in plastic. None of these things worked, and the drugs only brought about unwanted side effects. Research on allergies led Canty to surprising results experienced by people who, as Canty writes: “found their allergies subsided when they consumed raw milk directly from grass fed cows. This is because unpasteurized milk contains healthy bacteria and enzymes that are missing in so many of the foods consumed today. I cautiously gave my son the raw milk, and his allergies and asthma eventually diminished until he was fully cured. Charlie is now fifteen. He is six feet tall, an amazing athlete, and doesn’t even sniffle.”
These results translated into a lifestyle change, one focused on healthier foods that were free of antibiotics, steroids, and genetically modified grains. Going even a bit further, Canty joined a food co-op to tap into the foods being harvested nearby from local farms. She then became aware of a raid on a co-op in Ohio: “Armed agents, by order of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, entered a private home and held eight children and their parents at gunpoint for six hours, while they ransacked their house, took their personal food, food from their co-op, and their cellphones. I then learned that there were more farms and co-ops that had been raided for simply providing the foods that the members wanted to eat.”
Small organic farmers being ruthlessly harassed and dealt financially crippling blows thanks to… a war on milk? It’s a bit crazy. Sure, you wouldn’t want to drink unpastuerized milk from a factory cow stuffed on feed grains, antibiotics, and steroids. But what’s the big deal about drinking raw milk from a grass fed and pasture-rotated cow living on a small farm? Are governmental regulation agencies so beholden to corporate agriculture that they’ll outlaw it despite proven health benefits? The answer is: yup. And it goes even further, as Canty shows in her film.
Other victims aside for the Manna Storehouse in LaGrange, OH, that was raided by the SWAT team include: Vermont farmers who had their sheep confiscated and destroyed, a raid on the Meadowsweet Farm in Lodi, NY, the Athens Locally Grown cooperative that is forced to dump hundreds of gallons of raw milk, the Newville, PA farm that is raided three times, an armed agents raid of a private food buying club called Rawsome Foods in Venice, CA, and another armed agents raid of Healthy Family Farms in Venture County, CA. Why are all these local farmers being treated like Branch Davidians? Canty hints at one reason: “The United States Department of Food and Drug Administration, in a document entitled Healthy People 2020, stated they intend to ‘Increase the number of states that have prohibited sale or distribution of unpasteurized dairy products.’”
It’s not all doom-and-gloom: Joel Salatin from the family owned Polyface Farm in Virginia (who fill be a familiar name to readers of The Omnivore’s Dilemma as well as the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.) provides a friendly face, along with some evangelical zeal for “a food future that is beyond sustainable.” Even before I see my screener DVD for the film, I’m on board with the project, which I know should have huge appeal to the community in my area. I program it as part of my fall calendar, screening on Sep. 15 & 16, and also add a sneak preview.
On August 8th I get an email update from Jessica: “Last Wed, armed local, state & federal agents raided the Rawesome food Co-op in Venice CA that is featured in Farmageddon. Unlike the raid last year depicted in the film, this one is a CRIMINAL raid, the result of a year long undercover investigation for allegedly selling Dairy products without the proper permits. Needless to say it is all over the news from mainstream (LA TIMES to NY TIMES) to the political spectrum (Forbes to Huffington Post).”
A few days ago I sent an email to the director asking for any updates I might share with the crowd during the sneak preview that might tie in with these recent developments. She called me on the phone last Thursday to say: “I stand behind them 100%. They can’t defend themselves because of gag orders.” Canty’s call comes to me as she’s boarding a plane to Chicago for another screening. There’s a lot of background noise, I’m searching for paper to write on as her words fly in and out of easy discernment: “Felony of Conspiracy to sell raw milk…. accused of selling commercial eggs at a family market….” Then suddenly the connection is crystal clear as she says: “NOT TRUE – all eggs were from HER FARM.”
The sneak preview of Farmageddon last night happened to fall on the kickoff day of a locally arranged Eat Local Week, which later this week features, as a key speaker, Joel Salatin. It all seems a bit surreal, but no more surreal than thinking of SWAT members terrorizing farmers for the sin of drinking the milk from the cows that walk freely on their own land. For more information about the film and upcoming screenings, go to:
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