For Valentine’s Day I made dinner and invited friends over to watch the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John. It’s the deeply personal story of John Peterson, a creative northern Illinois farmer who suffered from the near loss of his family farm and exclusion by his neighbors. The film narrates the history of the Peterson family and explains how John ended up running the farm at a young age. During that time he was able to balance running the farm with going to college and enjoying his playful life. Then came the 1980’s and, like so many other farmers at the time, John was in financial trouble.
The film brilliantly conveys the emotional burdens that John bears after inheriting the family farm: the pride of three generations of farmers as well as the shame of having to make great sacrifices with his land. One of the most personal moments in the film is when John communicates his dread of having to tell his mother about the farm’s financial problems. His expressive mother brings the family’s memories alive and becomes the reason for John’s persistence with organic agriculture. Farmer John’s Angelic Organics is wildly successful now due in part to Community Supported Agriculture. I loved The Real Dirt on Farmer John because it’s a story of small farm success in the age of corporate agriculture.