Lots of work still to go on Food Chain, and as we move deeper into the editing phase, I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone who has...
Farm Labor :: Grape Country, Napa CA
Farm Labor :: Grape Country, Napa CA
Farm Labor Documentary Project Origins: In August of this year, I set out with 4 other intrepid New Yorkers on a quest to figure out where our food (specifically fresh fruit + wine) comes from. And to film a documentary about our journey out of the city and into the fields. On a certain level we were feigning naivety - where does food come from? well farms of course! - yet as we would soon find, our naivety to the modern American agricultural system was not feigned, but rather a naivety ingrained and reinforced within us to an extent far beyond what we were conscious of.
Assembled on a few weeks notice, our film crew was a relatively raw group (with the exception of the director - an accomplished filmmaker) fueled largely by curiosity and unhealthy amounts of caffeine. Infinitely optimistic, we hedged on making up for our lack of documentary film making knowledge with our investigatory journalist skills - reinforced by an amalgamation of experiences in the fields of sociology, Spanish (two fluent speakers), trauma studies and social justice.
Leaving New York on that first warm summer morning in August, we arrived in San Francisco bright eyed and eager to be out of the cities and into the "rural heartland" of America. Winding roads, green fields, farmers and families happily carving a living out of the soil...or so we imagined. The plan was to travel across the US, from California to Florida, visiting farms along the way and gathering the stories of the workers we met. We figured at the end of three weeks we'd pretty much have a film.
While we did find the winding roads, green fields, and even the occasional happy farmer working to bring crops to their local market, our initial optimism and naivety slowly faded as we were confronted with the reality of an agricultural system underpinned by a history of slavery, pervasive abuses, and a general neglect for the well being and basic rights of the laborers within the system.
Journal Musings, December 2011: Over the course of the last five months, I've learned a lot about filming. A lot about the stories behind where our food comes from. And a lot about myself, and how easy it is to be a complicit bystander to a system that benefits me while conveniently misdirecting me from seeing the inconvenient consequences. Perhaps some people can learn from reading, others from images. If you're like me, nothing I've written, and none of the photos I'm showing you can really make you understand the price of a tomato. You have to leave the city, leave the air conditioning of your car, leave the safety of passive observation, and step out into the hot humid reality of the factory fields. You have to listen to the stories of people who have given up hope already. An African American woman, crushed by a system that took her youth and health, only to spit her out without so much as a thank you note for the years she spent working so that you and I could eat cheap tomatoes year round. You have to spend time playing with a child born with no arms and legs, a quiet casualty of our ( the consumers) need for unblemished perfect pest free fruit. This project has shook me, forcing me to confront issues far larger than I ever imagined could stem from what began as a simple conversation with a salad bowl. What is my responsibility to the world in which I live, and to the others who inhabit it? To what extent can my individual actions change a system? If ignorance is bliss, why does it leave such a bitter taste? The answers to these questions still elude me, but I know that by entering in this dialog, some catharsis must come, some action has already begun. No two people will approach these issues the same way or choose the same path. At the end of the day I realize that I do not have the power or foresight to single handedly change something as deeply ingrained in American history as our addiction to cheap food and labor, but what I can do, is treat the people who bring this food to my table with the respect and gratitude that they deserve.
Farm Film Update: Five months and some ten trips later we're still on the road, still eating tomatoes (though with far greater skepticism than I had ever hoped to look at a piece of fruit) digging deeper and deeper as we search not just to expose the injuries and injustices of the corporate farm system, but also to look for models for change and improvement within the twisted roots of our nations agricultural industry. We have met some incrediblly good hearted and hard working folks, and with their help the film is coming together in a way that will shed more light on this system than I can hope to do through my individual photographs. Stay tuned for updates as we move into editing and post production in preparation for our Toronto Film Festival (and possibly theatrical) release in September of 2012.