Movie focuses on sustainability
A documentary entitled “The Perpetual Farm” will focus on what four diverse farming operations are doing right.
Kevin Judkins hopes the film will get the message across that most farmers are responsible stewards of the land who are working to keep it in production in perpetuity.
Documentaries about food production tend to focus on problems and so-called health risks, but a film being produced by five classmates from the Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation’s leadership program will focus on what farmers are doing right.
A half-hour documentary entitled The Perpetual Farm, is designed to get growers and consumers thinking about what it means, in practical terms, to grow food sustainably and will feature five farming operations of different sizes.
The five members of Class 33—Kevin Judkins, Aaron Penvose, Travis Meacham, Tova Tillinghast, and Richard Hilliker—committed to developing, funding, and producing the broadcast-quality documentary as their public policy project, which is a required part of the leadership program. Judkins said the film will focus on the economic, environmental, and social equity aspects of sustainability.
The film will not feature group members, but will look at four very diverse farms in Washington State that they selected, and explore what sustainability means to the farmers and the challenges they face.
Brenton Roy, a fruit grower at Prosser, Washington, one of the featured growers, said he thinks that the concept of agricultural sustainability is often misunderstood by the public, which is hardly surprising considering how few people participate in agriculture in the United States. Even farmers don’t always agree on what “sustainable” means.
Roy owns Oasis Farms, a 1,500-acre diversified operation with peaches, apricots, nectarines, apples, cherries, wine grapes, juice grapes, blueberries, and hops. He
uses drip irrigation systems, cover crops, and on-site composting, all of which contribute to the sustainability of the farm.
One of the greatest public misperceptions is that organic equals sustainable, says Roy, who grows a portion of his fruit organically.
“Everything we do is about sustainability,” he emphasized. “We don’t make any decisions—organic or conventional—that don’t factor in the concept of ‘Can we do this long term?’ The reason we do organic has nothing to do with sustainability. It has everything to do with what we feel we can, or can’t, excel at on this farm, at our location, with our crops, and what we think the market wants. It’s about marketing and our relative competitiveness in our industry.”
Roy was somewhat surprised that the filmmakers wanted to feature his farm in the documentary. “We’re not necessarily out in the world trying to make a name for ourselves in the arena of sustainability or organic,” he explained. “Our farm is not the quintessential organic or sustainable operation.”
With every decision, he thinks first about economics and then how that decision affects sustainability. Many good growers have gone out of business because their short-term strategies weren’t effective economically, he points out.
“If economics aren’t at the top of your list, you won’t be here to do the rest of the good deeds you want to get done.”
He hopes that the film will give people in urban populations a better understanding of where their food comes from, and what growers go through to provide safe, nutritious food for the world.
The other featured farms are:
Prosser Farm, a four-acre fruit and vegetable farm run by Tom Douglas and his wife, Jackie Cross. Douglas is a chef who owns a group of high-end restaurants in Seattle. The couple started the farm in Prosser in 2006 to supply his restaurants with high-quality food. Cross, who operates the farm, has a strong focus on sustainability. Though she follows organic protocols, she has chosen not to be certified.
Badger Mountain Vineyard, a 70-acre vineyard with winery at Kennewick, owned by Bill Powers. It was the first organic vineyard in Washington. Powers produces biodiesel from used cooking oil collected from local restaurants. He uses several alternative techniques and products, including a propane-fueled weed burner, compost tea, an in-row cultivator, extensive cover crops, and soaps for insect control.
Watts Brothers Farms, a 20,000-acre row-crop and dairy farm at Pasco with more than 4,000 acres of organic production. It is a subsidiary of Lamb Weston/ConAgra Foods, and the nonorganic farms are held to the the Lamb Weston Sustainable Agriculture and Grower Policies. The operation’s size allows it to experiment with new techniques without being exposed to the same level of risk as a small farmer would be.
Howell at the Moon Productions, a video company that has produced several films about Washington’s tree fruit industry, is producing the documentary. Staff filmed all four operations during harvest this year and have done preliminary interviews.
Jeff Ostenson, co-owner and executive producer, said the film Broken Limbs, which the company released in 2003, also explored sustainability, and it is still a huge issue today. People want to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. The movie will look at things that are working well on mainstream farms—operations that growers can relate to, he said. “It’s focusing on what these different farms of different sizes do that’s positive.”
By November, the Ag Forestry team had raised $10,000 towards the total cost of $100,000 that is needed by May, when the project should be complete. Many of the initial donations came from the wine industry, and Judkins said the group was hoping to secure more donations and grants.
They hope that the documentary will be aired by the Public Broadcasting System. It will be distributed online and made available to libraries. It will be translated into Spanish and accompanied by educational materials to encourage classroom use. Any profits from the sale and distribution of the film will help support the AgForestry Foundation.
Kevin Judkins is nursery manager for Inland Desert Nursery, Benton City; Aaron Penvose is a project manager with the Trout Unlimited Washington Water Project; Travis Meacham is production manager with Friehe Farms, Moses Lake; Tova Tillinghast is district manager with the Underwood Conservation District; and Richard Hilliker is forestry sales manager for Trimble Navigation Limited.
For more information, check the WAFEF Web site at www.agforestry.org or contact Judkins at email@example.com, phone (509) 430-2497.