[22 April 2012]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“Ninety-five percent of what Americans eat, you can’t pronounce and you can’t make it in your kitchen,” observes Joel Salatin. The owner of Polyface Farms, Salatin repeats in Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms what he’s said elsewhere—in his books and in the movies Fresh and Food, Inc.—namely, that the US government’s efforts to regulate small farmers’ food production are not just misbegotten, but also dangerous. With Farmageddon, first time filmmaker Kristin Canty brings more evidence to bear, in the stories of farmers who have been harassed by federal and local agencies (the FBI, the USDA, and the FDA, as well as assorted sheriffs’ departments). Linked through their handling by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s D. Gary Cox, these cases include unannounced raids, inspections that turn into seizures, sheep killing, and, in the case of Jackie Stowers (owner of a private food co-op), the armed invasion of the farmhouse she shares with 10 kids and her husband.
These stories are harrowing, no doubt, as when Stowers stands at the bottom of her stairs to reenact the “man with a gun” in her home (“I stood there thinking that this was a serial killer”). The stories emphasize the illogic of the government’s apparent campaign to impede small farmers’ work, a campaign that Canty says she stumbled upon when she first wondered why it was so hard to find and purchase raw milk, which she says helped her son to get over allergies when he was young. But while the stories might also inspire outrage, it doesn’t help to “get angry about it,” says Tim Wichtman, president of the Farm to Consumer Foundation. Rather, as he goes on, the first step to understand how the system works, in order to fight it effectively. “This is their way of doing business,” Wichtman asserts, “They’ll degrade anybody they possibly can, they’ll put anybody out of business they possible can, to keep an agenda where everybody’s at in the narrow parallels and don’t you dare get outside the line.”
“They” are government agents, most obviously, and the line has to do with the rules of food production. The documentary—this week available on VOD and iTunes—suggests another “they,” too. For in pursuing small farmers instead of tracking down bad practices at factory farms (repeated images show crowds of chickens and cows in terrible conditions), the government is not irrational so much as motivated by an entrenched relationship between government and Big Ag. As this relationship is based on money, the small farmers and consumers who want to make their own choices about what they eat have no chance to intervene, other than, as Ron Paul says at film’s end, to “get Congress’ attention” (as futile as that may seem on its face). Farmageddon doesn’t connect all the dots it notes, and it doesn’t prove the government agencies are particularly organized in conducting all these raids, inspections, and legal actions against small farmers. Still, it argues that these actions exemplify the government’s ongoing efforts—however bungling and however intentional or unintentional—to “take away our freedom.” It also shows they’re shutting down small farmers who don’t have the financial wherewithal to fight back.