Farming, Fair Food and Fine Films

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Documenting a revolution in food production.

It’s been a week of ‘foodie films’ with a twist – shining a spotlight on how our food is being produced and how this ‘production’ – both small-scale and large-scale – could be expanded to feed a projected global population of 10 billion people by 2050. There is growing awareness about ‘food miles’ and the health and environmental consequences associated with the highly processed western diet that many people consume. More people are starting to look at where their food actually comes from and what goes into it, and there is increasing support for local farmers and producers, through the likes of farmers markets and community supported agriculture.

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Farmers Markets (like this one in Lancefield, Victoria) are growing in popularity.

There is also a grass roots movement evolving across the globe, with the practice of ‘urban farming’ really starting to gather momentum. Many people are wanting to reconnect with nature and the land or to cultivate the traditional skills associated with ‘growing your own’ – be that in community gardens or on rooftops, in paddocks, plots or pots, school yards, backyards or balconies.

As the two ‘food’ films that premiered in Australia and screened at the Transitions Film Festival in Melbourne this week highlight, we are in the midst of what is quietly but steadfastly becoming a social revolution. A small but significant percentage of the population is starting to shift towards becoming more localised and self-sufficient in terms of developing the skills and know-how to grow and source more of their own food. And the flow on benefits include re-invigorated local economies, an increased sense of ‘community’ and improvements in people’s overall health and well-being.

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Community gardens are a great place to grow food and build a sense of community.

The ‘Plant This Movie’ is an award-winning documentary that tracks the rise of urban agriculture internationally, from the productive ‘Victory Gardens’ of the war years, through to the post-war ‘age of consumerism’ that took hold from the 1950s onwards, starting with the baby-boomer generations. Decades of disconnection from food production in the western world followed, with the increasing commercialisation and industrialisation of the food supply. To the point where many people have lost the fundamental skills associated with ‘edible gardening’ – a practice that was far more common amongst our great-grandparents’ generations.

However, in recent years, things have started to come full circle, as more and more people have started to seek out those traditional skills and reconnect with the art of growing, cooking and sharing good food. Fresh, healthy home-grown and community-grown food.

The ‘Plant This Movie‘, directed by Karney Hatchis narrated beautifully by Daryl Hannah and provides an uplifting and tangible sense of global change taking place, providing examples from both the developing and developed worlds but mainly North and South America.

For me, sitting in the audience, there was definitely a “feel good” factor … and it reinforced why I love my work as a garden writer, with a special interest in the growing of food. I love meeting fellow gardeners across Australia, in the course of researching, writing and photographing my stories – home gardeners, guerrilla gardeners, horticulturists, educators, community builders and the like – people who are making a difference to their own lives and the lives of others, and who, through the simple act of productive gardening, are part of a quiet global revolution. The phenomenon of ‘growing your own’ and urban farming is something that I definitely observe taking place across Australia.

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Australia is part of the revolution in community gardening and ‘urban farming’.

The second ‘food’ movie featured at the Transitions Film Festival this week was ‘10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate?‘ This German documentary with English narration, directed by Valentin Thurn (‘Taste the Waste‘ producer), provides a thought provoking and sobering look at the issue of how to feed the world’s growing population, which is expected to reach 10 billion by around 2050. In exploring the future of food, the film takes viewers on a journey across the globe, through both developed and developing countries, to explore the various options. From insects to industrial farming, from the roll out of big-business technological ‘solutions’, to the rise of organic, small-scale and community based farming practices.

While some of the high-tech options may at first appear to be bordering on the sic-fi, they are actual examples of research and development, or even implementation, in different parts of the world. These include ‘meat’ being grown from stem cells, in test tubes and petri dishes, within research laboratories (although a ‘burger’ currently weighs in at around $250,000) and genetically modified animals and plants designed to be fast growing and ‘high yield’ via the introduction of new genes from other species. Today, there are ‘plant factories’ in operation in  Japan, with food cultivated without soil, on multi-platform levels, under artificial lights. Such high-tech propositions currently carry high price tags, which make them rather prohibitive for developing country budgets.

Then again, as the documentary highlights, we can learn much from the farmers of the developing world, with their age old practices and precious species diversity, held within seed banks. Although, many farmers did get caught up in the ‘Green Revolution’ that was rolled out in the west and beyond, as the ‘answer’ to improving crops and yields and feeding the world. However, as the big seed, fertiliser and pesticide companies prospered, poor farmers became increasingly dependent upon this high-input way of farming and mono-culture approach to agriculture.

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Organic farming is one of the options explored in the film.

As a counterbalance, traditional and small-scale practices are steadily making a comeback, with the value of diversity and lower energy-input practices becoming more valued as viable options for the future.

Organic farming is one of the agricultural methods that is steadily on the rise as people look for alternatives to the agribusiness model and also look to repair the environment and produce healthy sources of food. The film also looks at community supported agriculture (CSA), the rapid growth of ‘urban farming’, and movements like the Transition Network, with its local currency (in the original Totnes, UK example of a Transition Town) and its support for locally produced food and the building of community resilience.

 All in all, both documentaries provide good food for thought, as we explore how to address potential food shortages for the globe’s growing population. Moving forward into the future, different approaches and solutions will be required in order to deal with the challenges ahead, which will inevitably include soil depletion and climate change. It is encouraging to see that re-localisation, creativity and innovation, the new phenomenon of ‘urban farming’, and equipping people once again, with the skills to sustain themselves, all look set to play an increasingly important role in addressing food security and in planning ahead to feed the world’s future generations.
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* The Transitions Film Festival runs through until 3 March in Melbourne (and 20-29 May in Adelaide). Its programme of thought provoking films aims to engage, educate and inspire. In essence, positive, solutions-focused films and cutting-edge ideas from around the world are showcased, often followed by Q&A and panel sessions with leading local thinkers and ‘agents of change’, drawn from the creative, academic, governmental, community and business realms. 
For more information, visit http://www.transitionsfilmfestival.com, where you can also sign up for their newsletter and event updates. The Transitions team also screens special sessions and hosts mini-events at other times of the year, which are well worth checking out.
For more information on the movies and their creators, visit:
* Thank you to farmer Fiona, from Adsum Farmhouse, and the Jills of Lancefield, and to urban farmers, Jen from Orange and Yasmine from Austria, for appearing as my farmers market and community garden ‘models’ in this blogpost.

 

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