Posted by: Mike Grenville | 12 May 2009

Review: The Real Dirt on Farmer John

farmer john Farmer John is a charming and moving film that charts the story of one farm in Illinois from the 1950s that well illustrates the challenges that have faced all family farms in the decades since the war.

Bought by John Peterson’s grandfather in the 1930s, the farm’s story has also been recorded on film. John Peterson’s mother, Anna, acquired an 8mm cine camera in the 1950s which she, and then her son, used to capture the daily life and significant events around them. As a consequence, director Taggart Siegel’s documentary is filled with contemporary film showing John’s uncle using horses, and then his first tractor, and the gradual industrialisation of the farming process.

With the death of his father in the 1960s, John Peterson took over the running of the farm while attending college. At the time, with his encouragement, the place became a magnet for artists, drifters, radicals and hippies, most of whom had never worked the land, and which resulted in fear and suspicion from his neighbours. Eventually, the farm debt crisis of the 1980s forced John to sell, leaving him with only a small fraction of his grandfather’s land.

After years of decline, John turned the farm to organic methods, but that too generated little reward. It was particularly sobering to realise that even someone who had spent his life farming still had a considerable learning curve when faced with the vastly increased range of crops in his organic enterprise. Finally, after contact from interested individuals in Chicago, the farm was re-imagined as an early beacon of the community-supported agriculture movement and embraced biodynamic methods. It is now an inspiring place, with open days and hundreds of shareholders, many of whom have also contributed to buying more land.

Public Performance Rights for community screenings outside the USA are 100 EUR and include a DVD.
(82 min, 2006)

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Reviewed by Brad Scott




  1. Great film. As much a history of a generation as the journey of an individual…

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