Unlike many of the other movies that I review here, such as Flow (which taught me a lot about the tremendous water issues throughout the world) or Dirt! The Movie (which give me an in-depth look at everything that encompasses soil), The Real Dirt on Farmer John had a much different impact on me.
Winner of over 30 awards at film festivals including first ever Reel Current Al Gore Award at the Nashville Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, The Real Dirt on Farmer John tells us the story of lifelong Illinois farmer John Peterson.
Raised in a Midwest farming community, John Peterson was forced to take over the family farm at a very young age when his father passed away from diabetes.
While tending to the crops and simultaneously attending nearby Beloit College, John Peterson turned his family farm into an experiment of art, free thinking, and communal living. It was exactly what you think you’d find in the hippies era of the 1960s.
Uncomfortable with these activities and the people hanging around John’s farm, local residents spread rumors that devil worshipping, drug dealing, and orgies were taking place on his property.
These negative perceptions and the tremendous weight of debt both killed the viability of the farm. Forced to sell off nearly all of his land, John manages to save a few acres and then takes off to Latin America looking for his next adventure.
Eventually, John ends up back in the U.S. and makes one final attempt to farm again.
This time, however, he abandons conventional agriculture and its toxic chemicals in favor of something more pure and respectful to the earth, organic farming.
With his unwavering spirit, John finds an unexpected source of financial and emotional support, which helps him realize his dream of combining art and agriculture, and also helps to save his soul.
I almost gave up on the movie about 20 minutes into The Real Dirt on Farmer John but am glad that I didn’t. (Full Disclosure: I have a very short attention span when it comes to movies, and I walk out of them often.)
This film resonated with me for a few reasons.
– We are taken on John Peterson’s very personal and difficult journey – lots of family heartache, several failed relationships, being painted as an outcast and immoral character in his community, and dealing with the tremendous difficulty of farming.
For anyone who has also faced serious adversity in their lives and has struggled to find themselves, you can’t help but feel for this character very much. Furthermore, he is an honest, hard-working, and decent human being.
– It shows the very sad decline of the collapse of family farms in our country. There was one line in the movie that struck me very much when one woman said “where do people think they’re getting their food from?”
– More than anything, I was touched by John’s relationship with his mother – how much he did to take care of her, how much she loved his only son, and the affection they had for each other.
As someone who had a very special relationship with a mother who has since passed away, I had tears in my eyes on several occasions.
If the goal of a film is to really move a person and to get them to start thinking about their own life, then The Real Dirt on Farmer John was indeed very successful.