“Grow!” is an American documentary-film, produced and directed by Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson, which follows the fortunes of twenty-two young “next generation” farmers, aged between 23 and 38 years, who are embracing the movement for locally sourced and organically produced food. The film explores the intricacies of making the transition from urban life to a new start, in rural America, tending the land. The film embraces a Wendell Berry-esque vision of romanticised farm work in the country, seeking to re-ignite the affinity that Americans have long held towards agriculture.

On the surface, the film draws on classical tropes of tradition, rolling countryside, and a good, honest day’s work in the field in an attempt to reinvigorate the youth of America to once again embrace a profession that is dominated by older generations. The film’s second major objective, however, is to force the issue of organic, and community-led agriculture as a way of evening out inequalities within rural America.

On both fronts, the film is successful. It is hard not to warm to the young farmers who have optimistically, and perhaps naively, embraced a new way of life, having grown bored with their college education, and the prospect of “working in accountancy”. As Raj Patel points out in his book “Stuffed and Starved” {Portobello Books, 2008}, there is a growing tendency in many countries to view the countryside in a reverential manner, as a rural idyll, whilst ignoring the hardships and the struggles that can occur there. Patel argues that, increasingly, urban dwellers have become detached from the very processes that are responsible for food sourcing, with supermarkets and food conglomerates offering the only real interaction with food.

“Grow!” aims to relocate the focus of food production onto the people at the heart of the process – the farmers. It brings us closer to the seemingly forgotten traditions of farming and farmers’ markets. The narrative of the film also points to the importance of movements which involve community involvement to support farmers, ensuring that there is cooperation with markets, local restaurants and local residents to disperse the bounty of the farms, and build strong social ties within the community. “Grow!” argues that the movement to increase the number of small farms, and promote organic, seasonal farming helps to promote a healthy lifestyle which is often denied to the poorest members of the community. Typically the poor can be priced out of the market, except for cheap proteins which are, according to Patel, responsible for causing a stark contrast in the global food system which leaves nearly one billion people undernourished, and over one billion overweight or obese.

This work can in many ways, be seen as a film which attempts to promote an ailing profession in many countries – farming – whilst also highlighting the many social benefits which can arise from embracing the movement for smallholder farming and organic, local produce which has gained much traction through the likes of Slow Food and Food First. Indeed, it builds on the recent studies conducted by the likes of The International Fund for Agriculture, which state that smallholder farming is a means through which we can confront the problem of how to feed the anticipated nine billion people in the next few decades.

The film actually does far more than act as just an advertisement for the farming profession. On another level, the film can be seen as an attempt by the filmmakers to reinvigorate humanity’s ties to the land, ties which have been cornerstone to civilisations for centuries. The underlying theme of the film is one in which young farmers are gaining an increased recognition of the role of the land, and the increased need to be environmentally conscious when it comes to farming, and also eating.

This became a key point made by farmers and academics alike at the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference 2013, in which the point was made that land, and farmland in particular, possesses a social meaning. Farm landscapes are inscribed with notions of place and nature, which have arguably been erased in the past few decades as there has been an increase in industrial agriculture and a detachment between humans, nature and food production.

“Grow!” persuasively shows the reconnection between humans and the land – highlighting the affinity that exists between people and places, and the importance of knowing and understanding where food and produce comes from. The message is that it is only through instilling this notion of farmland as more than simply ‘dirt’, that we are able to ensure that it is not subject to over farming, damaging fertilisers and environmental degradation.

It is easy to write-off “Grow!” as just a romantic documentary about a small group of young farmers who are getting back to nature, but in reality are a mere drop in the ocean in attempts to change the dynamics of our food system. Indeed there are shortcomings with the film: it does not go into much detail about the difficulties of transitioning to a rural agricultural life, and it does gloss over the serious problems of debt and insecurity, which farmers often have to deal with.

Whilst focusing on the successes of the twelve farms featured, the film does not mention the numerous failing farms in the US. What “Grow!” does achieve, however, is provide an alternative idea and debate to what many consider to be  the inevitable reality of industrialised society – that large agribusinesses are essential and no tangible alternative exists. “Grow!” requires us to challenge that assumption. It argues that with the requisite passion, determination and cooperation, there is another way to fix a food system that is currently not working effectively.

Further Information

“Grow!” is available to rent on iTunes. A short preview of the film can be found on the website:

The Grow! blog:

Follow on Twitter: @growmovie

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