We are rapidly losing the natural resources and human wisdom that are necessary to grow food.
My Father's Garden is an engrossing, emotionally charged documentary about the use and misuse of technology on the American farm. In less than fifty years the face of agriculture has been utterly transformed by synthetic chemicals, whose power to control the forces of nature is rivaled only by that of the atom bomb. These chemicals have also changed the farmers who have used them. This film tells the story of two such lives, different in all details, yet united by their common goal of producing good food.
One of the farmers is the father of the filmmaker. His story is told through her memories of growing up in the orange groves of Florida, and seen in the haunted and fading images of old home movies from the family. Herbert Smith was a hero of his age: dedicated, innovative, a champion of the new miracle sprays of the 1950's. He used these chemicals to fashion a man-made paradise, and his fate is the heart of this film.
The other farmer, Fred Kirschenmann of North Dakota, is a hero for our age. Faced with a shattered farm economy and the devastating environmental effects of chemical farming, Fred steered his land through the transition to organic farming. Thirty years later, the Kirschenmann farm is a thriving testament to ingenuity, hard work, and a reverent understanding of nature.
My Father's Garden follows Fred's story as it unfolds through the changing seasons. The differences between organic agriculture and conventional agribusiness are clearly demonstrated. The issues of farm history, industry, and ecology are all addressed in a simple and direct manner. Beyond the machines and methodology of food production lies another drama, that of Fred's neighbors. In sharp contrast to the robust successes of the Kirschenmanns, these family farms are slowly being erased by market forces beyond their control. The consequences of this loss are sadly witnessed, both for the men and women of the Midwest and for those of us who would eat the food they grow.
More than a cautionary tale, My Father's Garden is a one-hour documentary that tells a story of hope. The memories of the past serve to teach us that we do not have to repeat the mistakes of our fathers. The present is given direction through the explanation and practice of the philosophies of sustainability. Food cannot grow forever on a damaged earth, but Fred's lesson is that we can bring health and beauty back into the Garden, if we are willing to cooperate with nature's infinite intelligence. This wisdom holds the secret to our children's future.
My Father's Garden was first broadcast on the Sundance Channel.