Smile Politely

An Unconventional Agriculturalist in The Real Dirt on Farmer John

The Real Dirt on Farmer John is a colorful documentary that tells the story of John Peterson and the struggle to keep his family farm alive in rural Illinois over the past thirty years. Peterson’s tale is not unique, and parallels the trials and tribulations of thousands of farmers in the American landscape, facing the loss of their land after generations of farming. This film allows you to look into the souls of these farmers through the eyes of John Peterson, and what you see is the sadness and grief that so many farmers experienced in the 1980s when they were forced to auction off their land and their equipment merely to survive.

Directed by Taggart Siegel, The Real Dirt on Farmer John features footage from more than two decades of Peterson’s life.

Over the years, Peterson explored many uses for his farm, from artist colony to hippie commune. He was anything but conventional; part thespian, part poet and part farmer, he would sometimes dress in colorful costume to farm his fields. It’s no wonder that after years of soul searching, disappointment and guilt, Peterson would reinvent his farm through a revolutionary new venture. As if beckoned by the dirt itself, Peterson decided to put all his eggs into organic farming — a risky and still largely unfamiliar practice in Illinois in the early nineties.

Angelic Organics was born, and a small group of Chicago residents invited Peterson to become involved in community-supported agriculture (CSA). Before long, he was growing organic produce for over 400 families. And during the past fifteen years, the farm has grown into a special place for Peterson’s entire extended community: a place for shareholders, their children, young farming interns and volunteers to dig their hands into the soil and reconnect with the earth.

Highly thought provoking and inspiring, this 2005 film examines the future of organic farming, the re-birth of American soil and the value of a strong spirit — all of this without negating the challenging past of conventional farming.

This film is part of this spring’s Fight Back With Your Fork Film Festival and is scheduled for an early May showing. Until then, you can track down a copy at That’s Rentertainment.

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