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My Father's Garden. 56 minutes, 1995. Miranda Productions. $24.95.
www.mirandaproductions.com/ garden/

        

REVIEW of My Father's Garden

My Fatherís Garden explores the disparities between the chemical agriculture of today and the organic agriculture that had characterized rural America pre-1950. The film tells two stories simultaneously of two people deeply affected by the agriculture of today. One story follows farmer and university professor, Fred Kirschenmann, who returned to his fatherís farm in North Dakota to begin a transition to organic production. The filmmaker narrates another story, told through old home movies interspersed throughout the film, about her childhood memories of her fatherís orange farm in Florida in the early fifties. In this film, we learn of the great power of technology in conventional agriculture and the great harm that was caused to the land, to people and communities.

From the Dust Bowl through the Green Revolution and its aftermath, we see how the promise of mechanization, monocultures and synthetic inputs has been broken. We see the faith in this promise manifested in the story of the Florida orange farmerís fervent efforts to maximize yields. The narrator explains that, at that time, her dad was ďon the cutting edgeĒ of an agricultural revolution and was always inventing new sprays and testing new methods. Under this model, nature was viewed as inherently flawed. It was peopleís job to control and conquer it, and technology would help us get there.

Kirschenmann, on the other hand, believes that we should be growing our food in a garden, not a factory. Since converting his dadís farm in 1977, he is now a fully dedicated organic farmer, that is, he grows food without chemicals and with acute attentiveness to the quality of his soil. He explains that by farming organically, we partner with nature, not work against it. We got it wrong, he says, when people became arrogant toward nature. Just as Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and got exiled from the Garden of Eden, we lost our harmony with nature when we assumed superior knowledge over our environment. In this way, the health of the environment, of our food and people are all tightly intertwined.

In My Fatherís Garden, subtle themes of faith, sin and redemption illustrate a stark distinction between two agricultural systems. From the two parables, viewers will learn some of the practical and restorative benefits of organic agriculture and the grave consequences of chemical agriculture; however, some of the more nuanced aspects of both systems are largely ignored. The film does a good job introducing major issues in agriculture and presenting moral justification for going organic, but viewers will have to look elsewhere for a more critical perspective. The following resources delve deeper into the debate.

Conkin, Paul K. A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture Since 1929. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

Fitzgerald, Deborah. Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003. Print.

Guthman, Julie. Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

Hamilton, Lisa A. Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009. Print.

Reviewer:
Lia Spaniolo
Michigan State University

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for My Father's Garden:

1. How would you describe your reaction to the film in one word or short phrase? Did you learn anything new? Were you surprised by anything?

2. Why do you think Fred Kirschenmann left teaching to come back to his fatherís farm? Why might this be considered an unusual decision at the time?

3. After switching to organic production, why was Kirschenmannís father convinced that he would never go back to farming conventionally?

4. Why is losing farmers and their local knowledge detrimental to the future of farming? Do you agree? Why or why not?

5. Kirschenmann uses the story of the Garden of Eden as a metaphor to describe the moral imperative for organic agriculture. Do you agree with his perspective? Why or why not?

6. Does organic agriculture need a moral imperative to gain a significant following? What might have been the moral imperative for chemical agriculture in the 1950ís?

7. According to the narrator, her father, the Florida orange farmer, died of unknown causes. What do you think caused his death and why couldnít (or wouldnít) people determine it at the time?

8. It could be argued that the narratorís father put his faith in technology, while Kirschenmann puts his faith in natural processes. Describe what you think of these two opposing viewpoints and the benefits and dangers of each.

9. What do you think is the appropriate role of technology in agriculture and why?

10. What is the appropriate role of natural/environmental processes in agriculture and why?

11. Did you feel that the film left anything out? What would you add to it and why?

12. Has your opinion on chemical agriculture changed after watching this film? How so? Describe why or why not.

13. Has your opinion on organic agriculture changed after watching this film? How so? Describe why or why not.

14. Do you know of any farmers in your community that switched from conventional to organic production? How do you think they came to their decision?

15. What can you and your community do to support farmers like Kirschenmann and organic agriculture?

Questions by
Lia Spaniolo

in cooperation with
Michigan State University
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