By Shelly Winifred Barger
Documentary filmmaker Steve Suderman resumes his examination of small scale farmers in his most recent work, TO MAKE A FARM. Previously, OVER LAND (2008) explored his family’s farming challenges during a decade of increasing debt and decreasing income which threatened thousands of Canadian family farms like the one where Suderman grew up. Because small, family run farms have disappeared at alarming rates while large farms have increased (Farms, Farmers and Agriculture in Ontario, 2011), Suderman is interested in the dynamic of success or failure of small-scale farming in TO MAKE A FARM. Unlike his personal experiences in OVER LAND, his focus is on first generation farmers with no background in farming. He is interested in identifying elements that promote small-scale farming success.
While the new farmers are invested in sustainability and environmental shepherding, the cinematic focus on landscape illuminates one aspect that draws new farmers to this vigorous, risky, and often difficult work. Suderman’s visual sensibility spills over from his 2004 project, LANDSCAPE AS MUSE — about the relationship between Canadian landscapes and artistic inspiration — into this film. So it is no wonder that Suderman incorporates beautifully timed country landscapes and quiet farming scenes worth contemplation into the story of these new small farmers and their farming challenges and rewards. The luxurious northern landscapes in TO MAKE A FARM skillfully weave a palpable connection between the farmers and the land.
A multitude of new documentaries have focused on how our food is produced and its effect on our environment and our health. TO MAKE A FARM presents solutions for communities who have begun to question what they are eating and how their source of sustenance is produced and distributed. The desire to reconnect to our food sources has led to a growing numbers of farmers markets and co-op shares popping up all over the country. The movement recognizes the importance of supporting local economy, eating in-season produce, cultivating biodiversity, sustainability, and supporting the neighbors who grow our food. Suderman’s TO MAKE A FARM suggests that our neighbors will be more inclined to take care of the environment and take care of their community when they are producing on a smaller scale, so they become more connected to the land and its product.
As the farmers struggle with unpredictable seasons and weather and the threat of devastating disease, the viewer is compelled to hope for their success, for the rain to come or to ease up, and for livestock to remain healthy. The viewer is rewarded with beautiful landscapes where the quiet countryside is punctuated only by workings of the farmer and dialogue that’s both insightful and thought provoking. TO MAKE A FARM is a pleasure to view. With so many documentaries offering information about where our food comes from, it offers an illuminating glimpse of sustainable, small-scale farming solutions and shows that communities are hungry to support these operations, which focus on the health of their communities and the health of their farmlands.