Please enjoy my recent interview with Spencer MacDonald he is a documentary film maker who’s latest short film Age of the Farmer was an Official Selection at the this years Environmental Film Festival, Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival and a VIMEO staff pick. Spencer’s film travels from Portland Oregon up into British Columbia with director Eva Verbeeck staying at WWOOF farms. WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non monetary exchanges thereby helping to build a sustainable global community. This is a wonderful cause and allows anyone who is interested in farming or sustainable lifestyles to go and learn at no cost. Photos for this interview are by Eva Verbeeck
avajane: Your short documentary Age of the Farmer expresses that farming is in all of us. Can you tell me more about that?
Spencer: Farming is one of the core human activities. It is one of the few things that we actually need for survival. It is what has allowed humans to form civilizations and settlements. Prior to the last hundred years or so, most humans had a much closer relationship with farming and the production of food. There were more farmers per capita and farmers were a more integrated group of people. Only recently have we begun to look at agriculture as something that happens in the background.
avajane: “Connecting with the land allows us to connect with ourselves”.
Can you think of a simple way urban families can connect with the land?
Spencer: I think Urban families can always find a place to grow food, even it’s just a bot of basil or kale in the kitchen window. Growing food seems to be one of the most therapeutic, rewarding activities. Tending to crops can really take us out of our heads for a little bit and put us in the flow of the natural world.
Also, I find that going to farmers markets and supporting our local farmers can make you feel very connected to the land, even if we don’t actually get involved in the growing process.
avajane: How can we inspire more youth to take up farming?
Spencer: There are many levels to this.
We need to spread messages of farming as a viable career option — as a realistic alternative to pursuing a career in the city. It is certainly tough financially to be a full-time farmer, but I have met many young farmers who are making it work, and are in love with what they do.
In my opinion, most people don’t even consider it an option. Our society draws us so much to the hustle of the city, that we become afraid of isolating ourselves in farming lands. Lots of young people want to do something positive, so we try to work for nonprofits and socially-conscious organizations, but often don’t consider that sustainable farming has massive benefits to our environment, culture, economy and personal psyche. I think it’s all about spreading awareness of these matters.
Also, Ideally there needs to be change at the legislative level to make farming viewed as more of a public service so that young people can afford to purchase land. We really should be incentivizing our youth to take up farming.
avajane: “Getting back in touch with food”
People have lost touch with where their food comes from. Can you elaborate on this?
Spencer: Until a few years ago, I lived my whole life in cities – mostly in San Francisco. Growing up, I rarely considered what it took to get food onto the shelves of grocery stores. I vaguely understood that certain crops grew in certain seasons, but since food is shipped all over the world, that barely effected me.
What I especially didn’t consider until a few years ago, is that at a consumer level, what we choose to purchase results in the success of certain industries, which effects the treatment of our lands. What we put into the land, seeps into the biosphere which all plants and animals share.
I suspect that most city-dwellers are like I was, and I have found that even if I do not grow food myself, knowing what it takes to grow food and get it to us, and choosing to make conscious purchasing decisions that support local, sustainable agriculture, can allow us to feel more connected to the rythym of the natural world.
avajane: Do you plan on making Age of the Farmer into a feature length documentary?
Spencer: I would love to one day but at this point there are too many uncertainties in my life to know what will happen in a few years. However, being around farms and farmers has forever changed the way I see my connection with the natural world, so I am sure I will make more farming related films of some kind.
avajane: What are you currently working on?
Spencer: While my passion is always sustainability related, my next project actually drifts a little bit from that. In March I am going to Kenya to make a short documentary on the villages where many world-class runners come from. I have dreamed of going to Africa since I was a child, so I am very excited.
avajane: What organizations inspire you?
Spencer: So many! I could never list (or remember) them all, so I am just going to name a few that come to mind, including some individuals:
WWOOF, Food is Free Project, Couchsurfing, The Intercept, Paul Stamets, Bernie Sanders, Paul Salopek, Young Agrarians, and all organic farmers, social workers, activists and environmentalists. Basically anyone (or any organization) who is using their time on this Earth to try to leave it a little better for those to come after us.
Vimeo Link to Age of the Farmer
A quick synopsis of Spencer and Eva’s project from there Vimeo page:
“65 is the average age of farmers, and there are not enough young farmers to replace them. How did we get here?”**
In the summer of 2015, Eva Verbeeck asked me to join her on a trip throughout the Pacific Northwest to produce a short film on young farmers, that would accompany her photo story for a variety of publications. Having spent much time WWOOFing on organic farms, I knew the importance of this mission. So we loaded our iPods with old bluegrass music and set off in a 1990 Nissan truck, heading from Portland to British Columbia. We offered our labor in exchange for room and board at the farms that we made it to.
This film is an attempt to express some of the thoughts and feelings of the young farmers that we stayed with. Hopefully a little bit of justice was done for all the young farmers out there.
Infinite gratitude to all of the farms that hosted us this summer and kept us filled with organic produce and warmth:
Film maker / Director / Editor – Spencer MacDonald website: www.halfmagicfilms.com/
Producer / Photographer – Eva Verbeeck website: www.evaverbeeck.com
Farms featured in the film
Earth Candy Farm (facebook.com/earthcandyfarms)
Plenty Wild Farms (plentywild.ca)
Skyberry Farm (skyberryfarm.com)
Hoe Down CSA at Tulaberry Farm (hoedowncsa.wordpress.com)
Yummy Yards (yummyyards.ca)
Growing Veterans (growingveterans.org)
Beacon Food Forest (beaconfoodforest.org)
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