Editor’s note: James Moll is an Academy, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and the director of “ Farmland,” a documentary film about the everyday lives of young farmers and ranchers in the United States. He is on Twitter.
Below, Moll opens up about why he decided to make a film about modern-day farmers and how we can bridge the gap between the food we consume and how/where it's made.
HLN: Had you ever been on a farm before filming 'Farmland'?
James Moll : I’ve never been to a farm before I started working on this film. I grew up in Los Angeles, in the city. My knowledge of a farm was limited to stereotypes: The red barn and chickens, a couple of cows, someone in overalls. We don’t know who farmers really are.
HLN: Why was it important to you to show who farmers really are today?
Moll : This is what prompted it: Being in a supermarket, picking up a piece of produce and wondering, where does this come from? What area? Who picked it? My Facebook feed is flooded with what I should eat and what I should avoid. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. I don’t know what to believe. We shop in fear. So I was curious to get to know farmers first-hand. It’s not something you get to do when you grow up in L.A.
HLN: After spending some time on farms, do you feel you know what to believe now?
Moll : There’s still a lot more to learn, but I have a higher degree of confidence in our food supply in this country. I say this country because that’s what the film focuses on, not any other countries. Everything I see in social media says I shouldn’t buy anything unless it’s organic; at the same time people say to stop wasting money on organic produce. I’m not going to make any conclusions for anybody -- it’s up to people to make their own conclusions for what they buy -- but I feel that if you’re buying something that was farmed in this country, we’re very fortunate to have a very safe source for our food.
HLN: Do the farmers feel there’s a disconnect between the food we eat and where it comes from?
Moll : There’s a huge disconnect! Farmers are very concerned about public perception these days. When I asked what their biggest challenges were, almost all across the board [they] said public perception is an issue. That was not exactly what I expected -- I thought it would be weather or markets. One of the farmers talked about having to market his chickens as hormone-free. He said it was something he had to do because there’s so much public demand for hormone-free chicken, even though he’s never added hormones to chicken.
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HLN: What’s the biggest misconception about farming in our country today?
Moll : The farmers feel that people either have a vision of farms as the cliché red barn with uneducated people running a farm or that our farms are factories with a man in a suit sitting behind the desk who is disconnected from the farm. They want people to know that the truth lies in the middle. They’re normal people. One of them said, “We’re normal -- my wife shops at Gap and I drink beer.”
HLN: What do you think of food becoming part of pop culture, with Instagram hashtags dedicated solely to food and farm-to-table concepts in restaurants?
Moll : I wanted to profile all different types of farmers. Some of them are community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers who sell to local restaurants and farmers’ markets. On the other end of the spectrum are the large genetically modified organisms (GMO) corn farmers. What was very interesting is how much respect they have for each other, despite the completely different philosophies on farming. When I finished the film, I showed it to each of the subjects individually, and they were all curious about how other farms do things. A lot of them said, “We’re so busy with our own farms, we don’t get to see the others’ farms.”
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HLN: What’s the one thing you want audiences to take away from this film?
Moll : It’s very basic and simple: I’m hoping people come away from the film with the same impression I have now that I’ve gotten to know a farmer. I simply hope that people feel like they personally know a farmer, have been on a farm and know what they do. I hope they learn about the way our food is grown and raised. I think it’s something we should all take responsibility to do.