The Real Dirt on Farmer John

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CAVU Pictures

NEW YORK -- "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" covers about 50 years in the life of a struggling farmer, but this documentary by Taggart Siegel is not exactly "The Grapes of Wrath."

Written and narrated by its eponymous subject, John Peterson, the film is an idiosyncratic portrait of an equally idiosyncratic figure whose personal travails well mirror many of the sociological changes that took place in the country during the past several decades. Hailed at numerous film festivals, the film is playing limited theatrical engagements.

Siegel was a friend of Peterson's for about two decades before he made the film, so his affectionate regard for his subject is more than evident. After inheriting a family farm that achieved great success under his grandfather's ownership, Peterson weathered numerous ups and downs while pursuing the family vocation in his own unique way. This included wearing a feather boa while plowing; pursuing his avant-garde artistic passions; and turning the farm into a sort of hippie commune during the freewheeling 1970s.

More significantly, he helped pioneer the concept of CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, and eventually transformed his farm into a highly successful example of organic agriculture.

Peterson is an undeniably eccentric and compelling figure, and his narration, not to mention the extensive use of family home movies, gives the film a personal quality that will make it of interest even to those not particularly interested in the subject of farming. While it sometimes has a rambling, disjointed quality and moments of self-indulgence, "Farmer John," as evidenced by the laudatory quotes from such figures as Al Gore and chef Alice Waters, has no small amount of relevance.
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