by Jeff Hake
Conversation and concern about local agriculture and food systems continue to crop up on the Tufts Medford campus, and sometimes in surprising ways. The latest is a film produced by four undergraduate students called “From Farm to Table”.
The film premiered on December 15th, 2010 as part of a series of documentaries focused on social change, which included pieces on the struggles of bicyclists in Boston and alleged abuses by Immigration and Naturalization Services against Boston’s immigrant population. The films emerged from a course called Producing Films for Social Change, offered through the Tufts Experimental College and the Tisch School of Civic Engagement.
“From Farm to Table” explores the local farm and food movement through the lens of a few programs in the Boston area. Chief among these is a program run through the Friedman School called the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, which trains and supports new and immigrant farmers in New England. The filmmakers interviewed both staff members and participants in the program to gain insight into the importance of local food and what it takes grow food in the challenging Northeast region.
Mitchell Geller, a senior Psychology and English double major and one of four filmmakers of “From Farm to Table”, entered the film course without knowing what he would be undertaking as a project. Despite an interest in food “on some level”, local food was not on his radar. However, after group members Shaye Martin, Bonny Chau and Sally Ehrlich did more research on the topic and heard that New Entry was willing to participate in the process, “the film really took shape”, said Geller by e-mail.
The four students quickly discovered that they were in up to their necks in information about local food. “The hardest part,” said Geller, “was trying to decide what to include and what to cut.” While they ultimately struck a balance between featuring New Entry and the local food issue in general, Geller recognized that “New Entry could be the subject of a feature-length film in and of itself.”
This balance was struck by addressing food production on one end of the local food system, through New Entry, and local food consumption on the other end, by interviewing customers and the manager of the Bedford Farmers’ Market. Geller says that they found all their interviewees to be open and enjoyable to talk to and learn from. However, his favorite may have been meeting New Entry farmer Rechhat Proum.
Proum features strongly in the film. After the interview with Jen Hashley (director of New Entry) concluded, she introduced them to him. A clear character who fills the screen with an infectious smile, Proum describes why New Entry is so important to him. Geller exulted in his enthusiasm for farming and the program that has enabled him to do what he loves since he emigrated here from Cambodia. “That day on the farm was one of our most memorable,” said Geller, “especially as Proum made sure we tried everything he grew.”
The enthusiasm and humor of subjects like Proum and the other farmers, the calm, informed determination of Jen Hashley and the other staffers, and the richness of color and texture offered by farmscapes and fresh produce are what makes this film jump off the screen. But it’s the informed research and capable editing of its makers that engrossed the audience at its premier. It was well-received then, and now that it has been posted to YouTube, it has had “a fair number of views” and continues to receive praise. Geller said that there may be a few more screenings in the next few months. To stay informed about the film, he noted the film’s Twitter feed @FromFarm2Table.
Jeff Hake is a second-year student in the Agriculture, Food and the Environment program and is specializing in agricultural communication and education. Also, he likes funny cartoons and tea.