A labour of love and pain
FROM SEED TO SEED
Directed by Katharina Stieffenhofer
● Subject to classification
● To Sunday ● 87 minutes ★★★ out of five AT the end of this informative, beautifully shot documentary by Manitoba filmmaker Katharina Stieffenhofer, farmer Terry Mierau, making a bonfire of tree branches brought down by a windstorm, throws his worries and regrets onto the fire and lets them burn, too. Crops lost to bad weather and bad luck, weeks of labour drowned in a downpour of a few hours — he lets it all go.
Passionate, thoughtful, informed and committed, Mierau and his wife Monique Scholte are organic farmers who also happen to be former— and still occasional — opera singers. Terry likes to quote Wendell Berry, the American poet, environmental activist and farmer. As documentary subjects, they are real finds.
The couple chose to settle in Neubergthal in southern Manitoba because it’s a single-street village with a close community. Some of the nearby farms still use traditional house-barns. At their modest mixed operation, Monique and Terry have heirloom-breed pigs, cattle, sheep, chickens and turkeys, along with an intense border collie and a couple of watchful cats. They raise potatoes, as well as vegetables for a community-supported agriculture program, delivering weekly boxes to clients — and friends — in the city.
This gentle, quiet advocacy doc possesses some of the philosophical patience seen in its subjects, who need to follow the seasonal cycles of farming and withstand the vicissitudes of Prairie weather. (Full disclosure: I saw and commented on a rough-cut of the film when it was still in production.)
Stieffenhofer (... And This is My Garden) brings in commentary from academics and activists. She also checks in with some other farmers: from a young man, part of the Metanoia FarmersWorkers Cooperative, who is living in a Winnebago and trying out a summer of small-scale organic farming, to established farming families with huge spreads who are looking to transition at least part of their operation to organic.
She touches on some larger issues — shrinking agricultural lands, the rising median age of farmers, the hollowing out of farming communities, the grassroots movements promoting seed sharing and increased genetic diversity.
Mostly, though, the film centres on Terry and Monique, following them through a growing season from planting to harvest. In some way, they farm like the Mennonites who farmed the land a hundred years ago. They use pigs to break the ground for potatoes, for example. In other ways, their sustainable organic operation has to be forwardlooking, requiring astute use of information, networking and technology.
In close proximity to their lives and labour, we get some sense of the pain and rewards of the farming year. And it all happens against the backdrop of the Prairie landscape, with big skies, sometimes sunny, sometimes threatening storms, sometimes dark under an improbably huge harvest moon.
The film could perhaps be thinned out a little, but From Seed to Seed offers a good, localized look at the much bigger subject of sustainable organic farming.