How Organic Farmers are ‘Gaining Ground’

From Civil Eats, September 29, 2017.

A new documentary chronicles the efforts of wheat farmers and urban gardeners as they shift to sustainable farming.

“I’ve never been comfortable growing lawns and golf courses when there’s a worldwide food shortage,” says Willow Coberly at the beginning of the new documentary “Gaining Ground.” Willow is married to Harry Stalford, a grass-seed farmer from Oregon’s Willamette Valley who, at the start of the film, is as conventional as they come. His transformation into a champion of organic wheat, thanks to his wife’s prodding and persistence, is the moral heart of this stirring film.

Farming in and of itself is a risky profession. “Gaining Ground” tells the stories of three farmers—two from rural Oregon and one from Richmond, California—who take additional risks to transition away from conventional, commodity farming to grow organic food. In the case of Doria Robinson, who returned to her hometown of Richmond to work at Urban Tilth, the mere act of growing sustainably farmed food in a food desert is a deeply courageous act. As she says in the film, “This is the front line, and somebody has to hold it.”

Filmmaker Elaine Velazquez and her wife, the producer and radio documentarian Barbara Bernstein, took five years to shoot and edit the film, which turned out to be a good thing. Just as they were about to wrap the shoot, two issues that had been looming in the background of their farmers’ lives—and their documentary—came front and center: The Chevron refinery in Richmond exploded and genetically modified wheat was found in an Oregon field.

The couple has been showing the film at events around Oregon and at film festivals across the country; it will have its Bay Area theatrical debut this weekend at the Food & Farm Film Festival in San Francisco. (The film will be shown on October 1 at 4 p.m.) Civil Eats spoke to Velazquez and Bernstein about the importance of forging rural-urban connections in the age of Trump, Richmond’s long tradition of farming, and why the next generation sees a future in organic farming.

Read the full article and watch the trailer.