FILM: Wild, Scenic, and Locally Grown


Viva Farms hosts a special viewing of select films from the current Wild and Scenic Film Festival that highlight the inspiring trends in the production of the food we eat, and care for the land we live on.

On a chilly winter afternoon with snow falling in the foothills, and swans getting muddy rummaging for food in the fields, local agricultural business incubator Viva Farms hosted a viewing of eight films from the Wild and Scenic Film Festival. IMG_2050 The festival is held every year in Nevada City, California.  Its motto is, “Where  Activism Gets Inspired”.  Films highlight a variety of inspirational causes, including,

 Energy, food systems, biodiversity, climate change, protection and restoration of wild lands and wild waters, and so much more

So what’s the connection between an activist film festival and Viva Farms?  Last week I met with a representative of Viva to get the scoop.  Angela Sullivan is an Americorp worker assisting with business development for the farms.  She also coordinates the Edison Farmers Market.  The  Jan. 26 event was organized as a fundraiser to “support water conservation efforts” and to raise awareness of sustainable agriculture.   Angela and Beth Meenaghan, Viva Farm’s development manager, were in charge of selecting the films for local screening.  They viewed over 30 films in order to select the eight presented.

The Event: Maplehurst Farms in south Mount Vernon seemed like a natural choice for the event.  The farms hosts weddings and other activities, and is plunked right in the middle of prime Skagit farmland.  Local business Pizza’zza, FarmStrong Brewing, Blue Water Distilling, and Barefoot provided sustenance for the event. Raffle prizes from Patagonia, Klean Kanteen, and other business were also offered.

I arrived early and was pleased to watch the big central room fill up.  While working on a FarmStrong dark lager and waiting for the showing to commence, I noticed the person next to me was wearing a name tag with a farm name printed on it.  Bruce Lindsay of Earth Fire Farms and Pottery is a retired geologist and soil scientist who has been part of Viva Farms for five years.  He started out with the standard quarter acre plot, but has gradually been expanding.

I have grown fingerling potatoes, spaghetti squash, which I was surprise how popular it was, and onions.  What I’m trying to do now is streamline.

The Films: After a brief introduction from Michael Frazier, Viva Farms director, the festival started with a short film highlighting the local operation.

Introducing Viva Farms

The first of the Wild and Scenic films was Kew Gardens: Beyond the Garden – The Forgotten Home of Coffee

Beyond-the-GardensThis is a story of guardianship over one of the world’s most economically valuable crops, revealing the surprisingly fragile foundations that lie beneath the multi-billion pound industry.

The film was an amazing introduction into the origin of the coffee plants grown worldwide and the sobering notion that climate change is rapidly damaging the current plantations in the Horn of Africa.  The dire prediction was that if current warming trends continue:

By 2080, coffee will cease to be grown in the present areas of production.  Worldwide, that will put 28 million families out of business.

Rising temperatures are forcing growers to plant at higher elevations.  The film highlighted the work of researchers pouring through archives to try and find ways to combat the global issue.  The gorgeous images of coffee beans being grown, roasted, brewed made me want to drink a cup on the spot.

Film number two was titled Selah: Water from Stone

Selah-Water-from-StoneFifty Years ago David Bamberger devoted his life to restoring a neglected and overgrazed ranch in the Texas Hill Country. The result? Water from Stone.


The story of the Selah\Bamberger Ranch Preserve starts with David Bamberger, poor kid from Ohio that helped found Church’s Chicken.  After selling his share, he retired to “the worst, most useless piece of land” he could find.  By clearing much of the 5,500 acre ranch of salt cedar and planting native grass which allowed water to percolate back into the limestone aquifer, Bamberger was able to cause springs to return to the arid ecosystem.  This dramatic change brought back many native plant and animal species.  The ranch preserve now serves as an educational destination for school children and other groups.

The third film was Aina: That Which Feeds Us


The best-kept secret on Kaua`i isn’t a secluded beach or surf spot, it’s that four of the world’s largest chemical companies use the island for open-air testing of pesticides on genetically modified crops. Contrasting this is the traditional agriculture system that allowed Hawaiians to live in abundance for over a thousand years with roughly the same population as today.

This was one of Angela Sullivan’s favorites, and probably the most ambitious film of the evening.  It combined themes of native Hawaiian philosophy and culture with the reality of having a pesticide testing operation right next to their community.  The interviews with the locals who take great pride in their organic production of taro, a food source that has great spiritual connections to Polynesian culture, and the amazing footage from drones and helicopters of the rugged Kaua’i landscape combined to create a really entertaining and poignant work.  My only criticism was that several of the points made in the film were repeated so many times that it, and some of the rambling commentary by a grizzled biologist caused my mind to wander.  One of biologist’s statements however really hit home.

Everytime we go to the grocery store and buy conventionaly grown food versus organic, sustainabley grown food, we cast a vote.

Film four was Mindful Vineyards

Mindful-VineyardsAmelia Ceja emigrated from Mexico when she was 12 years old to work in Napa Valley as a grape picker. The daughter of agricultural workers, Amelia met and befriended farmworker union founder Cesar Chavez as a child and honors his legacy today by operating a vineyard that prioritizes people and the planet. 

This film was the inspiring story of the Ceja family’s beginnings as immigrant vineyard workers up through their emergence as an organic winery and leader in fair labor.  It also traced the history of pesticide exposure of farmers that in the dark old days included being sprayed with DDT while they worked.

An intermission in the event gave Michael Frazier a chance to bring introduce three family farms, Boldy Grown Farms, The Crow’s Farm, and Buena Berry.  All are successful businesses that got their start from Viva.  Each family gave a brief talk followed by question and answer.  What really struck me about the message from the farmers was how passionate they are for what they do.  All through the films, that sentiment was also echoed time and time again.

Farming isn’t rocket science, its harder….Our goal is to bring tasty, high quality products to our customers…I love watching the sunrise and sunset over the farm.  I love getting dirty.

Film number five was The Way We Eat

The-Way-We-EatSierra Harvest educates, inspires and connects families to fresh, local seasonal foods through farm to school education, training the next generation of farmers and supporting low income families in growing food at home. Their programs reach 92% of the K-8 students in Western Nevada County, CA.

This film was an obvious choice since the ideals and dreams of the Sierra Harvest group were very similar to those of Viva Farms, namely getting nutritious, locally grown foods onto the tables of school children, and making an effort to interest younger people in farming.  Beth Meenaghan told me after the screenings that Viva is also involved with a farm to school program.

Film six was Growing Change

Growing-ChangeJim Cochran arrived at work before dawn. He walked out into the strawberry fields. As the sun rose and light hit the field, he began to smell chemicals. His eyes watered. His head spun. He started to shake. He had just walked into a field that had been sprayed with pesticides.

Passion for what you do, and concern for the health and quality of life of your workers are reoccurring themes that rose up in this offering. After his encounter with pesticides,  Jim Cochran went on to develop an organic farm with some of the most comprehensive benefits for his employees.  The film also included some amazing time lapse footage of a strawberry ripening.  A more beautiful change from pale green to deep, translucent red cannot be found.

Film seven was Angela’s second favorite, One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts

One-Hundred-Thousand-Beating-HeartsDirector Peter Byck’s short film “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts” tells the story of fourth generation cattleman Will Harris’s evolution from industrial, commodity cowboy to sustainable, humane food producer, whilst breathing new life into a community left behind and forgotten due to, as Will says, the industrialization of agriculture.

This was one of the most engaging films because of its star, Will Harris.  Will’s family has been farming their land in rural Georgia for 120 years.  The big, gruff farmer seemed very comfortable in front of the camera, and his genuine love for his work, his land, and his employees was obvious.  In a story similar to Selah, Will made the transition from factory farm to more holistic farming with amazing results.  By converting his cattle feed to natural native grasses that weren’t plowed up, allowing symbiotic grazing of sheep and cows, and simple rotation of free range poultry feeding areas, he was able to not only sustain his family operation, but allow an ecosystem to rebuild beneath it.

The final film was Nature RX.

Nature RX

This award-winning comedy series is about a struggle affecting many of us today. Set in the world of a spoofed prescription drug commercial, Nature Rx offers a hearty dose of laughs and the outdoors – two timeless prescriptions for whatever ails you.

This wildy funny parody of the prescription medication ads we all are subjected to brought laughter from the whole audience.  The filmakers completely nailed the obligatory disclaimer.

Side effects may include confidence, authenticity, remembering you have a body, and being in a good mood for no apparent reason.

Short, but packing a punch, this film was the perfect end to a stellar evening.  I’d love to expound about the great work Viva Farms is doing, but I will let their website speak for itself.  Thanks so much for them bringing these great films to us for viewing, and for all the local business that feed and nourish our minds, bodies and souls.


Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music, art, food, and beer.  Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.Skagit Art Music Mark Perschbacher

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