Director of “Farmageddon” – Kristin Canty – Interview

Tom Ellis: So, this was your first film?

Kristin Canty: I keep saying it… yes, this is my first film ever, and it’s my only film ever. I did have experience – I made little films for nonprofits, to show what they did. And that’s kind of how I expected this to be, a film for a nonprofit, or to help the farming organizations, to show what they do and show what problems the small farmers are having getting their product to market. The different issues with all kinds of small farmers – that’s how it started.

TE: With one particular focus, one particular farm?

KC: No, it started out very broad, with the difficulty all farmers are having – commercial farmers, raw dairy farmers, pasteurized, small dairy farmers who sent their milk out to the larger companies. Pesticide farmers, organic farmers – it just started out with all the issues that small farmers were having. That was too broad.

So it ended up focusing on the raids, because that is what originally stemmed my anger, my shock, about what was happening to small farmers. So it was pretty much focusing on seven extreme examples of the federal government going in and shutting down small farms with armed agents. And then also it discusses regulations that don’t really make sense, that really impede the small farmer from getting to market.

TE: So the embryo was the rage?

KC: Yes, the embryo was getting so disturbed by the raids that I couldn’t sleep at night. I tried really hard to get the mainstream media to cover it, to get journalists to cover it, trying to tell politicians…

TE: And you got Ron Paul.

KC: Well, the reason Ron Paul is in the movie is because he wrote a bill that would support, or allow, the sale of raw milk across state lines. So that would be instrumental in stopping many of these raids, because a few of them were because of this. When there are states that don’t allow the sale of any raw milk, including cow shares and goat shares, the people who want to consume raw milk will sometimes want to buy raw milk in a state that does allow the sale, and will bring it over.

It isn’t illegal to buy, possess, or consume raw milk, it’s only illegal to sell raw milk across state lines. They were buying it. But they’ve been shut by the government also.

One of my raids shows up in Athens Locally Grown. They’re going to South Carolina, getting USDA inspected raw milk, and buying it in South Carolina, and bringing it home. And the FDA said it’s not even legal for you to go buy it and bring it for your own home use, or if you’re going to feed it to your animals.

So these are all questions of “that’s not in the books, it doesn’t say that.” And anyway, this bill by Ron Paul could really help stop those raids.

TE: And it’s currently in Congress now?

KC: Yes, I believe that Chellie Pingree, out of Maine, recently signed onto it, and I’m hoping that we can get more sponsors for it.

TE: Ok. So, the title is rather ominous, “Farmageddon”. How do you see the future of organic farming?

KC: Well, if this keeps happening, these armed raids and arrests, I don’t see a future and I find that very sad. There’s a raid in my movie of the “Rawsome Club”, a private buying club in Venice, California, that’s operated for years and no one’s ever gotten sick. People have only claims of getting very healthy from eating this raw food, from grass-fed organic farmers. They know the farmers, and they know how the food is produced.

They were recently raided again, along with one of the farmers that supplied them at one point. I don’t even think she supplies them anymore, but at one point she was taking care of their goats, and helping them make their cheese and whatnot. She was thrown in jail for a week, and the owner of the Rawsome Club was thrown in jail for 3 days. Their bail was set for $160,000 dollars, but was eventually lowered.

They were charged with the felony of conspiracy, and the conspiracy was to sell raw milk, which is actually a misdemeanor, and which is actually legal in California. So it doesn’t make any sense. So I am hopeful that Americans will see this film, and if they don’t see the film they will see these issues so we can get the mainstream talking about these issues. I’m hoping to spark some outrage so that we can stop focusing on the small farmers that aren’t making anybody sick, and focus on the real problems that are making people sick in this country.

TE: Do you see a sort of movement, though, growing? Supporting organic farmers, for instance.

KC: I do! I see a huge movement, and I see so many more farmers markets, and I see so many people trying to support their local farmers, and farms popping up, and young people trying to get into farming. But at the same time that that’s happening, the rules and regulations are getting harsher for them.

It’s very hard to be an organic vegetable farmer. If you want to grow your vegetables organically, you need to fill out a pile of paperwork, you know, a huge stack of paperwork, to show that you are growing your vegetables in dirt and water. Now, that’s fine. Many of the organic farmers don’t know that because they want the organic farmer status from the USDA, and they want that seal letting their customers know they are following the standards. That’s fine.

However, if you agree to put chemicals on your vegetables, you get off scot-free. You don’t need to fill out any paper work and you don’t need to pay any fees. You just get completely left alone.

And that’s only one example.

TE: Yeah, your film definitely gives a lot of examples. I was very impressed that it was a first. But why do you think the government is being so resistant to allow organic farming to flourish?

KC: Well, you know, that is a question that would be very difficult for me to answer. Two USDA agents that have seen my film walked up to me after and thanked me. They said that they’re in the business of helping the small farmer, that they’re there to help them and that’s what most of the USDA does want to do. And I believe them.

A farmer friend of mine said that the USDA has so many great programs like “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food”. They have the “Certified Organic” program, which is a different issue, but many farmers like to participate in that. They have grants that help new farmers start up, and that’s great. And they have the “Farm-to-School” lunch program right now. My farmer friend says that if they don’t stop their bigger policies that are really hurting the small farmer, there aren’t going to be any small farmers left to know.

There is a faction in the USDA which was pushing for, and succeeded, in the de-regulating of GMO alfalfa, which I find a huge travesty for the organic farmers. That alfalfa is inevitably going to end up in the organic farmers’ land, through pollination and wind. And historically, the organic farmers have been sued when the GMO crops have ended up on their land, and I find that completely unfair. Plus, it’s already really difficult for organic farmers to find organic alfalfa right now. It’s extremely expensive.

So this whole USDA policy of de-regulation is really hurting the organic farmer. And why? There’s definitely the revolving door between agro-business and the USDA, which I find to be a very poor practice. And there’s people at the head which are pushing practices which are really hurting the small guy and letting the big businesses off scot-free.

And the same thing with the FDA. I know that the FDA has a place, and they’re supposed to be keeping the food safe, and the same thing. They seem to have quite a focus right now on the raw milk farmers. They did a one-year sting operation on an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, and spent a million dollars on that. They did a sting operation on my friends in California to find out where they were getting their raw milk.

I know that there’s FDA agents that drink raw milk, and I’m sure that there are positive things that the FDA’s doing, but I wish they would stop spending money concentrating on areas that aren’t doing people any harm.

And when the big companies do cause millions of people to get sick, and hundreds of people to die, you know, when there are outbreaks or side-effects from drugs, those companies are not shut down. We go in, try to figure out the problem, and help them stay in business. That’s the way it should be with the small farmer. Once again, I’m going to say that no one ever got sick from the farms that have been raided. No one ever got sick, and there were never complaints. However, if someone did get sick, this is America – we should be going in and trying to figure out why they did get sick and keeping them in business.

TE: Makes sense. Seems sort of like the FDA and the USDA grew side-by-side with big farms and big drugs. These industries and the government grew together. And now that this organic movement is happening, they don’t know how to react to it. They’re threatened.

KC: Yes. They are threatened, or somebody’s threatened in the lobby in the government, to spend so much money to shut down small farms.

TE: So, raw milk. What exactly is beneficial about raw milk.

KC: Well, when you pasteurize milk, you pasteurize many of the enzymes and freebiotics that are healthy for us. There’s one called lactoferrin, that helps eat the proteins and helps us digest the milk. There are so many people who are lactose-intolerant these days, and many times – not always, but many times – they find that they are actually pasteurization-intolerant, and they can tolerate raw milk just fine.

And I find people who still can’t tolerate raw cow’s milk but can tolerate raw goat’s milk, or fermented milk that has even more enzymes and healthful bacteria for your gut. Basically, because the food companies are going for a longer shelf-life, much of the food in America is dead food. And many people have found, including me, they need to eat live foods, and that’s the way that we stay healthy.

It used to just be “milk”, not “raw milk”. It used to be the milk everyone drank. And it used to only be grass-fed beef and meats from their local farms because that was what was available. Since then we’ve taken a turn and processed may of our foods. And it’s obvious that America is getting very sick from that. And I know many are trying to shift back from that.

TE: So one thing I was wondering from the film which I didn’t fully understand – is it the pasteurization that’s bad? Or is it the fact that pasteurization is necessary to support these factory farmed cows?

KC: Exactly. Pasteurization is absolutely necessary – milk that is meant to be pasteurized cannot be consumed raw. If you want to drink raw milk you have to go meet the farmer and know that they are grassed… In the North-East climates, they feed some unsprayed hay in the winter, and minimal grain. But you want to make sure that they are unpastured for most of their lives, and that their pastures are rotated. Many people do like hand-milking in the smaller operations, so you just need to get to know your farmer.

For the larger operations – like my farm has 15 cows and they’re milked with milking machines, which are stainless-steel, and goes right to a carton and is sold right away. My milk is tested monthly, and some of the towns in my state the milk is tested monthly, and others it’s weekly. Pasteurized milk is never tested. So, in Massachusetts, no one has ever had a problem with raw milk, but 6 people died in 2006 from pasteurized milk, because when it gets in after the fact it can be dangerous. And there was no shutdown, there were no armed raids, there was no media frenzy; they just got in there and helped the farmer get back in business… after six people died.

So pasteurization doesn’t work 100% of the time. Instead of keeping the cows clean, they just think it’s going to be fine after they pasteurize it.

TE: You have a farm, then, in Concord?

KC: No, I don’t have a farm, no… but I have chickens. I have eleven chickens. I thought about building a barn, and then this project started. I don’t know where my farm is now.

TE: How long did this film take to make?

KC: It took two and a half years from start to finish.

TE: From the embryo?

KC: I think… yes… I learned about the raids in February of 2009, and I went on a rampage. Finally, a documentary maker took me out to lunch. I wanted him to make this film. And he said, “If you want this done, you need to do it yourself.” So in May of 2009 I started Kristin Marie Productions, and in June I set out around the country to interview the farmers who had been raided.

TE: How did you come into contact with them?

KC: Initially, the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund put me in touch. They’re lawyers, actually, and have a 24/7 hotline for any farmer that’s raided. They’ll also help them go through court in case the farmers have to go to court. So I met a few of them through that, and after that people started finding out I was doing this, and it got around the grapevine, and I went through the grapevine. Then people started calling me when they were getting raided. That’s how I found them.

TE: I noticed a few of them were from New York, is there a reason?

KC: Nope, only one of them were from New York – Lodi, New York. The Smiths, from Meadowsweet farm. They sold raw milk legally off the farm, for years. In New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, you’re allowed to sell raw milk off the farm. I don’t think it’s written anywhere in the books, but you’re not allowed to sell yoghurt, cheese, cream, ice cream, or butter – the value added products. Now those are products that could really help the farmer make a lot of money, because people will pay more money for those things. And they’re not allowed to sell that.

So they decided to get rid of their permit, and instead just sell to their neighbors. Little artisinal cheesemakers, and artisinal yoghurt makers. A very small operation, just selling to people that they knew. They started a private club. So, say you’re just making little jams in your kitchen that you sold to your neighbors – that kind of thing. The New York Ag and Markets didn’t like that. I don’t think that there was any legal way to shut them down, because no one had been sick, everyone was happy, there weren’t any complaints. So instead, they went in and said the paint is peeling, or the door is coming off – things that had nothing to do with the actual operation. Then finally they put tape on their cheese and things and said you can’t sell this anymore.

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