License to Farm documentary encourages growers to join the food conversation

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Consumers are more interested than ever before in knowing where their food comes from – how it was grown, produced and processed – and a new documentary film encourages farmers to step up and join the conversation.

License to Farm, which will premiere January 2016 at the Crop Production Show in Saskatoon, encourages farmers to talk about every aspect of their business, from technology to food safety, science to the environment. The 30-minute documentary, presented by SaskCanola and produced by Berteig Imaging, features conversations with farmers, scientists, professors, consumers and environmentalists. For information on the film and to participate in the online conversation, visit: www.licensetofarm.com.

Janice Tranberg, Executive Director of SaskCanola, says the documentary project arose from the organization’s mandate to support producers via advocacy and outreach. She says the project was ultimately the vision of the SaskCanola Board of Directors, who are all producers themselves. Established in 1991 and supported by some 26,000 levy-paying Saskatchewan canola producers, SaskCanola supported the development of the film but left the script up to the film production crew  and commentary to the individual participants.

“We want License to Farm to kick off a genuine, fact-based dialogue around the very important questions consumers have about their food,” says Tranberg, based in Saskatoon. “We know that farmers have a lot to say about the ways in which innovation and progressive techniques in agriculture have allowed us to not only protect soil quality and reduce environmental impacts, but produce an abundance of quality and nutritious food at the same time. Farmers can’t let their silence take away their social license to farm.”

Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Director at McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, says in the film that consumers are bombarded with information about food, but much of it is simply not based in fact.

“These days, when there is so much controversy about many nutritional issues and many farming issues, people are confused and they don’t know who to listen to,” he says. “A lot of the activists who promote what I consider illegitimate fears about our food, they do it very well. They come out with very romanticized arguments, not scientifically based.”

Ian Epp, a master’s student at the University of Saskatchewan, comments in the film how fewer Canadians today have a direct connection to farming and agriculture, whereas a hundred years ago almost every Canadian lived on or near a farm.

“The vast majority of the population is so far removed from agriculture, for the first time ever there is this huge disconnect,” Epp says. Closing the gap will take a concerted effort by both farmer and consumer to have a real conversation.

Directed and produced by Alberta’s Berteig Imaging, a family business that involves father Garry Berteig and sons Alexei and Benjamin, the documentary was shot over a nine-month period across Canada. Garry says the team understood the stakes involved in covering a topic as important as farming and food.

“One challenge was the enormous responsibility of remaining true to the spirit of Canadian agricultural producers. This film touches on people’s livelihood; you don’t want to mess that up,” explains Garry. “Another challenge was to find a way to convey the essential information in a limited time. We are looking at huge questions that affect everyone in Canada.”

Son Alexei, who works as a cinematographer, writer and director on projects in China, says going into the project he “wasn’t necessarily ready to accept that food production, as it stands, was entirely safe.”

After spending months speaking with experts and advocates for all sides of the conversation, Alexei says he now finds himself advocating for farmers.

“I’m now pretty much convinced that the anti-GMO movement, or the fears about pesticides, the prejudice against so-called ‘corporate farms’ is a classic case of fear of the unknown,” Alexei says. “I really think if the urban foodie could just talk to a few farmers, they’d realize our food is being produced by really caring people.”

Tranberg says social media has engaged heavily on the topic of food and farming. The Twitter and Facebook channels her organization established to support the launch of License to Farm have earned more than 100,000 impressions and 1,200 followers in the first month and the trailer was viewed more than 2,500 times.

Follow along and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and licensetofarm.com.

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