From Seed to Seed follows a group of organic and regenerative Manitoba farmers throughout the growing season
Documentarian Katharina Stieffenhofer hopes her new film will get consumers to question the origins of their food, encouraging them to source products from regenerative and local farms.
Her documentary, titled From Seed to Seed, follows the lives of Manitoba farmers who grow organically and undertake regenerative practices as their way to make their farms sustainable for the long-run.
“Consumers don’t have that connection to their food, so I wanted to raise awareness and cultivate appreciation for all farmers, especially with organic and regenerative agriculture,” she said.
“It’s a complex system, but I think it’s more beneficial to human health and climate change.”
Stieffenhofer filmed the farmers from seeding to harvest in 2016, featuring their successes and failures through what was largely a tough year for them.
Due to extremely damp weather, for example, Terry Mierau and Monique Scholte lost piglets, had some of the crop grow unsuccessfully and were unable to make enough hay, forcing them to sell their flock of sheep and some cattle.
Another farmer, Andrew Granger, tried to grow conventional non-GM canola, but lost a field because it was choked out by kochia.
Granger had been transitioning from conventional to organic.
“I’m pretty upset. It’s a big loss, but I do have to make money to support my family at the end of the day,” Granger said in the documentary.
“It’s made me really think about my choice of transitioning. All farming is difficult. Conventional is more forgiving in that you can fix the mistake relatively easy. I wished I set myself up better. I was scared to go organic and I think my fear has kind of won in a way.”
Despite the tribulations, however, the farmers remain committed to regenerative and organic practices.
Granger planted a cover crop on the kochia field to help restore the soil, while Mierau committed to another growing season
“Farming is a constant play between hope and despair,” said Mierau in the documentary.
“In the despair, you have to be able to step away from it and see that it has shown you something that can give you hope.”
The documentary attempts to link the chaotic growing conditions to climate change, subtly trying to persuade viewers to see regenerative practices as a way to mitigate the effects of a changing climate.
“On the ground, agriculture is a contributor to emissions through food production, but when you look at regenerative agriculture, that sequesters carbon,” Stieffenhofer said.
“Not only that, but it also improves organic matter in the soil, with water-holding capacity as a mitigating factor.”
The documentary suggests farmers’ seed rights could also mitigate the impacts of climate change, allowing them to develop varieties that can withstand tough weather in local conditions.
In the documentary, for example, one of Mierau’s potato varieties, bred through the Participatory Plant Breeding program at the University of Manitoba, managed to grow well despite the soaked conditions.
“They were selecting for resilience in his local conditions and I think this is fantastic,” Stieffenhofer said. “It demonstrated really well how this can be successful. We should spread this across the country and invest in it.”
In its entirety, however, it’s the stories of these farmers that Stieffenhofer hopes will connect consumers to agriculture, potentially causing more people to buy products directly.
“I wanted to cultivate consumer support for local farmers and show that if you support local organic and ecological food, you are making a difference,” she said.
Her documentary also touches on the controversial topic of glyphosate.
Health Canada has said the herbicide is unlikely to pose a cancer risk and isn’t a concern to human health, but some farmers in the documentary and Stieffenhofer feel differently.
She questions the herbicide, citing recent news that saw a California couple awarded US$2 billion in damages after they claimed Roundup gave them cancer.
The jury in Oakland ruled that Bayer was liable because it failed to warn about health risks that might be associated with Roundup. Bayer has repeatedly said it stands behind the safety of glyphosate.
“When are Canadian consumers going to be protected from glyphosate residues from their food?” Stieffenhofer asked.
“In this documentary, I want to spark conversations and critical thinking about what is in our food, how it’s grown and by whom.”
Stieffenhofer grew up on a farm in Manitoba and frequently visits her family.
The documentary was released in 2018.