Documentary delves into farm succession

Filmmaker focuses on the story of a retiring Ontario farmer who is passing on his operation to a non-family member

Filmmaker Brina Romanek was working on a project about food waste in Canada when one of her subjects showed her how many farms in the area were not being passed down to the next generation.

It sparked an interest in her, and also anxiety about what it would mean for farming’s future.

The feeling was magnified when she returned to her family home near Barrie, Ont., and went on a bike ride she used to take when she was a kid. She saw that the “beautiful farmyards” she once passed were almost all gone.

“I went away for school and when I came home about three years later and I biked the same route, over half of those farms had become housing developments or condominiums and that was really heartbreaking for me,” said Romanek. “That really stressed me out, so I started reading and trying to figure out if you aren’t born into a farming family, can you become a farmer? How do you become a farmer? Do people want to become farmers?”

She began researching and reaching out to friends over social media when she was told by a former high school classmate about Jim Giffen at Edencrest Farms, who plans to pass his farm down outside of his family to his friend and mentee Jon Goldworthy.

Jon Goldworthy began working at Edencrest Farms when he was 13. | Katie Sadie photo

Goldworthy began working at Edencrest Farms about 11 years ago when he was 13 years old and he fell in love with it. He worked on the farm every summer since but knew he’d eventually have to pursue a different career because he didn’t have the money to buy his own farm.

Over their time working together, Giffen and Goldworthy’s friendship grew to what they both describe as a father-son type of relationship. Knowing Goldworthy’s aspirations to be a farmer, Giffen decided that instead of selling the farm, he would allow Goldworthy to take over Edencrest Farms from him.

“It was such an honour that he would even think of me in that way. When he first approached me about it I definitely was caught in the dark. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it took me a couple days to grasp what he was asking me,” said Goldworthy.

Romenek’s documentary, Counting On a New Crop, was filmed at Edencrest Farms over the course of a year. At first, the experience was new and a little uncomfortable for the two farmers but Romanek said after she got dirty and “fell in manure a couple times trying to get a shot” they became more comfortable being filmed.

“We forgot she was there after a while because she came, I bet it was 10 months she was here one Friday a month sometimes two Fridays a month. And she had the voice recorder on the whole time so after a while you forgot she was there,” said Giffen.

Romanek said the response from viewers has been amazing. She hoped people who watch her documentary will learn about respect and interest in where their food comes from and the importance of supporting local producers.

“Since the piece came out something really wonderful that has happened is that I’ve gotten a lot of emails from strangers who have had family farms that they’ve had to let go of and how it was a bit of their story that they were watching and I think that was one of the goals for making that piece,” said Romanek. “Especially because I grew up with so many farming families that were friends of mine and knowing about their stories as well. So that was really wonderful knowing that I had helped other people tell their own story in a way.”

Counting On A New Crop is free to watch online at CBC Short Docs or on YouTube.

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