BREAK FROM THE HERD began as a project in early 2017 when we set out to create a documentary that would make a contribution to society. Originally, we decided to focus on native bees and the role they play as pollinators right along with honey bees. As we did our research we quickly learned that the importance of pollinators went far beyond just the bees. Pollinator health is tied to the health of soil. The health of soil is tied to the health of water, both of which are reflected in land management practices.
Further research led us to Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a prolific scientific researcher at the top of his game. Time spent with him in South Dakota helped us understand the courageous actions he took for the sake of integrity and transparency in connecting his work to helping farmers sustain healthy ecosystems in their operations. Dr. Lundgren generously showed us what it means to see the world through a systems-based perspective and how to go after issues through a solutions-oriented approach rather than a problem-focused one.
The next person to include in the story, would be someone who could talk about water. Contacting John Paul (winemaker and grower of dry-farmed vines) led to a visit where we talked about our project. John generously offered us whatever we needed. We wanted to start by volunteering, to get a sense of the place, and so we spent many hours helping out and learning about the life of the vineyard. Alternating between shooting, interviews and working on the property gave us insight on how incredibly labor intensive a vineyard is, and how John Paul rarely sits still! His intense commitment to dry-farming and crafting an honest wine showed us a man who throws his entire being into his work and gives generously in equal measure.
Lastly, we searched for a farmer to lend perspective on the issue of restoring the health of farmland. We found Gail Fuller, a third generation farmer and soil health advocate in Kansas. Our time in Kansas was spent following Gail around his family’s farm and hometown. We learned about the farm’s history, the town’s history and Gail’s life history. We left Gail’s farm in Kansas with a feeling that we were leaving home; a place where the landscape has an unidentifiable grip on the sentimental. We also left with a better understanding of the challenges faced by farmers who are working to buck the status quo in the midst of thick resistance, all for the sake of healing the land and its people. Gail’s efforts to grow nutrient-dense soil demonstrate an example of devotion at the ready for others to adopt.
We created this project as a crew of two and it has changed our lives. It has opened our eyes to questioning the architecture of scientific research, given new meaning to the vast role soil plays in the health of not only the planet, but all living beings, and it has inspired us to examine the importance of honest work. We hope others are inspired too, to ask how their food was grown, how their wine was made, what healthy soil really means, and grow a little diverse garden of their own with some pollinator-friendly plants.