Planting ideas through images; the making of a documentary.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Seeds Cast On The Airwaves

"Dirty Work: The Story of Elsie's Farm" has been broadcast over twenty times on TPT, Twin Cities Public Television. Fourteen thousand people have seen it, to date.

It's going to air again on Thursday, May 1st, at 8 P.M. on the Minnesota Channel, which is Channel 2.2 in the Twin Cities. If you miss that one, it'll air again on next Tuesday May 27th 2014 at 8 AM, 2 PM, and 8 P.M.

Don Roberts was ahead of his time, and these days new CSA's are springing up like green shoots in April. The Farm to Table model, where restaurants source their food directly from farmers, which he participates in now as Otter Creek Growers, is also spreading all over the country.

I recommend a wonderful book I'm reading, "Gaining Ground" by Forrest Pritchard. It's the story of a young man who saved his family farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains by converting it to grass fed organic meat. A wonderful, funny, optimistic and detailed picture of the struggle that organic farmers have to restore their land, and get these healthy alternatives to the markets that will support their efforts, it'll make you think twice about supermarket meat.

Likewise, in the very last scene of "Dirty Work" Don is wrestling with a wheelbarrow. Replacing the worn out handles involves extra work that many folks wouldn't make, given how cheaply you can buy a new one. Don shakes him head, then laughs a little and mimes himself as Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of our consumer culture. He's determined to make this old one suffice. Well, he did. With Don and Forrest and others who share a conscientious view of the world, everywhere, here's hope that good things will continue to happen!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview with the Producer



How did you become interested in the subject of the film?

Don Roberts, the main subject of the film, was a friend, he had been the media librarian for the Hennepin County Library. When he retired, after several other ventures, he and his wife, Joni Cash, started Elsie's farm in late 1990's. I became a subscriber, and I made the film, initially, to bring more subscribers to the farm.

As I looked at the footage we had shot, I was drawn to make something more of the film. All my films say something about land, and our relationship to it. People understand now, what was only intuited in the 70's, that there is a relationship between the ecologies of farming and the inner ecologies of the human microbiome. To me, this IS the avant garde of our time.

The film isn't a how-to story about farming, nor is it a polemic against industrial agriculture. It's really about the people who do this work and how they cope with the ups and downs of living out that lifestyle. How did you come to that kind of focus?

Many people today are searching for a lifestyle that is sustainable, healthy, but also rich in human relationships and connections. To me, Elsie's Farm was an expression of those hopes and dreams, a magical place.

Don was an idealist, full of ideas and theories. Initially I thought of Joni as the realist, the boots-on-the-ground person, the one who makes things happen. Of course as I got to know each of them, they subverted any such easy interpretation (laughs).

Our society does not support change easily. In these kinds of ventures, there is always resistance. There are always problems to be worked out, there's always a shortage of informed consumers to get behind those who take the risks, the personal risks, to make the change. I was fascinated by people who would take those risks. Don refers to himself in the film, as Don Quixote. We need these people, the crazy ones, the truth tellers, the heroes who refuse to give up even in the face of impossible odds.

I made the film both to increase awareness of the CSA movement, but to explore some of the deeper issues. The biggest question that I set out with, at the beginning of the film, was, what is our relationship to work? What we need to do to make money is not necessarily what we want to do to contribute, in some way, to the kind of world that we want to live in. How can we bring those things back together?

In the end, the film argues that social change is like growing a garden. It goes in cycles. Good ideas flower and die. What we do today, the work we do, may seem futile, but in the end, we are simply here to plant seeds. Elsie's Farm left behind many dedicated young people who carry Don and Joni's dream into the future. They risked everything on the farm, but they didn't lose anything. What they gained was a community, a legacy, and the satisfaction of knowing that they'd made a difference.

Please contact:

Deb Wallwork


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April; Planting Seeds

"Dirty Work: The Story of Elsie's Farm is now out on DVD!!! I like to think of each one as a seed with wings; bearing ideas, a discussion among friends, a neighborhood get-together, or maybe the inspiration for an organized screening event with panel discussion. Or even a simple gift passed on to a friend.

My hope is to see the film bring about community, and new connections. This a film with grass roots!!!

Public screenings scheduled for April include:

Saint Joan of Arch Church's Eco-Spirits group will show the film as part of their ongoing series of environmentally engaged films on Friday, April 13, 7pm – 9pm in Hospitality Hall in the Church Basement

On Earth Day, April 19th, the Seward Co-op on Franklin Ave will screen the film, that's at 7PM in the classroom.

Also that same evening, on April 19th, the Kingfield Neighborhood will be showing the film at Solomon's Porch, at the intersection of 46th and Blaisdell. There will be a reception for Don Roberts and Joni Cash at 6PM with the screening to follow.

DVDs are available by emailing Deb or calling 651-216-4610.

Happy Spring!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Screenings Available

"Dirty Work: The Story of Elsie's Farm" had a sold out premiere screening at the Trylon in May. It's since been shown at the Flyway Film Festival in WI, at the Seward Co-op, at the University of Minnesota, and at the fabulous Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, WI as part of UW-Stout's "Food for Thought" film series.

If you haven't seen it yet, there are more opportunities coming up. It will screen in Fergus Falls at the College on January 25th. Screenings are being worked out for the Frozen River Festival in Winona, Saint Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis, and there'll be another screening at Seward Coop in the spring.

Rick Nelson in an article the Star-Trib called it a "must see" for anyone interested in the local food movement.

People tell me that it's one of the few documentaries where you walk out feeling hopeful, with a new respect for food that is healthy, wholesome and real.

Emmy award winning producer John Whitehead had this to say "I love the way that it moves beyond considerations of the "plant kingdom" to ruminate on birth/death, failure/success, nature, time and the cycle of life. The film has the look and feel of a lovingly crafted, hand-made object. So kudos to you, and the rest of your crew!"

If you are inspired to host a screening of "Dirty Work" in your neighborhood coop, your classroom, or theater, you can contact me at 651-216-4610.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rough! Rough!

There's a little scene in the film, Dirty Work, where one of the worker's dogs, who is tied nearby to the field where they are planting seedlings, begins barking. "Ruff ruff ruff! Ruff ruff!" It's one of those things, I could have edited the sound out, but instead I edited a shot of the dog in, and he has a little cameo.

That comes to mind because we're ready to screen the Dirty Work rough cut, and for weeks and months I've been cutting little scenes like that, making spontaneous decisions like that, and soon we will decide what makes the actual final cut, what's in and what's out.

Being so close to one's film, there's always things that slip under your radar, and screening the rough cut helps to determine whether the story line and details are clear to an audience. Mike, my trusted companion, who shot the film, was, of course, the first person to see it.

What we have right now is a film that is 62 minutes, and it will have to be cut back to about 52 minutes for broadcast on public television, so we're soliciting audience reactions in a session, a laboratory, as it were, of interested people, at the Independent Film Project's Docu Club.

Docu Club was founded by Melody Gilbert, of "Married at the Mall" fame, and many of those who attend are documentary producers, actively engaged in their own media adventures. So it will be an interesting and hopefully lively discussion about what works and what doesn't, what's loved, and what's missing, what could be pruned or moved around or made more clear, or dropped altogether.

Anyone and everyone who is interested is welcome at this session.

Docuclub is scheduled at IFP MN (2446 University Ave. West, Suite 100, St. Paul/651-644-1912) on Friday, February 26, 2010.

DIRTY WORK is an hour-long documentary about a dream. The film follows a year in the life of the people who invested their sweat, hopes, and tears into Elsie's Farm; a little field of vegetables that just might change the world.

Potluck snacks and drinks begin around 5pm with the films starting around 6:00pm. It’s free and and open to all.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Progress Report

I haven't been blogging, mostly because I've been editing like mad. Making hay while the sun shines!

Or let's say you are planting seeds, getting your hands in the dirt, and you finally get to the end of a row and then another, and you just ignore the aches and pains, bend down again and again, and keep on task, and suddenly, even though it seems like forever, you've reached the last row. All your work is not done, there's weeding ahead, insects to fight off, and down the road, a harvest, but it feels good to look back and see all the little sprouts waving their green flags behind you, in their orderly processions.

I'm very close to having a rough cut of the film. I've been just cutting scenes one by one, and now, soon, I'll hook all those scenes together and see what I've made of it.

I took that opportunity to call up Farmer Don and tell him where we are at. Don Roberts is a very vigorous and feisty seventy something year old, and he's had some health challenges this winter, which has kept him a bit low for a few months.

The good news is, he's successfully recovered, and sounded hearty, and jovial, much like his old self, it was a joy to hear!

Here's to Don and Joni!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"In a discontinuous world, I love continuity" Don Roberts declares, the day we filmed at the Kingsfield Farmer's Market. Continuity, as I mentioned earlier, rules my editing of the film about his organic farm.

Michael Pollan's book, Food Rules, just released and climbing the charts, is premised on continuity, the sayings and proverbs about eating that were passed down to us.

What is it about continuity?

Pollan is a writer worth knowing about. He's engaging, curious, literate, anecdotal; yet someone who relies on common sense to come to certain conclusions. He argues, in his latest books, that to be healthy one should eat food.

Remember that old televison ad, Lay's Potato Chips, bet you can't eat just one? Or even better, Pringles, the crisp that fits in a can? These are highly engineered corporate products that are designed, yes, people work on this, eight hours a day, day in and day out, to take away whatever little control you might think you have over what you put in your mouth.

Rule of Thumb 1, if your great grandmother cooked it, and your grandfather ate it, Pollan says, it's probably o.k. for you to eat it. If not, think twice about even buying it. When you feel the urge to eat a potato chip, he wrote recently, wash a potato, cut out the eyes and dodgy bits, slice it thinly, preferably with the skin on , fry it in olive or almond or sesame oil, and by the time you've done all that, and cleaned up after yourself, you'll have better nutrition, are less likely to overindulge, given the work involved, and I imagine also, that if there's any other human in range of the wafting scents of frying, they've probably already reduced your portion size by at least half.

If it grew spontaneously out of the dirt, it's probably got eons of history with the human race and is going to, in the long run, make you feel better, give you more energy, and save your life. Food Rules! That's the philosophy of Elsie's Farm and, ultimately, this film.