Farms on Film

Community-building and local food at Sonoma Environmental Film Fest


A fine film gets me wired for conversation. When I see a really good documentary, I search everywhere for someone else who’s seen it so I can talk about it. So I’m grateful to the organizers of the fourth annual Sonoma Environmental Film Festival, who have provided an outlet for my enthusiasm and analytic mind.

The environmentally conscious will want to buy tickets, grab some locally grown (organic, non-GMO, heirloom) popcorn and head for the festival, starting Jan. 20 at Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa. The program includes panel discussions and face-to-face conversations after each screening, providing a rich opportunity to connect with locals and others who share a passion for the environment and the arts.

Kicking off the festival is a documentary about an artist who shapes images in the refuse of Rio de Janeiro. The award-winning ‘Waste Land’ follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz on a journey of relationships and art created in an urban garbage dump, exploring how an artist’s vision can impact others. Local artists will join moviegoers in a discussion of the film in the lobby after the show.

After the kick-off, the festival and postfilm discussions move to the Sonoma Women’s Club. There, fans of food and food politics will be treated to a panel chat about local food systems on Saturday, Jan. 22. First, a decentralized farming network is featured in the film ‘BK Farmyards,’ while ‘What’s on Your Plate?’ gives viewers a glimpse of students who follow the miles and mishaps that occur between farm and fork.

The interactive fun begins afterward when Kathleen Hill, founder of the Sonoma School Garden Project, prompts dirt-digging food advocates to speak their minds, including Grayson James, Petaluma Bounty founder; Meg Easter-Dawson, manager of the garden and kitchen programs at Valley of the Moon Children’s Center; and Rachel Kohn Obut, co-creator of Lunita Farm in Sonoma Valley.

Too impatient to wait for the panel discussion, I chatted with Easter-Dawson about the garden at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center, where many of the kids awaiting foster-care placement experience their first bite of a fresh vegetable.

“The main focus of our garden is to let the kids dig in the dirt and find out where their food comes from,” explains Easter-Dawson. “These are kids who aren’t used to eating vegetables; they’re used to eating fast food. You see a kid pull a lemon cucumber off of the vines and eat it, then look forward to doing it again. There’s an emotional connection they can make with the earth that can be really therapeutic for them.”

In the kitchen program, a clever chef put kale on the hamburgers, and the kids, according to Easter-Dawson, were thrilled. (Maybe later someone can develop a similar program for kale-fearing adults?)

I also spoke in advance with 27-year-old farmer Kohn Obut, who, after five years of working on other people’s farms season after season, is as excited about putting down roots as she has been to fill the niche for a community-supported agriculture program in Sonoma Valley with Lunita Farm. Kohn Obut tells me that she is “passionate about growing food, being part of the local food movement and creating community around local food.”

These are precisely the kind of folks I want to chat up after viewing films about food politics. Likewise, I’ll want to chat with the fisheries panelists after viewing ‘California’s Lost Salmon’ by award-winning filmmaker Chris Bauer, one of four shorts to be discussed by Zeke Grader, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens’ Association, and Dr. Geoff Shester, of the Oceana organization. Topics will include threats to West Coast fishing communities, no-trawl zones off the coast, banning commercial harvest of krill and prohibiting commercial fishing in the U.S. Arctic. Sunday’s reception includes seafood from a sustainable company, I Love Blue Sea, as well as Sonoma’s Whole Foods, Ashton Vineyard, Deerfield Ranch Winery and Sky Saddle Winery.

Tickets to the Sonoma Environmental Film Festival are available at the door or online, along with the complete program for this year’s festival, at Teachers are encouraged to offer school credit to attending students; inquire about limited student scholarships at [email protected]

Sonoma County Library