Friday, September 21, 2012

Farming Documentary to Premier at Marshwood High School

A couple of cows greet their newest arrival (Photo by Peter E. Randall)

“Farming 101,” a new documentary film by Peter Randall about Kittery and Eliot dairy farming, will have its premier on Friday, September 28, at Marshwood High School auditorium. The event is co-sponsored by SeacoastLocal, an organization that encourages residents to “think local first” to cultivate socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities in southeastern Maine and coastal New Hampshire. The film will be shown at 7 p.m.
When Randall moved from seacoast New Hampshire to Goodwin Road in Eliot, his well-seasoned photographic eye was immediately attracted to the beautiful fields, many of which were regularly used by local farmers. Goodwin Road, along with Wilson Road in Kittery, is an eight-mile stretch of winding Route 101 between Route One and Route 236. Here are located two dairy farms, the last of the dozens of such farms that once made agriculture a common business in York County.
Recently retired after forty years and 450 titles as a book publisher, Randall also has authored a dozen books of his own, combining a love of history and photography into prize-winning publications. Always ready for new challenges, Randall made a decision to make a video documentary about the dairy farms.
“Although I had no experience with making a film, I charged ahead anyway,” Randall said. “Not many years ago, dairy farms were commonplace and most people knew how the farms operated. But now, in this area anyway, farms are disappearing along with knowledge of this way of life. I wanted to help preserve this culture.”
Now three years later, Randall has finished his film telling the story of the two dairy farms, but also a working hay production farm, three former farms, a dairy, a tractor dealership, a tractor collector, and a cider mill.
Randall used a new type of Canon digital SLR camera that was made for still photography, but had a video capability that exceeded the quality of consumer video cameras. In fact, this type of camera has been used to make production television and Hollywood films. With relatively inexpensive digital equipment and software, it is now possible for anyone to make a quality film.
When it came time to turn his raw film footage into an organized narrative, Randall turned to his grandson, Kael.
“Editing video to me is like another language,” said Randall, who also got help from his daughter, Deidre, who wrote a song for the film. “Deidre and Kael actually lived on one of these farms a number of years ago. They rented a house from Fred Schultze.”
Randall has published a lot of book on local history, including one a few years ago on North Berwick. Also, he has written a history of Hampton, New Hampshire, a short history and guide to Mount Washington, and three books of photographs of New Hampshire.
“I was not a farmer growing up,” Randall said. “I can hardly grow anything. I had a neighbor who grew radishes. I asked why and he said, “they come right up.’”
In his formative years, Randall lived in Hampton Falls, where he spent a lot of time roaming around fields and woods. “I’ve always had a feel for the land, always had sort of a conservationist outlook on things,” said Randall, who was chairman of the Hampton Conservation Commission for ten years.
“I saw, in particular the seacoast of New Hampshire, farms going out of business for one reason or another and saw houses moving onto their fields. When I moved to Eliot in 2000, I was amazed to see most of the open fields still being used - haying, growing crops,” he said. He had been using panoramic cameras, and started taking pictures for Goodwin farm and Leavitt farm on Goodwin Road in Eliot.
“Farming is sort of a – I hate to say it – dying way of life,” Randall said. It’s been in decline over the last forty or fifty years. Now the farms are gone. People don’t know about farming anymore, as a common way of life, the way it used to be.”
He hopes his documentary will re-instill in locals some of that lifestyle, and let people know how farms operated and where their milk came from.
“The original plan was just to do video interviews of farming families. Once I got started I was told I needed to have more video. I needed to have B-Roll. So if I have a farmer talking, the tractor in the field becomes the B-roll,” he said.
Editing is perhaps the most complicated aspect of any film. Randall’s grandson edited what began as a short documentary into an 80-minute film. Making this a family affair, Kael’s mother, singer-songwriter Deidre Randall, composed a song called “Dig,” especially for the film. Local performers Mike Rogers and Dave Surette provided other music.           
“While my first approach to filming was simply to document what happened on the farms, “ Randall said, “People who knew what I was doing asked, ‘What’s the point of the film?’ As I talked with the farmers and looked at the landscape, I began to wonder what the future holds for the businesses and the property.  When the Kittery Land Trust recently announced plans to purchase a conservation easement on the Johnson Farm on Wilson Road, I knew my film then had a point!”
Kenneth and Richard Johnson own Rustlewood farm, but Ken stopped working there several years ago, leaving the operation of the farm to brother Richard. In order for Kenneth to receive his value in the farm and for Richard to keep working, the brothers accepted the Kittery Land Trust proposal. Richard and his wife Beth will now own the farm outright, and the conservation easement means the land can never be developed, preserving it’s valuable soils as open space, watershed protection, and wildlife habitat. While the farming continues, the property will be open to the public for passive recreation and hunting.
The film also features the dairy farm of Fred and Tony Schultze, and the haying operation and former dairy farm of David and Jeanne Leavitt, in addition to the former dairy farms of the Pettigrew, Pearson, and Kashmere families, and the former Rowan dairy. Numerous historical photographs illustrate the film, that also includes the Pearsall family’s tractor dealership, tractor collector John Sullivan, and Ken Tuttle’s King Tut’s Cider Mill. Other details are found on the website
Admission to the film is by a suggested donation of $2 for adults, students are free. DVDs of the film will be available for purchase.
A related film is also showing on Saturday, September 29, at the John F. Hill Grange Hall, 1333 State Road, in Eliot. You can view Randall's short documentary, “Rustlewood,” featuring Johnson Farm in Kittery/Eliot, and segments of Maine Farmland Trust’s film, “Meet Your Farmer.” Bondgarden Farm's Paul Goransson will introduce the film and Great Works’ challenge to raise $25,000 in support of Kittery Land Trust's conservation easement for Johnson Farm. For more information on this event, contact 207-646-3604 or