The Real Dirt on Farmer John


John Peterson might be the most flamboyant fiftysomething farmer you’ve ever encountered. He wears ball gowns and feather boas to plough his fields. He has a young girlfriend named Lesley, and together the two like to sing and dress up like bumblebees. In short, he’s just the sort of oddball subject that a documentarian would kill for. As luck would have it, director Taggart Siegel has been friends with John for over 25 years, ever since John’s farm was an “art and agriculture” commune. Now Taggart turns his camera on his pal, presenting an absorbing account of how John nearly lost his land during the 1980s farm crisis, but managed to make it solvent again with the help of a Chicago community-agriculture group. At times, the film plays like an extended infomercial for John’s new company, Angelic Organics, but the agrarian fantasy is so compelling here that the revitalization of the American family farm begins to seem not just possible, but probable.

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