Food & Drink: Mainstream Movement

Documentary shines light on the evolution of organic

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Many local farmers and food pioneers are featured in Mark Kitchell’s film ‘Evolution of Organic.’

A lot of ground is covered in a mere hour and 25 minutes in filmmaker Mark Kitchell’s Evolution of Organic documentary, recently shown at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Center in San Rafael, and set to screen at various other locations throughout the country. Along with footage of iconic longhaired hippie families growing their own food, the film includes a number of seminal interviews with Northern California-based pioneers who were early adopters of the now-mainstream organic movement.

Warren Weber, who has owned Star Route Farms in Bolinas since 1974, discusses the movement along with Paul Muller of Full Belly Farm. In the early ’80s, awareness began to shift toward organics when Berkeley’s Chez Panisse became instrumental in creating a foodie evolution. Baby lettuce or spring mix grown specifically for restaurants was the beginning of the farm-to-fork ideology that began to take root in the mid ’80s.

Evolution of Organic explores the organic movement chronologically and looks at the challenges of how to scale organics, which by its nature (as opposed to conventional) is generally done on a smaller scale. Michael Funk describes his journey from an early food co-operative owner, to the founder of United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), a distributor of organic and natural foods that is now a multi-million-dollar publicly traded company.

For those familiar with agricultural practices, plenty of familiar names and faces are featured including Rachel Carson, Rudolf Steiner and his biodynamic farming techniques, Wendy Johnson at Green Gulch and Michael Straus, co-owner of Straus Home Ranch.

Not surprisingly, the film doesn’t end with a summation of the organic industry. Instead, forward-thinking carbon farming techniques that include putting carbon back into the soil are explored. John Wick, who is at the forefront of the Marin Carbon Project, is a tireless advocate for reversing climate change by putting carbon back into the soil. His mission contends that carbon farming can improve on-farm productivity and viability, enhance ecosystem functions and stop and reverse climate change.Y

Evolution of ‘Evolution’

A Q&A with director Mark Kitchell

Best known for his film Berkeley in the Sixties (1990), which won the Sundance Audience Award in 1990 and was nominated for an Academy Award, filmmaker Mark Kitchell has turned his lens to a timely and passionate subject; I recently caught up with him to discuss his film Evolution of Organic.

Tanya Henry: After making films about the ’60s counterculture and the environment with A Fierce Green Fire (2012), what led you to the organic food movement?

Mark Kitchell: I really wanted to do something more California-based. I had three stories in mind, but after eight months of research it was obvious to me that organics had the most passion, the most juice.

Henry: Given your experience making films, how did the production of Evolution of Organic compare to the others?

Kitchell: The film has led a charmed life. We started with five funders and by the time we completed the film, we had 23 sponsors and several successful crowd-funding campaigns. I also broke my land speed record and completed the film in just two years. There was a natural flow to the process and everything we tried worked—it was a relatively easy process.

Henry: What were some of the challenges? There had to be some?

Kitchell: I was concerned that there wouldn’t be very much archival material available—but as it turned out we had access to 96 different sources. I was also worried about shooting interviews outside and what the quality of the footage would look like, but we came up with a system that worked really well. I even worried that a film on agriculture might have a lot of empty filler—instead I found it to be very human.

Henry: Many of the folks you interviewed were from Northern California and specifically Marin. Did you have any connection to the area?

Kitchell: I grew up in San Francisco, but we also lived in Bolinas in the ’50s through the ’70s. My parents built a home on Overlook Road and my father was involved with the battle to save the Bolinas Lagoon from development.

Henry: What’s next?

Kitchell: Marijuana. My basic story is to tell the story of social change—so this one is obvious—there is lots to explore here.

Learn more about the film at evolutionoforganic.com.

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