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The story of organic agriculture, told by those who built the movement. A motley crew of back-to-the-landers, spiritual seekers and farmers’ sons and daughters reject chemical farming and set out to explore organic alternatives. It’s a heartfelt journey of change from a small band of rebels to a cultural transformation in the way we grow and eat food. By now organic has gone mainstream – split into an industry oriented toward bringing organic to all people, and a movement that has realized a vision of sustainable agriculture.

Director: Mark Kitchell
Narrator: Frances McDormand


Long-haired, shirtless young people plant rows of vegetables, music from the Grateful Dead fills the air and garden guru Alan Chadwick intones a dire warning in the opening scenes of the brand-new documentary, Evolution of Organic.

The uplifting and entertaining film, narrated by actress Frances McDormand, traces the organic sector from its counter-culture roots in the 1960s to the present day, telling the story of its unexpected growth and some of the missteps along the way—with songs by Country Joe, Bruce Springsteen and even the Banana Slug String Band all getting airtime before the closing credits roll.

Evolution of Organic is an independent production made over the past two years by Mark Kitchell, a San Francisco-based filmmaker known for documenting social change movements. His previous work includes the Academy Award-nominated film Berkeley in the Sixties and A Fierce Green Fire, which documents the environmental movement.

“I was envious of people who were already making films about food and ag, like Food, Inc. and Symphony of the Soil. I saw that this was a story that really had legs and the most mojo of any social movement right now,” Kitchell said about his inspiration for the film. “People love organic and are passionate about where their food comes from and how it’s grown.”

Filming took Kitchell throughout Northern California. His first stop was the EcoFarm conference in Pacific Grove in January 2015. It doesn’t take long to begin spotting local folks in the film, such as Steve Pedersen of High Ground Organics, Joe Morris of Morris Grassfed Beef, Tonya Antle of the Organic Produce Network, Jim Nelson of Camp J oy Gardens and Amigo Bob Cantisano, the heart and soul of EcoFarm.

Kitchell is a skilled archivist who fills the screen with historic clips and amusing photos of the barefoot, bare-breasted hippie origins of the organic movement.

He describes how the efforts grew from an act of rebellion to the beginnings of “foodie-ism” with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse-style chefs looking for ingredients that tasted better, then on to government regulation, mainstream supermarkets and the conversion of big conventional farms to organic.

“We can’t have all just little hippie farms. If we are going to really have major change, we need these large-scale conventional farmers to see the light, to succeed and to push the envelope,” Cantisano says in the film.

The film maintains there are now two strains of organics: the industrial organic sector which provides food—much of it from our region—for supermarkets across the country, and the organic movement, which is still alive on small family farms that sell through CSAs and farmers’ markets.

Looking towards the future, Kitchell sees great hope in carbon farming through organic agriculture and regenerative grazing: Plants grown using these regenerative methods capture the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air and process it through photosynthesis into little stores of carbon, which travel down through the roots and into the soil to feed the micro-organisms, rather than polluting the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

“All the film is leading up to our big breaking story of carbon farming, which is potentially the biggest solution to climate change,” he says.

“It is all tied into soil and microbes and putting carbon back into the ground where it belongs. is gives organic a new sense of purpose.”

Evolution of Organic was screened at the Carmel International Film Festival in October and a screening in Santa Cruz is in the works. It will be av ailable for str eaming on Amaz on, Netflix and iTunes in 2018.

The festival has made a multi-year commitment to spotlight films about agriculture and has already announced that in 2018 it will screen the upcoming Redford Center documentary Kiss the Ground, all about carbon farming.

– Deborah Luhrman, EdibleMontereyBay.com