I didn't know what to expect from `The Real Dirt on Farmer John'. Knowing that America was once known as "the bread basket of the world," I knew this documentary would have some import, but I never realized that it would be this engaging.
You get the idea you've stumbled into a different story when John Peterson, the focal point and protagonist of this little movie, is performing his work on farm machinery looking like Elton John if he had become a farmer. Flamboyantly dressed, we see a man with a colorful personality and an even more colorful past.
Since The Depression John's Scandinavian family obtained a farm in North Central Illinois where corn and hogs kept their existence simple, yet plentiful. After his father died when he was fairly young, John had to take over the farm with his mother's support and his uncle's inspiration. Determined, John like many other of his neighbors, fell upon hard times. Remembering Willie Nelson's initiatives with "Farm Aid" during the eighties, the film reminded me so much of those news reports that showed the farmer's existence being put to the way side. Like many effective documentaries, this film has home movies showing actual auctions as many American farmers lost their livelihood to real estate developers. The shift in America's agriculture is entirely accessible in this fun and informative little DVD.
Education was John's ace in the hole. He went to Beloit Community College during the hippie era and was able to recruit several friends who wanted the communal lifestyle. Artsy met earthy, and John offered a virtual paradise. Yet, differences often create suspicion, and John's neighbors started rumors that devastated him personally and financially. People started to scapegoat John for misfortunes that occurred and labeled him a Satanic cult member. At the head of the opposition was Sheriff Don, who is often interviewed and makes the story less remote and more real.
While John is resourceful, what actually transpires and how he copes is enough to see it all for yourselves. 'The Real Dirt on Farmer John' is an enjoyable experience that yields a large crop of interest.
(I have two things in common with John Peterson. One is that we both bear the same name, and the other is that we both grew up eighty miles apart from one another in Illinois.)
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