A Discussion on Sustainable Food Production with SIT Australia Alum

In spring 2013, Noah Throop studied on SIT’s Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program and produced a short documentary film entitled Where the Food Grows for his Independent Study Project (watch the film below). We talked with Noah about food consumption, sustainable farming practices, and filmmaking.

http://www.vimeo.com/65500817

SIT Study Abroad: What drew you to the program?

Noah Throop: Its coursework and area of study. I have long been interested in environmental issues — specifically environmental politics and food politics. Having grown up on a farm myself, I was exposed at a young age to the beauty of growing food and living sustainably. I have since been passionately interested in food — where it comes from, how it is grown, how it relates to human health, and the political, social, and economic factors affecting the production of food.

Noah Throop

Noah Throop

SIT: Why is sustainable agriculture so important?

NT: Food is this universal substance that every human being on the planet consumes and must consume, yet, over the past century, many individuals in modern cultures have become far removed and disconnected from what they eat. This has had (and will continue to have) a direct impact on human health, environmental health, and the health of future generations to come.

I was just reading last week about the emerging threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (directly linked to the widespread prevalence of antibiotics used in livestock production). The World Health Organization came out and stated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose the greatest threat to human survival as we know it, and top health officials from the UK and the US stated that the resistant bacteria represent an “apocalyptic danger” to the human race in the next twenty to thirty years. Personally, I would like to live to the ripe old age of 100, but currently, there are many systems in the world that seem ready to collapse.

SIT: Why did you choose to make a film for your Independent Study Project (ISP)?

NT: I knew going into the program that I wanted to produce a film during the five-week ISP period. I had brought along my camera, tripod, and microphone but was waiting for an inspiring story to capture on film.

A quote by Andrew Kimbrell in his book Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture ultimately pushed me in the direction of filming a portrait of a farm. He wrote, “Over the last century, we have been transformed from a nation of farmers with our hands and minds linked to the soil, to a nation of consumers lined up in supermarkets to buy an array of slickly packaged food products about which we know very little.”

I see film as an excellent communicative tool in order to challenge social norms, facilitate change, and further greater public discourse on issues of importance. I hoped that by making a film detailing the agricultural practices of a local small-scale farm, I might be able to portray a worthy model of food production that stands in direct contrast to large-scale industrial agriculture. I wanted to provide insight into where food comes from and how it is produced on a local level and create a film that might help mend the disconnect between the consumer and the producer.

Still from the film Where the Food Grows

Still from the film Where the Food Grows

SIT: Tell me about the farm you filmed.

NT: The farm I worked on, Hayters Hill Farm, is a five-generation family farm which began in 1881 when the land was first cleared and settled. Because of this intergenerational history, the current generation of farmers has a strong sense of responsibility and stewardship for the protection and health of the land. The land is not regarded as a tool but as a living, thriving ecosystem that must be nurtured and cared for.

Hayters Hill Farm has recognized that their economic well-being is intrinsically linked to the environmental well-being of their soils, waters, and pastures. The farm is able to look beyond the mere production of beef and eggs for profit and engage in systematic thinking about the health and nourishment of their local ecosystem, the microbiology of the soils, the rivers and water catchment areas, and the management of their grazing pastures.

SIT: Are you optimistic about the future of food production?

NT: I think optimistic is a strong word. It’s difficult to look at the current state of global agriculture and express optimism. It’s not as if there aren’t already sustainable, low-input solutions to solving many of the world’s agricultural problems — there are. The agricultural overhaul that Cuba had to initiate after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 is a great case study to demonstrate this. But currently, massive economic, social, and political structures exist which prevent or deter modern consumers from growing their own food and/or demanding that food be grown locally and sustainably.

From the film Where the Food Grows: Dave and cattle on Hayters Hill Farm

From the film Where the Food Grows: Dave Trevor-Jones and cattle on Hayters Hill Farm

That said, I do maintain hope that sustainable agriculture will begin to demand greater respect and attention in the near future. I do believe there is a slowly growing trend among many people who are becoming more interested in the production of their food and wishing to redevelop a connection to the land and to where their food is grown. And as public discourse and community dialogue on the production of food continues to grow and expand, perhaps the rigidity of the aforementioned structures will begin to show signs of weakness.

Noah is completing a degree in government at Skidmore College and plans to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking.

Explore all of SIT’s programs focused on natural resource management, biodiversity, and environmental policy.

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