All of the farmers featured in Stewards of the Land are small in scale and focus on local and direct marketing or self-use of their products. They each farm distinctively—rendering agriculture more of an art than a science—and embrace different approaches, techniques and philosophies that best suit their own needs and personalities.
These images and words were mostly gathered during the winter, the off-season, when small farmers typically make time for rest, reflection, and planning. You won't see many shots of them on tractors or weeding. We explored their fields and their homes and listened to their stories in order to present a view of them beyond their identities as farmers. After all, in addition to farming, the six people participating in this project are also mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, learners, travelers, leaders, businesspeople, and visionaries.
They are as different as any group of six people could be yet they all engage in this most basic and necessary of human activities. Year after year, quietly and consistently, they nurture our food from the earth. This project is dedicated to them.
Stewards of the Land was a project first envisioned in 2001 by Brad Horn, who was soon to be a student of documentary work at UNC Chapel Hill. He was fortunate to find a diverse and talented crew of six in Heather Barnes, Cathy Leicht, Mike Nutt, J.L. Reid, jj richardson, and Tes Thraves. He also found two highly-experienced project advisors in Charles Thompson (Curriculum and Education Director at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and a former organic farmer) and Harvey Harman (an organic farmer and green community developer).
Initial group conversations focused on selecting the farmers—getting the right mix of farming styles seemed critical to success. After farmer agreement was reached, discussion turned to how best to divide the work, what technologies to use, and preliminary visioning of the final product. Horn had received initial funding from Carrboro’s cooperative grocer Weaver Street Market, which provided a budget for film, minidisks, and other necessary supplies. Site visits were conducted throughout 2002 and into 2003. The group met regularly over potluck meals and craft-brewed beverages to discuss progress, and evaluate materials. Later, funding was received from UNC’s APPLES Service-Learning program and from private donations, both of which allowed the project to expand in breadth and depth.
It was always envisioned that the work would be shared with the community, and an exhibition date was confirmed for April 24th 2003, during the kick-off celebration for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Annual Farm Tour. So in the early spring of 2003, energy turned to preparing the materials for exhibition. The group collaboratively selected the photographs to display and gave feedback on audio segments. The group’s writers tackled the farmer profiles, a project introduction, and several articles. The crew built self-supporting walls to display the work, matted and framed the photographs, mounted the text on poster-size foam core, and set up audio listening stations with headphones.
The opening at Carrboro's Century Center was received by an appreciative crowd, who were able to also view a working version of Standing at the Crossroads, a documentary on sustainable farmers by North Carolina filmmaker April Walton. Stewards of the Land was exhibited further at Central Carolina Community College, SEEDS Community Garden in Durham, the Hanes Art Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the following year again at the kick-off celebration for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Annual Farm Tour. The Project was also featured in Endeavors Magazine, a magazine focused on creative work at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In 2008, five years after the work was first exhibited, project co-coordinators Brad Horn and jj richardson decided to revive it—at that point the project’s original website was no longer even active. Project materials were unearthed, collaborators and advisors were contacted, and Horn created this new website. The project can now be accessed by the public with the intention, as ever, to give these six farmers’ stories the opportunity to be told, heard, and appreciated.
jj richardson and Brad Horn, July 2008