Polycultures - Food Where We Live

Posted by Brad Masi
Brad Masi
Brad Masi is a graduate of Oberlin College and long-time Oberlinian. Previously
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on August 29, 2012 in Local Foods

The word “polycultures” describes farm systems that include a number of diverse crops growing together. A common example of a polyculture system is the “three sisters”, a growing system that includes corn, beans, and squash growing together in the same spot. The corn plant grows quickly, providing support for vining bean plants. Squash plants have shallow roots and wide leaves that produce shade and limit competition from weeds. The roots of bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil, adding fertility and providing extra nitrogen that corn plants need so survive. All three of the plants provide a yield of food. They also provide complementary services to support each other.

Polycultures can also be used to describe the social movement that has formed around the support of local food systems, including the collaboration of diverse communities, both rural and urban, around the provision of local food.

This week, the Oberlin Project will be featuring the film PolyCultures- Food Where We Live. The film resulted from a collaborative effort between the New Agrarian Center, where I served as director, and LESS Productions, a film company in Cleveland. The film was an official selection of the 2009 Cleveland International Film Festival and also played at six additional film festivals around the world, from northern California to Thialand. 



Even though we produced the film only three years ago, it already serves as a retro-spective of local food systems efforts. It is quite amazing to see how far things have since evolved in Oberlin, Cleveland, and other communities, featured in the film, in the intervening three years.

PolyCultures presents an alternative approach to film, what I like to call emergent film-making. Rather than beginning with a pre-determined script or treatment, we decided to talk to a wide variety of people to see what was motivating their involvement in local food systems. The journey involved talking to some national local food advocates, including authors Michael Pollen (Omnivore’s Dilema) and Mark Winne (Closing the Food Gap) as well as homegrown advocates, including our own David Orr and Michael Ruhlman (author of Soul of the Chef).

The film also captures the grassroots nature of the local food movement, finding a number of engaging stories from local farmers, urban gardeners, students, businesses, and community organizers.

In all, the film shows a growing, interconnected food web that connects communities throughout Northeast Ohio. The film features six inter-linked “plots,” both the plots in a garden and the plots of a story. The plots will take you from the Jones Farm in Oberlin to inner-city Cleveland, rural farms around Wooster, to a unique market garden that utilizes beer waste from the Great Lakes Brewery to grow vegetables for the brewery’s kitchen.

The film demonstrates the intersection of a number of social challenges that can be productively addressed through the re-organization of our food system. Some of the topics include climate change, health and nutrition in urban neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods, and the growth of small and large businesses around the provision of local food.

Come check out the film at the Oberlin Public Library from 2-4pm on Thursday, August 30th or Saturday September, 1st. The screening on September 1st will include a discussion of the film.

Also, check out a more home-grown version of PolyCultures on Saturday, September 8th at the Oberlin Public Library at 1pm when we screen For the Love of Food which chronicles local food efforts right here in Oberlin.

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Brad Masi is a graduate of Oberlin College and long-time Oberlinian. Previously the director of the New Agrarian Center, he is currently a freelance writer, consultant, teacher, and filmmaker specializing in local food systems.


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