Kids sent off to college, weddings, funerals, worry, hope; there’s a vast array of things one may witness in five years’ worth of a family’s life.
And in the creation of “The Last Crop,” a film that focuses on a local family farm’s uncertain future, documentarian Chuck Schultz has seen all the above.
For the past five years, Schultz has been a fly on the wall, so to say, watching Jeff and Annie Main of Good Humus Produce in Yolo County experience plenty of milestones.
“We spent a lot of time pretending that he’s not there, just going about our days normally as he made the documentary,” Annie Main said. “It’s ended up being very personal.
“It has stuff like us seeing our daughter off to college, our other daughter graduating high school. … I’ve seen our lives play out in the process of filming this.”
Primarily what the “The Last Crop” chronicles is the Mains’ quest for assurance that the land they’ve toiled on for more than 30 years remains a sustainable, productive farm after they retire.
The local farmers’ offspring have not expressed interest in maintaining it, and selling it to even well-intentioned farmers provides no guarantee of its continued safekeeping.
And then there’s the problem of whether it can be sold as an affordable property to those who plan on simply keeping it as a small sustainable farming operation in the first place.
Schultz believes the Mains’ predicament is one that personalizes a nationwide crisis. This is why the filmmaker decided to follow their story after making their acquaintance at Capay Valley’s Hoes Down Harvest Festival in 2007.
“In this one family’s struggle to save their working farm, they are addressing three big issues with farmland: affordability, succession and preservation,” Schultz said.
Up to 70 percent of the nation’s private farm and ranchland is going to change hands by 2030, according to a report by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition.
And that’s why this family’s local issue has a larger appeal to Schultz, a New York resident who was introduced to valley farmers during the ’70s.
Since beginning the documentary, Schultz said he has watched the Mains go from feeling hopeless about the situation to being close to setting a precedent.
The Mains established One Farm at a Time, an effort to permanently protect the farm through the purchase of specialized development easements.
These easements would require that a majority of the farmland retain its productivity, while also allowing it to be affordable to potential organic farmers.
The estimated cost of the easement is more than $300,000. The Davis Food Co-op and other supporters already have helped raise $280,000 toward that goal.
Annie Main said an auxiliary goal of One Farm at a Time is to pave the way for others. This will be the focus of the local group once it has secured the easement for Good Humus Produce.
“And the film is an essential tool in helping spread the word to other communities about what we’re doing,” she added. “We want communities to feel empowered about protecting their local food supplies.”
But David Thompson — president of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, which is the effort’s fiscal sponsor — said there’s still a lot of work to be done in preserving this crucial agricultural legacy and others like it.
He explained that this would be one of California’s first farms with an easement of this nature:
“What we’ve discovered is that a lot of the land that is saved by development easements — while not developed on — is quite often not farmed after purchase,” Thompson said. “A lot of these efforts haven’t necessarily preserved the farming. What we want is for farmers to be a source of the food that our growing population needs.”
Because the intention of the “The Last Crop” is to initiate a national conversation on issues such as this, Schultz is asking for contributions that would partially go toward funding educational outreach.
Anyone interested in helping fund the documentary — for which Schultz is hoping to meet a fundraising deadline of $50,000 by Oct. 30 — can visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-last-crop.
Twenty-five food co-ops around the country already have supported it. The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation has pledged to match $500 to each food co-op that donates $500 to the crowdsourced fundraising campaign, up to $5,000.
The documentary is tentatively set for release in March, as it’s entering post-production after five years in the making.
“You know, I really believed in Jeff and I doing this — not just because it’s our story — but because it’s the story of a family farm,” Main said, “and the questions that confront just about any family farm in the country.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett.