An urgent and intimate look at American farming, told through the stories of farmers living at the intersection of climate change, industrialization & a mental health crisis.
American farmers have seen it all – from the Great Depression to the farming crisis of the 1980s. Through these hardships, farmers have held onto the rugged individuality and strong work ethic that defines them. But now, a dangerous combination of economic uncertainty, isolation, a pandemic, and climate change have led to a mental health crisis that places an essential industry at a dark crossroads, threatening not only the lives and livelihoods of American farmers but our nation’s food supply.
Greener Pastures captures the day-to-day lives of four small, Midwestern, multi-generational family farms over the course of four years. Through an intimate, observational lens we examine the various farm stressors, policies and politics farmers must maneuver to survive, connecting the dots between mental health, industrialization, food production and climate change. It is a story of perseverance, patience and determination that tackles nothing less than the future of farming in the heartland of America.
Jeff is a corn and soybean farmer in Monroe, Wisconsin. Nearly 27 years ago, Jeff tried to end his own life by setting a building on fire while he was still inside. Today, he runs a farmer mental health nonprofit called T.U.G.S. (Talking, Understanding, Growing, Supporting), traveling across the Midwest and talking to farmers about mental health, suicide prevention, and the stigma associated with depression.
Jeff hopes if he can put a few successful farming years together, he’ll be able to leave farming and devote himself to his nonprofit.
Throughout the film, we follow Jeff’s work with his nonprofit, his passion for community theater, and his battle with the elements.
Chris is a livestock farmer in Clear Lake, Iowa, and no stranger to the stresses inherent in modern farming or the danger of ignoring them. At the age of 5, Chris found his mother’s body after she died by suicide when their family farm was foreclosed. As a result, Chris works tirelessly lobbying for farmers’ rights, regularly traveling across the state as an advocate for farmers.
A democrat and progressive liberal, Chris has been connected to nearly every democratic presidential candidate that has come through Iowa seeking the nomination in the past two decades.
With two children and several grandchildren, Chris hopes to slow down and spend more time at home with his wife, Kristi, and his growing family. Before he can do that, he wants to be sure he is leaving a legacy his family can be proud of and a world they can thrive in.
Becky is Chris’ daughter and is forging her own path for her family. She and her husband, Curtis, run a small sustainable farm, practicing regenerative agriculture and selling their produce at the local farmer’s market. Though she does not see a future in production agriculture like her father, she is determined to carry on her father’s legacy of political activism by running for District Soil and Water Commissioner. In the fall of 2020, Becky won her election as the sole woman, beating all incumbents by a large margin.
Becky’s story follows her work as a small sustainable farmer, her family life, and her run for office.
JAY AND MELISSA SIMERAL
As a sixth-generation farmer, Jay owns the same land in Ohio that was granted to his family back in the late 1700s and still has the original deed with Thomas Jefferson’s signature on it. But when we meet Jay, the future of his farm is uncertain as falling milk prices, competition from larger farms, and bad weather may force him to sell his cows and close his farming operations. Fortunately, his wife, Melissa, is a skilled baker, and she is able to help support the family with a small cake shop she runs.
Jay and Melissa’s story documents their family’s financial struggles and successes, including the forced sale of Jay’s cows, bankruptcy, the closure of Melissa’s cake shop, the difficult decision to allow fracking on their land, and the eventual reopening of the cake shop.
Julie is a dairy farmer in Minnesota. Juliette was once a frequent dairy show competitor, but when we meet her, those days seem long past, and she struggles with alcoholism. As the film progresses, we watch Juliette work to regain control over her life, going through rehab and meeting with her sponsor. But, when the rent on her land increases and COVID-19 fractures the food chain, all her progress is threatened, and she is forced to move to another farm.
But Juliette is resilient, stubborn, and refuses to give in. Juliette’s story speaks to addiction, mental health, the stressors of farming, and the will to keep fighting. Our final scenes with Juliette show her returning to the dairy competitions that once sustained her.