Film series provides ‘food’ for thought to community

By Jim Vorel

When “The Plow that Broke the Plains” was produced and filmed in 1934, it was screened throughout the Great Plains and the Midwest. At the time film technology was not readily available at home and the government-produced film was shown in public places such as town halls and churches. It told the story of poor Great Plains farmers who were encouraged by their country to plant great fields of wheat in the dry, grassy plains of the American West, and who were given a brutal shock as droughts struck, crops withered and the land turned to dust.

The grim chapter of American history is remembered as the Dust Bowl. Families, like the Joads of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” were encouraged by the film and the government to go west, striking out for California and new beginnings.

Today, more than 70 years later, much has changed. However, some people are still trying to learn lessons from the past.

“The Plow that Broke the Plains,” along with another film, “The Price of Bounty,” were shown last weekend in the basement of Community United Church of Christ, 805 S. Sixth St., as the first installment of the “Fight Back with Your Fork” film series.

The series aims to address the biggest issues in agriculture and hunger relief in the Eastern Illinois area, as well as raise food to fight Illinois hunger.

Anna Barnes, a Champaign resident and coordinator of “Fight Back with Your Fork,” said the series is something she had been planning for some time.

She said she wants to help Champaign County residents who are interested in food issues to understand some of the problems that are affecting the agriculture industry.

“There just isn’t enough locally produced food to distribute to those in need,” Barnes said. “It’s not that we need to produce enough food as a world or a country because we do produce enough food to feed everyone in the world. The important thing is to produce enough food locally to be readily available to those who need it.”

Such locally produced food reduces the difficulty and cost of feeding areas that have a greater immediate need for food, she added.

In order to raise money and food for hunger-relief, Barnes and her associates collected donations of money and food for admission to the films shown on Saturday.

Some of the several dozen attendants tossed money into a jar while others plunked down a can of green beans or tin of sardines for admission.

All food raised will be donated to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, which serves a 14 county region, of which Champaign is one.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank donates on average an annual total of five million pounds of food, which sounds impressive until one learns that there is an annual need for nearly 20 million pounds of food for the area.

Pastor Mike Mulberry, the pastor of Community United Church of Christ, told the assembled crowd that “The Plow that Broke the Plains” was especially important to his interest in agricultural issues.

“I was deeply affected by “The Plow that Broke the Plains” when I saw it while I was a student,” Mulberry said. “I saw depression and suicide in the Great Plains farmers at the same time, and remember thinking that the film gave me a sense that at least somebody knew what was going on.” He added that he believed the film parallels current problems in agriculture.

The other film shown on Saturday, “The Price of Bounty,” was produced in the early 1990’s by the University’s College of Agriculture in cooperation with WILL radio, and studied the effects of fertilizers and pesticides on drinking water.

The film was produced using funding from fertilizer manufacturers as part of initiatives in product safety.

But when the film was released, the negative links it drew between fertilizers and unhealthy groundwater made the same companies that funded the film to call for its suppression, and few copies continue to exist.

Barnes said she hopes to expand upon the problems of the agriculture industry and food shortages in the future installments of the film series, which will take place on March 1, April 12 and May 3, at the Community United Church of Christ.

Jim Hires, executive director of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, said initiatives like the “Fight Back with Your Fork” film series are important for raising specific food items that are needed in problem areas, and the Foodbank is looking for all the help it can get.

Every year, Eastern Illinois Foodbank brings food to people and to families who are on the brink of disaster.

Of their clients, 50 percent reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for heating or utilities. Local food drives can make all the difference for such clients.

“We love food drives because it lets us know that people really care,” Hires said.

This Saturday the film series will screen “Strong Roots, Fragile Farms” starting at 2 p.m.

For more information on “Fight Back with Your Fork”, check http://www.prairienet.org/pcsa/film.html.