About forty people were in attendance at the Vernonia Grange Hall on January 19, 2013 for a viewing of the documentary film “Coming To Ground.”
Film Directors Jean Donohue and Fred Johnson were on hand to lead a discussion following the film.
Coming to Ground is a feature documentary that explores the impact on the state of Kentucky of the 1998 Tobacco Settlement Agreement. The agreement was reached between forty-six states and the Tobacco industry to settle law suits to recover their tobacco-related health-care costs. The film documents the history of tobacco farming in Kentucky and how Kentucky chose to use those settlement funds to help local farmers reinvent their industry.
Donohue and Johnson are both originally from Kentucky and currently reside in Portland, Oregon. They told the audience that they spent two seasons filming the interviews with numerous small farmers who have found new ways to survive and even prosper when many small family farms all over the country are disappearing.
The film explains that in the 1990’s the end of the Federal Tobacco Price Support Program, which had allowed Kentucky farmers to thrive for over 200 years, spelled disaster for the local economy.
According to Donohue and Johnson, leaders in the Kentucky farm industry, along with Governor Paul Patton and other government leaders, worked together to create policies that were crucial to the transformation of the local farming industry. Kentucky, which receives $3 billion dollars each year for twenty-five years as their share of the tobacco settlement, invested a good portion of their funds into long term change and diversification of products. The funds were used to assist farmers in making changes on their farms through grants and loans, allowing them to purchase new equipment and try new methods of farming.
The film profiles several success stories including several farms that feature organic and biodynamic grown produce and beef; the rise and success of high traffic farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA); a woman who produces goats milk and cheeses; collectors and sellers of heirloom seeds, and a couple who have converted their tobacco farm into a vineyard.
The film was beautifully shot and opens with scenic views of the Kentucky countryside. The historical perspective and the importance of tobacco to the state of Kentucky was informative and useful background for the subject. The interviews with the diverse group of farmers helped show the ability of farmers to use their ingenuity, creativity, and understanding of the land to re-create themselves and their farms into something more productive.
Donohue and Johnson stated during the discussion that the change in Kentucky has only taken place because of the bipartisan effort to create the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy which gives power to local governments to use the tobacco settlement funds to help individual farmers.
A copy of the film “Coming to Ground” can be purchased for $35.99; make check to “Media Working Group” (note Coming to Ground) and send to MWG, P.O. Box 1807, Lexington, KY 40588-1807.