by Cozette Russell
Brookford Almanac: A Documentary Film about a Year in the Life of First-Generation Farmers in the U.S.
I’m a filmmaker interested in the relationship between people and landscape, so in 2008 when I read an article in The New York Times about the trend of young people moving out of the city to farm, I knew this was a story I wanted to film. I wanted to find out why highly educated people would walk away from specific career paths to choose a life of farming. Why would they embrace the risks of a life of hard work that offers such little security?
My film, Brookford Almanac, a cinema verité documentary currently in production, tells the story of Luke and Catarina Mahoney and their lively farm apprentices who run Brookford Farm in Rollinsford, New Hampshire.
Luke and Catarina are first-generation farmers. They came to farming through their desire for a connection to the land, not from their family’s expectations. The Mahoneys have embraced the rewards and frustrations of a life centered on the small-scale production of local food. But without inherited land, a major obstacle for first-generation farmers, they must lease their farm with little security for the future.
I discovered the Mahoneys through my father, John Carroll, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written several books about New England farming. I decided to spend a year documenting the Mahoneys lives at Brookford Farm because they are not only new to farming but also run a biologically diverse farm and organic dairy. Before long I found myself filming at the breakfast table, riding in the tractor, slogging through cow pastures, attending business meetings and farmer’s markets, and hanging out in the pasture with the cows well before dawn. I learned the dedication it takes to farm and how the rigorous labor of each day is always interrupted by an inevitable drama such as animals breaking out or tractors dying or storms approaching. For a filmmaker the tensions of life on a farm are exciting and unexpected.
Every documentary filmmaker starts out with one idea for their film and watches that idea ebb and flow as life unfolds in front of the camera. When I began, I envisioned Brookford Almanac as a celebratory portrait of a year in the life of a farm family. At that time, I could not have predicted the changes that would take place both on the farm and in my film. Luke and Catarina have expanded their operation considerably. With this expansion has come problems with their landlord, a strong-willed, retired farmer who holds different opinions as to how things should be done. Sadly, because of these divergent philosophies, the landlord has decided not to renew the Mahoneys’ lease.
The issue of land access – something almost all first-generation farmers struggle with – is now no longer just a looming issue for Luke and Catarina; it is a harsh reality in their lives and it has come front and center in my film. The making of Brookford Almanac continues as I film life at Brookford Farm for a second farming season.
To continue this second year of production I am raising money through Kickstarter, a popular online crowd-funding tool. To learn more about the film and to join the production, please visit my Kickstarter page by clicking here below by April 30th.
Cozette Russell is a documentary filmmaker. She is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Film Study Center, and she lives with her husband and creative partner Julian Russell in Lee, New Hampshire.