Perhaps the most organically rich material at the 20th edition of the Hamptons International Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs through Monday, is the aptly titled film, Growing Farmers.
A short documentary included in the festivals, "Views from Long Island" series, it showcases the next generation of farmers on the East End of Long Island. The film provides a platform for the farmers to discuss the struggles they face and also highlights the community they've created — thanks to the land the Peconic Land Trust has afforded them, despite the significant amount of farmland that has been turned into residential developments.
Michael Halsband, a New York City director whose family has had a home in Water Mill for 37 years, was brought into the project after being introduced to Hilary Leff, who had the initial idea and is the co-producer. Leff is the vice chair of the board of directors at the Peconic Land Trust, a non-profit organization based in Southampton that has conserved more than 10,000 acres of land since it was founded in 1983.
"They were looking for some way to tell a little bit of their story and just what’s going on for the current trend on the interest of young, and older people, in farming," Halsband said.
In recent years, there's been a renewed interest in farming, particularly on Long Island, where the growing season is long and the soil among the best in the country. The trend, Halsband said, goes hand-in-hand with more awareness about what people eating and the freshness of local food.
The Trust's Farms for the Future Initiative helps new farmers find affordable farmland on eastern Long Island. Those farmers — 20 so far — are mentored and given assistance in setting up their irrigation system to building fence.
Chris Browder, a former banker, is one of those farmers featured in the film. With the Peconic Land Trust's help, he set up shop in Southold and raises two types of chicken at Browder's Birds, carving a niche for himself in pastured poultry.
Amagansett farmer Katie Baldwin left a job in foreign policy to work an internship at the Trust after reading Quail Hill Farm director Scott Chaskey's book, "This Common Ground." She met Amanda Merrow and they started Amber Waves Farm on eight-acres of leased land, where they grow organic wheat for food consumption.
"New farmers face tremendous barriers that test their passion and resolve in agriculture," said John v.H. Halsey, the president of the Peconic Land Trust. "Growing Farmers speaks to an important aspect of the Trust's work to conserve Long Island's working farms for our communities now and in the future. . .Their excitement and commitment shines through as the Trust does everything it can to assure that agriculture remains a part of our heritage."
The film also features Rodderick Brown, who farms in Cutchogue, Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms in Southold, Ian Calder-Piedmonte and Alex Balsam at Balsam Farms, and Joe Realmuto, a chef who speaks about the benefits of cooking with local produce.
"The point is to share the message. The film itself is a more of a vehicle to let people know what’s available to them," he said.
Leff and Halsband discussed the project over the course of the summer of 2011 — it was initially going to be a 5-minute film. It took about a year to finish with Halsband doing most of the camera work himself. The final cut is about 18 minutes.
Halsband said it was first shown at the Peconic Land Trust event "Through Farms and Fields," in August, receiving a great response, though Halsband said screening it in front of that audience was like preaching to the choir.
"We weren’t at that point accepted into the festival. We went back and re-edited film to make it a little more festival worthy," he said. The fresh version of the film will premiere at the East Hampton movie theater on Sunday at 11 a.m.
A panel to discuss the film will convene on Monday at Rowdy Hall, as part of the "Rowdy Talks" series, at 10 a.m. Halsband and Leff will be joined by Bryan Futerman, a chef and owner of Foody's in Water Mill, and Chaskey from Quail Hill. East Hampton chef Laura Donnelly will moderate.
The panel is free. Tickets to the film are available online, by clicking here, or by phone at 866-663-8541 from 2 to 6 p.m. The Retreat Boutique in East Hampton will be the location for open for walk-up ticket sales from Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Regular pricing is $15.