ESSEX — A day in the life of an Adirondack farmer is not so easy, but a full year is downright challenging.
In April 2010, filmmaker Ben Stechschulte set out to record the entire growing season of three Adirondack farms: Essex, Asgaard and Fledgling Crow. The culmination of his effort, an hour-long documentary called "Small Farm Rising," is the product of more than 120 hours of footage that showcases one year of homegrown agriculture and the people who make it happen.
Mark and Kristin Kimball, owners of the 500-acre Essex Farm in Essex, were asked to be in the film after Stechschulte heard about their farming practices. Instead of focusing on one crop, the Kimballs have spent the last eight years trying to provide a balanced diet — everything from meats and grains to vegetables and maple syrup — to their customers.
The farm is, in effect, a living grocery store, and the Kimballs do it all without the use of pesticides and by relying on manpower and horsepower as much as possible. Machinery is kept to a minimum.
"Small Farm Rising," Stechschulte's second movie, almost serves as a follow-up to his debut, "Three Farms," which he describes as an instructional video on farming.
With his latest film, Stechschulte opted to show, instead of tell, his viewers about farm life. He wanted to capture the essence of places such as Essex Farm, to get behind the scenes and show people what makes them function.
A yearlong project like "Small Farm Rising" requires dedication and a lot of time and labor for both the filmmaker and the subjects. Over the course of the filming, Mark Kimball and Stechschulte got to know each other well, and it turned out they had some values in common. Both men agree that small-scale farms are an intrinsic part of local communities across the nation and that the tragedy of today's dominant agricultural practices lie in something Kimball calls "agriculture illiteracy."
"If consumers could have a better understanding of what goes into farming, they could make informed decisions when buying food," Kimball said. "Without good farming, we can expect to reduce the quality of human existence."
The movie, Kimball believes, might spark human curiosity and raise awareness to the importance of small-scale farms.
But the driving force behind Stechschulte's film isn't to provide free advertising for local farms or to launch an attack on corporate farming. Each farm has its own story to tell, and it is through the telling of those stories that Stechschulte hopes to educate his viewers on the power and the processes of small-scale farming.
"A lot of films have been made about the horrors of the food industry. Those films are very effective, but I wanted 'Small Farm Rising' to be different," Stechschulte said. "The way a person farms, the food they grow, the methods they use, those are choices. They are not addressed verbally in the film, they are demonstrated."
It is true that the farms Stechschulte chose all have similar guiding principals. Despite their differences — Essex Farm, with its all-inclusive selection; Asgaard Farm in AuSable Forks, with its award-winning goat cheeses; and Fledgling Crow Farm in Keeseville, with its focus on vegetables — they all employ sustainable-farming practices, denounce the use of growth hormones and pesticides, and are practitioners of community-sponsored agriculture.
"We are three North Country examples of what's going on with a lot of different people, with a lot of different ideas on what our species has been doing for 10,000 years," Kimball said.
Stechschulte hopes his film will have the same appeal as the something-for-everyone approach the three farms in his movie implement.
"Access to good food is a right everyone should have, and that's why this movie is for everyone," he said.
The free premier of "Small Farm Rising" is sponsored by Mountain Lake PBS and will be hosted by the Golden Arrow Resort in Lake Placid at 5 p.m. Oct. 1.