• May 20, 2014

Anthony Suau’s Organic Rising

Becky Harlan

“You are what you eat.” We’ve all heard it, but the saying doesn’t seem as simple as it used to. The question of a healthy diet now extends beyond “broccoli or beef?” These days, we’re left wondering how substances like pesticides, antibiotics, and GMOs affect us when we consume them. We’re not even sure how to tell which ones end up on the table.

Picture of a box of produce in morning light
Weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes are prepared in the early morning at FreeWheelin’ Farms.
Santa Cruz, California, October 2012

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Anthony Suau had these same questions when, in 2008, he returned to the United States after spending 20 years living in Europe. “I realized that I basically couldn’t eat the food, specifically the meat. It just tasted terrible. I found myself very quickly gaining weight. I didn’t understand what was going on.” So he began to research, watching Food Inc., reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Foodopoly, trying to figure out why he was having a hard time with eating in America. He says he began to realize that “the issue that was going on was enormous.” And he knew that he needed to do more than change his own diet.

Picture of chefs plating their food
At the Cook It Raw event, 17 internationally-renowned chefs put the final touches on their plates and serve them to a select crowd at McCrady’s Restaurant.
Charleston, South Carolina, October 2013

Suau, who has covered war, genocide, natural disasters, and civil strife, explains that the jump from documenting these intense issues to food is pretty obvious. He references a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2013, which states that nearly 1 in 5 American deaths are related to obesity. “That’s larger than a genocide. It is a genocide,” he says, “I’m not bound to a story about food, I’m walking into a situation that’s affecting this country in a really terrible way.”

Picture of a rooftop farm in Brooklyn
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn is run by its co-founder and director, Annie Novak. She grows organic vegetables and keeps bunnies at the urban farm.
Brooklyn, New York, October 2013

But there’s a difference between the story he wants to tell about the organic movement and the other stories he’s covered in the past: “As a journalist for 30 years, the stories that I’ve covered whether the crisis in the Ukraine, which I covered for National Geographic six years ago, or any of those stories, I couldn’t tell you what the solution was. But there is a solution with this problem. The idea is to examine that and provide the educational information to people. To answer the questions for people that were the same questions that I had when I went into this story.”

Picture of a woman inspecting tomatoes
Lady Moon Farms sells its products wholesale and 30 percent of those are shipped to Whole Foods.
Punta Gorda, Florida, December 2012

He’s working on a film, Organic Rising, that he hopes will help viewers navigate America’s current foodscape. He’s creating a solutions-focused story that will educate viewers and help them to connect to the information that’s out there so they can make decisions about food that are based off of understanding rather than default acceptance of the status quo.

Picture of people packing herbs in a factory
Employees at SunFest Organic Farm, a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art herb farm opened in 2012, pack herbs for shipping. Workers in the plant wear protective clothing and eyewear because the herbs are cleaned with ultraviolet light in a vacuum-sealed room.
Okeechobee, Florida, December 2012

Suau also wants to highlight those who are already successfully working in the organics market. One story he told me that illustrates the burgeoning movement was about Tom Beddard of Lady Moon Farms in Florida. He says that when he interviewed Beddard he spoke about, “when organic farming was considered a real oddity. He’d walk into restaurants and try to sell his products and they didn’t want them because they were organic. Now [Beddard] is one of the biggest suppliers in the country. He sells to Whole Foods. He basically can’t keep up with the demand.”

Picture of farmers harvesting at sunrise
Workers harvest rainbow chard at sunrise on Lady Moon Farms, one of the largest organic farms in Florida. Lady Moon Farms is owned and run by Tom Beddard.
Punta Gorda, Florida, December 2012

For the film, Suau traveled to California, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and New York, documenting distributors, chefs, investors, farmers, war veterans, activists, food advocates, and even seed-savers. It’s a more intricate story than just the farmers and the consumers. “There are a lot of parts of this movement,” he says.

Picture of a harvest festival
Live Earth Farm owner Tom Broz holds one of three annual harvest festivals for the farms more than 700 CSA members and community friends.
Watsonville, California, October 2012

Suau thought that a film would be the best way to communicate the scope of the subject matter. Documentaries “have the ability to explore issues in depth in a way that TV, the nightly news, and even 60 Minutes can’t … You go out to dinner and people talk about documentaries they’ve seen on Netflix. Whether about fracking or the economy, it’s become an amazing cornerstone of where we go to get our news. Doing this film, I’m working on the forefront of what people are interested in in terms of obtaining information. That’s really exciting and very encouraging. It keeps my momentum up.”

Organic Rising is Suau’s first feature-length film. The production process is about 70 percent complete, and the film is expected to be released in September 2015. To contribute to Organic Rising’s crowd-sourcing campaign, visit their Indiegogo site. The campaign runs until June 7th.

The May issue of National Geographic magazine, kicked off an eight-month series about the future of food. As part of that effort, Proof is highlighting independent projects that look at food production and consumption.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. yvonne turner
    May 30, 2014

    thanks for keeping up the organics movement i’ve been talking this up for 47 years and sometimes i fell like i’m starting over and over.i think it’s the old issue of opposing “science”.i’m lucky to be able to grow a lot of my own organics and buy from local organic farms,shops,farmers markets.I realizeI live in an isolated paradise,Powell River B.C. Canada keep up the great work

  2. Thessa
    May 30, 2014

    This is an inspiring article. Thank you for doing this. More and more people are starting to realize the importance of REAL food. More power to you and your film as well. Looking forward to that.

  3. Erin
    May 22, 2014

    This was lovely to read. I agree with the the comment that usually it is farmer vs. consumer and this seems to have a totally different vibe. It is also exciting to see this kind of information in a magazine as widely known as National Geographic. People really need to wake up, it is scary how some people don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that we don’t know if what we are eating is Genetically Modified or that it is sprayed with hormone disrupting chemicals. Great work Anthony Suau! I can’t wait to see this when it comes out next year.

  4. Anonymous
    May 21, 2014

    I’m actually very interested in this project! It sounds like it will be a holistic approach to the food system, not just a farmer vs. consumer look. I get so frustrated by some of these documentaries and books on food and how they berate the farmers, as if it is completely their fault. There are multiple players in this game, and this sounds like a project that will give each of those players a chance to speak up.

  5. Prajwal Khadka
    May 21, 2014

    I don’t know about US, Nepal China or any other country in particular..but what I know about food is that THERE IS SUCH THING AS RIGHT TO GOOD FOOD!!! It should be very much safe guarded by national and international treaties and laws as much as other rights are. No one should be allowed to fiddle with matters such as food…poisons should be taken out of the picture..straight away.

  6. Rebecca Ota
    May 20, 2014

    Thank you for your great effort. I am eager to see this documentary sooner. It is definitely an educational tool to promote the awareness of benefits of organic farming. In developing countries, I still feel there is not or lack of proper protocol to regulate, guide n control such farming here.

  7. Rebecca
    May 20, 2014

    Thank you for your great effort. I am eager to see this documentary sooner. It is definitely an educational tool to promote the awareness of benefits of organic farming. In developing countries, I still feel there is not or lack of roper protocol to regulate, guide n control such farming here.

  8. Joseph Canlot
    May 20, 2014

    As I’m contacting farmers for my food delivery company I’m surprised at how few organic farms there are and how complex the food industry is. You’d think that an industry that every american comes into contact with several times a day wouldn’t be kept in the shadows. I always thought organic farms were plentiful. Just goes to show how much work there is. I’m tempted to open one myself. I’m looking forward to this film, there’s so many questions.

  9. Anthony Suau
    May 20, 2014

    If you would like to contribute to the film’s crowd-funding campaign you may do so at: http://igg.me/at/organicrising – thank you the director Anthony Suau

  10. Elizabeth
    May 20, 2014

    Can hardly wait for this film to come out. I’ve been preaching and practicing organic gardening since 1988. For many years I was considered a “crank”, “weirdo”, etc. We are in a food crisis in this country and, frankly, on the brink of food shortages and true hunger – but most people don’t believe that and trust that the foods sold in the grocery stores are all okay. No, they are not! We need urban forests, more community gardens, etc.! But, most important of all, we need to nourish the soil and the earth in order for it to nourish us in return. Our very lives depend on it!

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