What Americans Can Learn From a Beautiful French Film About Farming

Civil Eats, February 27, 2015, By Kristina Johnson

After Winter, Spring looks at radical changes in modern agriculture through the lens of a tiny French villlage.

"In the opening scene of the film After Winter, Spring a French farmer name Guy spots the stony edges of an ancient farm tool peeking up through the ground in his field. He holds the tool in his hand, proof that people have cultivated the Périgord region in southwest France for more than 4000 years.

'That does something to you, to know we’re a speck of dust to all that has come before,' he says.

But the subject of director Judith Lit’s beautiful documentary, which captures the daily life of Périgord farmers, is not France’s deep agrarian history or its iconic cuisine. The story instead centers on the turbulent changes taking place in the country’s rural communities, as mega-farms and suburban development encroach.

To many, France may seem like it’s far ahead when it comes to food. It’s a nation where the cab drivers grow wine grapes, six-year olds prefers pâté, and it’s a given that the escarole is local. But After Winter, Spring makes clear that the “old ways” of agrarian life are under threat there as much as they are in the United States.

When Lit arrived in France 16 years ago from San Francisco, it was easy to romanticize the European countryside as a timeless keeper of tradition. The small village where she bought a house had just 100 people, charming stone walls, and the sound of cowbells echoed in the surrounding hills.

But Lit recognized the warning signs, in part because the 'get big or get out' mentality had forced her own father to sell her family’s farm in Pennsylvania. What she saw in Périgord mirrored the situation she had witnessed in the States: aging farmers, shrinking profit margins, and a younger generation uninterested in taking up their parents’ work. After Winter, Spring is her response, based on four years of intimate interviews with the men and women of her new home.

'In the beginning, it was a documentary about what had been lost,' Lit says. 'But each person was dealing with change differently. Change is inevitable. What is it to change and what continues?' ..."


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"Must see! Must share with USA farmers whose link to traditional practices has faded. This is an important and original film."
Richard McCarthy, Executive Director, Slow Food USA