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'Fresh' growing in popularity despite lack of distributor

Documentary focusing on sustainable agriculture to be shown in Chicago next week

By Mary Owen | Special to the Tribune

Article from The Chicago Tribune

A movie about the reinvention of the U.S. food system deals with some timely issues as contaminated food scares abound and shoppers are wary about where their vegetables were grown.

"Fresh," which debuts in Chicago on Tuesday features farmers and business people across the country dedicated to sustainable agriculture, such as an industrial pig farmer who exterminated his entire herd to start a more sustainable farm. "It's empowering," said McCall Marshall, 24, who is bringing the movie to Chicago.

"The movie tries to inspire people. It doesn't try to scare them."

Marshall, who works at a Chicago business marketing agency and is not part of any sustainable food organization, is an example of the grass-roots nature of the sustainable foods movement that focuses on local production; little or no pesticides; non-wasteful use of water and soil; and humane treatment of workers and animals.

"Fresh," directed by Ana Sofia Joanes opened in late May with a handful of public screenings held in places such as Washington, D.C., and California. "While themovie does not have a distributor, it has garnered enormous interest from average citizens, such as Marshall, said Lisa Madison, a spokeswoman for the movie.

After watching "Food, Inc." another film critical of industrial food systems, Marshall read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and wanted to learn and do more.

When she couldn't find "Fresh" playing anywhere near Chicago, she went online and paid $20 for a movie license to show the movie to 20 people. She worked with a friend at Heartland Cafe, which owns No Exit Cafe, and arranged for a public screening.

When interest in the movie grew, she called "Fresh" to change her license to a 50-person screening.

"It's easier to watch an hour movie than read a 400-page book," she said.

Madison said they have received 200 licensing requests this month for home and small-venue screenings of "Fresh."

"I think it's a testament to the fact that you don't need to be part of an organization to know that something needs to be changed," she said. "The movie has hit a chord."

Pollan plays a prominent role in "Fresh" as does Virginia farmer Joel Salatin,who was made famous by Pollan in his book. Salatin's Polyface Farms is considered a model of sustainable agriculture, with his commitment to pastured poultry and grass-fed beef.

Joanes has said her film is not an attempt to scare people with images of manure lagoons, veal crates and contaminated food. She also counters arguments that healthy, organic food is too expensive.

The movie makes that point with Growing Power Inc. Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who started the company, which operates an elaborate farm in one of Milwaukee's most economically depressed neighborhoods and gardens in Chicago's Cabrini-Green area, Grant Park and Jackson Park.

Allen's Milwaukee farm is featured in the film, including his six greenhouses, goats, ducks, turkeys and chickens. There also are beehives and a system for raising tilapia and perch, an advanced composting operation and a lab that is working to turn food waste into fertilizer and methane gas.

Last year, Allen got a $500,000 "genius grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation which he is using to expand urban gardens nationwide.

"Fresh" debuts Tuesday at No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, visit To reserve a seat, e-mail [email protected].



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