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Dam Days film screening aims to shine a light on farmers

Farmers for America will be shown Saturday, Sept. 22 as part of Spring Valley Dam Days. Submitted image

A local organic farming group hopes an uplifting documentary on the challenges of the farming industry can bring area farmers together.

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service is partnering with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and other farming organizations to screen the film "Farmers for America" on Sept. 22 at the Stagehands Theatre during the Spring Valley Dam Days festival. The film tackles the negatively perceived shifting landscape of U.S. farming — the growing average age of famers, low product prices and high input costs — and offers an optimistic counter through stories from a variety of young and old farmers.

"[The film] follows a bunch of different individual farmers," said Tom Manley, MOSES's account services coordinator. "It looks at the challenges they face, but it's also a very hopeful film."

Earlier this month, the Herald published an in-depth look into the challenges of the region's dairy industry. In the article, local farmers described the cost of dairy production being higher than the prices for almost three years — among other problems.

Despite the difficulties, Audrey Alwell, MOSES's communications director, said she hopes the film can bring together the broader community and a wide range of farmers in the roughly 200-seat theatre.

"Every aspect of farming ... is feeling the pinch with the prices, with the government programs," she said. "Our hope is to have farmers feel supported."

The screening is the first for MOSES, but it is part of a string of film screenings in the last year put on by event partner, the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Darin Von Ruden, president of the union's district directors, said the group wants to draw attention to the state of the agricultural economy with these types of films. The union put on about four screenings of "Farmers for America" in the last year, and he said the screenings' attendance are skewed heavily towards farmers.

"The film is kind of telling what is going on in rural America right now, and has been for about two years," Von Ruden said. "It would be better if there were more non-farmers that see it."

A panel discussion follows the Spring Valley screening, where a wide range of farmers from numerous production backgrounds will discuss the film. Manley said even though MOSES is an organic farming organization, they want anyone to be able to attend and hear from a matching voice.

The group hopes the event can showcase some of its resources, Manley said. The group offers things like an organic farming hotline, a farmer mentoring program and others that he said can appeal to non-organic farmers.

"It's less about the production model," he said. "We're all in this together and our voice is not going to be heard unless we have a loud and unified voice."

The Menomonie Market Food Co-op is providing free refreshments during the screening; other partners for the event include Pierce County Farm Bureau and St. Croix County Farm Bureau. Manley said MOSES hopes a free will donation box can fund local students' trips to the organization's national conference in La Crosse in February 2019.

The film, panel discussion and MOSES's open house take place 1-4 p.m. at the Stagehands Theatre on Sept. 22.

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