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Warning: Anthony-Masterson's Award-Winning Movie Grow! May Make You Quit Your Office Job (or Never Get One in the First Place)

Posted Jul 31 2012 7:36am
It is sweat-pouring-down-the-back-of-legs hot right now in metro-Atlanta, so when someone offers you lemonade, you take it, its condensation dripping down the sides of the fat glass tumbler, its ice melting in moments.  Windows open, cicadas chirping, you settle in on the couch and nibble a fresh scone and chat.  

You find out about a boy (a son of an artist and entrepreneur) who grew up in Staten Island, New York "before the bridge" (as in, the Verrazanno) that changed it, who spent his days tying together driftwood rafts and making up stories. You discover that across the country, in the Los Angeles valley, a self-proclaimed tomboy in suburbia tinkered and created, project after project, building this and that, sewing her own clothes, hanging out with guys.  The boy and the girl eventually meet in San Francisco, well, not yet, not until after the band and the modeling and the acting (him) and the construction jobs and time in the hippie hen house (her).  And before long, these two individuals, Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson, are hyphenated.  Anthony-Masterson.  Not in their marriage (where they retain their own names) but in their business partnership.    
                                  Try to define Anthony-Masterson and you'll come up short.  They're photographers, right?  Well, yes, they taught themselves how to shoot photos and went pro at it, supplying massive amounts of stock photography to Getty Images and shooting for national magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens and Veranda for years Realizing they could live anywhere, they picked up and moved from L.A. (where they had made their way after San Francisco) to Atlanta.  They found a terrific climate for growing food (and they are used to good, fresh food from living on the West Coast and from food-styling for photos), but where were the local farmers?  "Is there a secret password for finding them?" they wondered. This was six or seven years ago, keep in mind, before the explosion in farmers markets and know-your-farmer.
They tap in, meet amazing people changing the face of agriculture, and volunteer to shoot photos for Georgia Organics (a member-supported not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting sustainable foods and local farms in Georgia).  Beautiful stuff.  Gripping.  Pause-and-look-in-the-eyes personal.  The next logical step is to "make the pictures move," (even though they've never done this professionally before) and they shoot public service announcements as part of the campaign (you can see them here ).  
                                      meanwhile, on Jenny-Jack Farm
"Summer is a mid-day dash to the pond to cool off.  Summer is windows up, fan blowing, sleeping naked.  Summer is never ending a conversation without cursing the heat or hoping for rain.  At the end of the day, a slight breeze comes in and it cools down a tad and we can go on the front porch, have friends and family meet around the table and eat fried okra, creamed corn, purple hull peas with pepper relish, sliced tomatoes, corn bread, and sweet tea, and that's summer's redemptive quality, that evening meal straight from the garden."  --Chris Jackson

Moving pictures?  Fun!  A short film named Farm! follows, shot entirely on a cheapo Flip camera (yeah, like the one I use).  The stories they find are more and more interesting to them.  Something's happening here, they realize.  In a country where the average age of a farmer is 57, they are finding more and more full-time farmers under the age of 40 who are college-educated (having majored in everything from pre-med to accounting, biosystems engineering to chemistry), committed to organic and sustainable growing practices, and making a living doing what they love.  A few have returned to the family farm (and transformed it) but most are landless. These farmer-wannabees partnered with landowners and mentors who are passionate about preserving their land and are willing to take the financial risk to put it or keep it in production, or with organizations such as a Mennonite church and a boy's home that want the healthy food and rehabilitative benefits of a professionally-managed small farm operation on their grounds for their constituents.
                                        meanwhile, on W.H. Hennessey Farm
"I guess any worthwhile job is going to have challenging components to it--that's what makes this interesting and, at the end of the day, worthwhile.  People always tell you to do what you love.  If you're doing what you love, it doesn't seem like work.  I'd much rather be out in the field in August than behind a desk anytime of the year."   --William Hennessey

And so grows, well, GROW! (following the purchase of grown-up film-making equipment).
GROW! takes a look at this new generation of sustainable farmers through the eyes, hearts and minds of 20 passionate, idealistic and fiercely independent young growers. In the film, the farmers themselves speak of both the joys and the challenges involved in tending the land. Filmed on 12 farms throughout the state of Georgia during an entire growing season, GROW! provides an honest and inspiring look at this next generation of farmers. (Here's the trailer .)
Photos courtesy of Anthony-Masterson
This full-length movie (associate-produced by Georgia Organics) blasts onto the national and international festival scenes and took home prize after prize.  Winner: Best Documentary.  Winner: Audience Choice.  Winner: Best of Category.  Winner: Best Feature.  And on and on and on.
                                         meanwhile, on Hope Grows Farm
"Sometimes I get frustrated but part of the Zen of farming is expanding your own patience, your own grace, in the face of adversity.  On the worst day you can say 'I'm outside, I control my own destiny, I'm gonna' sit down and have a good dinner tonight and the sun is going to come up tomorrow and we can do it again.'"  --Arianne McGinnis

Photo courtesy of Anthony-Masterson
I've watched the movie four times now over a one-year period,  including screenings at both the Chattahoochee Nature Center and Oglethorpe University, plus twice at home so I could stop and record my favorite quotes (featured throughout this post), linger on gorgeous scenes (loading the truck at Serenbe, the farm-to-table dinner at Jenny-Jack Farm, Darby and the basil, and the musical trio Little Country Giants performing in a grassy meadow at Riverview Farms) that are sure to make at least one office worker quit and head to the fields (as being a sustainable farmer has miraculously become a secure job choice in today's marketplace, as more than one young farmer states in this movie), and bask in the fun of the 30-minutes of bonus features.  (See a whole pile of clips from the movie here .)  What I didn't find in this movie (thankfully!): charts and footage showing us how bad things have gotten in our industrial food system. What I did find in this movie:  Joy. Beauty. Love. A true celebration of lives being lived intentionally.  What an incredible, decadent anecdote to the barrage of depressing coverage out there! 
                                       meanwhile, on Riverview Farms
"I grew up on this farm.  We decided to move back to all the potential we had here.  That's the only thing that made sense.  Otherwise, you wake up in the morning, and you tend to get anxious if it's springtime and you know it's time to be planting and you're running around doing something else . . . We're not necessarily backing up 50, 60, 70 years, but just getting back on the land and growing something.  Doing something.  Producing something."  --Wes Swancy

                                       meanwhile, back at Anthony-Masterson
And just when you think it's over, it's not.  Anthony-Masterson is proud to announce their next feature film, on which they have already begun work. It will be a national look at a diverse selection of female veterans of war who return home and create new lives as farmers. 

                             meanwhile, here at my little place in the world
It is 6:30 AM.  Chickens are waking somewhere (not in my backyard, where they would be illegal).  The sun is about to rise, and sweat is sure to pour down backs of legs yet again today. I see Jenny Jackson's beautiful face in my mind and hear the slight lilt of her voice say the very first words from Grow!
"To put your hands in the earth, to watch things grow right before your eyes everyday, it's pretty amazing." --Jenny Jackson
And I wonder what will grow today for me, for you, for these young farmers and farmers everywhere, and for Anthony-Masterson and others who tell the stories that not only need telling but are a joy to tell.
Consider doing yourself a favor.  Make a glass of lemonade, or perhaps some sweet tea.  Sit on the couch in the cool of your home on this sure-to-be hot summer day--windows open, fans blowing, naked--and watch Grow! ( You can order it here .) And trust-fall into the world's energy (as Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson have done their whole lives) and see what happens next.

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