According to the cover of my promotional DVD, "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" is "the epic tale of a maverick Midwestern farmer." They weren't kidding.
The documentary, about an eccentric and flamingly straight farmer named John Peterson, is an intriguing and equally odd story of social stigma, timeless hardship and rising above adversity in the heartland of Illinois. Still not sure what this movie is about? Okay...
John Peterson has been a farmer from birth, and has lived in the same place his entire life. His father mastered farming through the Great Depression and up to his death in the 1960's. As with all farmers, John had his own ups and downs. Amazingly flamboyant and eccentric, John dresses and sounds like a flaming gay man, but he loves to farm and has a relationship with a woman. He just likes to dress in very strange clothing, has a rather gay-sounding voice and is probably a bit more liberal than most of his neighbors. Along with the normal hardships of farming (he has to completely sell his farm at one point, a devastating blow), several of his neighbors do the unthinkable. Rumors spread that he is a Satan-worshipping drug dealer, he is threatened with murder, and his home is burned to the ground, but despite all that, he bounces back to build one of the largest community-supported agriculture farms in the United States.
The documentary, a mixture of interviews, past and current footage, audio recordings and more, is a great little gem. It likely will never receive the widespread appeal it deserves, and isn't as captivating as some of the "great" documentaries that have come out over recent years, but still deserves its time to shine.
America loves stories of riches-to-rags-to-riches, and "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" is one of the most remarkable stories I've heard. Against all odds, John Peterson seems to keep bouncing back in amazing fashion (literally).
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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