'Harvest of Grief' comes to Spencer

Friday, June 25, 2010

Producer Basu will join panel discussion

"I've lost three sons. My heart is torn apart. Wouldn't yours be?" the documentary "Harvest of Grief" quotes one Indian mother.

"I had two sons and both are gone," another woman says in the documentary's trailer. "One committed suicide and the other died naturally."

This is the picture in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab, where more than 40,000 farmers have committed suicide, according to the film.

"Harvest of Grief," produced by Rasil Basu -- the 86-year-old former civil rights lawyer from New Delhi -- and directed by Anwar Jamal, details the plight of Punjab farmers, which prompts many to take their own lives.

The American debut occurred on June 13 in front of a full Fleur Cinema and Cafe in Des Moines, where Basu's daughter Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Basu will be bringing the film to Arts on Grand in Spencer for just its second showing on American soil.

Following the hourlong featured presentation, Basu will join eight local, agriculturally minded experts for a panel discussion. Topics will include a comparison between the situation in Punjab and the farm crisis of the 1980s, the Green Revolution, the plight of farmers, small farms, crop choices and the many realities that affect farming, including government policy.

Moderating the discussion will be H Schar, whose resumé includes Peace Corps experience in the African countries of Zaire and Benin.

"In his professional life he has mostly worked in African countries as an international agricultural economist," event organizer Jan Myers said.

Everly native Mike Eaton identifies himself as an "all natural" farmer, who now has a 12-acre plot near Fostoria, where he grows fruit trees, strawberries and other produce.

Anthony Vodraska and Anita Gilbert are a husband and wife team with interests in arts and gardening. Before returning to Spencer where Vodraska graduated, he worked 20 years for the United States Agency for International Development, with the majority of that tenure occurring in Africa and the Philippines. Before retiring, Vodraska served as program mission director in Botswana.

Born and raised on a farm northwest of Spencer, Randy Wiemers has experience as a pre-marketer for the pork division of Iowa Beef Producers. He went on to work as an agronomist for five years, before farming independently for 15 years. For the past eight years, he has worked as a research associate in the Monsanto corn research station near Royal.

Since first renting a farm at the age of 12, Dwight Rutter has been involved in Iowa agriculture for 64 years. After marrying his wife Bev, he established a hog farm.

Together the couple "fought corporate agriculture in the 1990s," he contends. Now owners of Prairie Flower, they have been featured in the documentary "As We Sow," which can now be viewed at youtube.com.

Steve Grell and Patrick Jones round out the field of local panelists.

Grell was born and raised on a rural Cushing farm and graduated from Augustana College with an accounting degree. He has worked in agricultural banks in Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota, where he was elected as president and CEO of First Bank in Pipestone at the age of 30. His 37-year tenure included managing problem loans during the farm crisis.

Grell is now employed by Community State Bank in Spencer.

Jones operates a family-owned dairy and farm with his wife Nancy and three grown children. Together they milk 700 Jersey cattle.

"I think we have an interesting blend from international and local perspectives, from big and small operations, from natural and genetically modified (approaches)," Myers said.

She looks forward to bringing the conversation to Spencer and hopes that as many people as possible will take advantage of the rare and unique opportunity.

"I know there's a lot going on... but some times I think we don't give enough discussion to farming and agriculture even though we're in a pocket of it," she said, later adding she does not know how many attendees to expect.

She continued by emphasizing the core of Saturday's event: the global aspect of agriculture.

"Mark Twain once wrote 'If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by the act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor's crop, which may not need rain and can be injured by it,'" she shared.

In all, Myers is pleased to welcome a different perspective from a completely different corner of the world.

"It's amazing that a person from New Delhi would come here and speak to us," she concluded. "I definitely think it will be a worthwhile event and a mind-stretching one."

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