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Documentaries

Hearth & Harvest

 

Introduction

The story of Pennsylvania agriculture is expansive, complex and vital. For more than three hundred years, farming in the state has had an indelible influence on the science, process and culture of farming in the United States. In addition, Pennsylvania farmers continue to make significant contributions to American agriculture as it evolves in the 21st century.

This seminal legacy is chronicled and celebrated in WVIA’s ambitious original documentary film Hearth and Harvest. The one-hour high-definition presentation cinematically juxtaposes history and heritage with contemporary practices and issues to convey the chance, challenge and culture of farming in the Keystone State. From seed to sprawl, from topography to tax credits, from Guernseys to global warming and boom or bust, Hearth and Harvest travels throughout the state to discover the state of farming in Pennsylvania today.

The Story

The United States grew in the late 18th century from an agrarian sensibility, and Pennsylvania served as the “breadbasket of America.” Immigrant farmers attracted by religious freedom and economic opportunity brought European grains, fruits and livestock to the state’s similar climate and soil. Their early innovations— such as crop rotation, the Pennsylvania Barn and Conestoga wagon—contributed to Pennsylvania becoming the young nation’s leader in food production.

As the 19th century progressed, Pennsylvania farmers invented and refined mechanized means of farming, such as threshers, reapers and seed drills. To promote the use of scientific agriculture by the state’s future generations of farmers, a “Farmer’s High School” was established in the mid-1800’s from which evolved the Pennsylvania State University. During this time heavy industries such as steel, coal mining and manufacturing began to mature, but farming remained Pennsylvania’s predominant industry, and farm culture—built on hard work, self-reliance, cooperation, and deep religious faith—sustained itself despite the eternal challenge of weather and increasing competition from developing agricultural producers in other regions of the country.

Pennsylvania’s modern era of agriculture became defined by both diversified and regionally specialized farming. An expanding state and national population began to require high volumes of dairy and crop products, which led to greater productivity in milk, poultry, fruit and market garden production. Ironically, as demand and productivity increased, the number of farms in the state fell throughout the 20th century when urban opportunity developed and people left rural culture.

Today, there are almost 60,000 farms in Pennsylvania, occupying a quarter of the state’s 28 million acres. Agribusiness is a $45 billion dollar industry, employing more than two million people. Ten percent of that revenue comes directly from agriculture. The state ranks fourth in the nation in dairy production, first in mushroom production, hardwood production and Christmas tree farms, and is in the top ten in the production of four vegetable—pumpkins, sweet corn, snap beans, and cantaloupe.

The modern agricultural era also introduced modern consequences to Pennsylvania’s natural resources. Pollution, soil erosion and industrial agriculture have had profound effects on farmers across the state. Urban sprawl has converted more than 2000 square miles of fields, open space and natural land. Market and meteorological conditions maintain risk as farming’s most consistent commodity And the average age of Pennsylvania’s farmers is 53-years-old.

In a culture where electricity became common less than eighty years ago, Pennsylvania agriculture has entered its post-modern era and is reappraising its economic practices and its cultural identity. Innovative political initiatives are empowering every facet of agribusiness in the state to pursue new ideas and new markets. From the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to the front porch steps of the farmhouse, Pennsylvania agriculture is moving into its fourth century proud of its past, and focused on its future. 

The Presentation

Hearth and Harvest follows a chronological year in the life of Pennsylvania farmers, beginning with the Farm Show in Harrisburg in January and concluding with the traditional end of the harvest season. Within this narrative structure, the documentary conveys contemporary agriculture in Pennsylvania from seed to shelf through the evocative voices of the farmers themselves.

To achieve this, research is being conducted to “cast” one farmer in each of Penn State’s six Cooperative Extension regions whose farm visually represents a range of agricultural detail, such as principal crop commodities, a bicentennial family farm, a corporate farming enterprise, organic, livestock and dairy farming, forest products, women and minority farmers, the Amish, and migrant labor.

Each farm is visited twice, once in the planting season, and once in the harvest season. During these visits, footage is shot and interviews are conducted that explore key agricultural concepts—from farming and conservation practices to pricing and weather concerns to leading-edge resource management and marketing strategies.

Within these topics, farmers also share their insights into other important facets of farming, such as technology, biotechnology, global warming and public policy. Supporting interviews that provide context to the farmers’ remarks will be shot with agriculture professionals at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences

Interviews will also be conducted with food professionals in the retail sector and with historians who connect topic sequences with Pennsylvania’s 300-years of farming heritage. Archival images acquired from historical societies statewide pictorially document bedrock traditions of women and children on the farm, county fairs, antique tractors, and quilting and canning, while original cinematography captures Pennsylvania farming’s future icons in laser saws, robotic cow milking and GPS yield monitoring and mapping.

Transitions between content sequences convey key facts about Pennsylvania agriculture through on-screen text laid over long-lens and aerial cinematography of agricultural vistas across the state. These transitions create a breathing space within the narrative, and provide the audience with important details about agriculture’s essential value to the state. 

Conclusion

Pennsylvania farmers have quietly and courageously contributed to the American way of life for more than three hundred years. Hearth and Harvest reveals this amazing legacy, created from character and ingenuity. In doing so, WVIA’s original documentary demonstrates agriculture’s essential contribution to Pennsylvania’s economy and instills in viewers an appreciation and pride in the once and future “farmer’s heaven.” 

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