Vetter’s organic vision shared with local audience

The story of a Marquette family’s pioneering organic farming mission hit the big screen in Aurora Sunday with the first-ever local showing of a 77-minute documentary titled “Dreaming of a Vetter World.”

David Vetter has of course seen the film which depicts his life and life’s work many times, but admitted that it was a bit different watching it with a hometown audience.
“When you do something like that you always wonder how it’s going to be perceived locally because generally the perceptions are different than in other locations,” Vetter said. “But outside of some of the questions, the overall comments were very similar to what we’ve gotten in screenings in other parts of the country.”
Producer Bonnie Hawthorne was not in attendance Sunday, but reported from her home in California that reaction to the film, in her view, has exceeded  expectations.
“I have absolutely seen changes in people’s views because they’ve seen the film and because general awareness these days is different about a lot of things,” Hawthorne said.
Citing recent flooding throughout Nebraska and the Midwest as an example, Hawthorne said the Vetter World documentary could open some eyes as to how soil not treated year after year with chemicals is better able to soak up excess moisture. One piece of the film documented how the Vetter farm soaked up most of a six-inch rain overnight, while fields across the road farmed with more conventional methods remained flooded for more than a week.
“People are starting to look at the fact that climate change is real and we’re going to have to change some of our farm management systems,” Hawthorne said. “I think the model David has been experimenting with for 45 years is a good one, and it’s something people should look at. As time goes by I feel like more and more people are realizing that the Vetters are on the right side of history.”
Sunday’s showing drew a crowd of more than 100 to the 12th Street Cinema in Aurora. Guests were then invited to a question and answer session at The Ivy, which allowed Vetter and a guest panel to talk about the growth and challenges facing organic farming on a broader scale. A more detailed report on the Q&A session will appear in next week’s edition.

A personal story
Allison Vetter returned to the family farm for Saturday’s farm field day at The Grain Place and Sunday’s film screening. She knows the story well having lived it personally as the Vetter’s oldest child, and said it was moving to watch a local audience hear the story in great detail, many for the first time.
“In terms of viewing it and seeing my family on screen it’s emotional because it’s not only about the success of the farm, it’s a personal story,” she said. “My parents have been really good role models teaching us to leave your world wherever you are better than you found it. One thing you can say about my dad is that he is one person who lives the way he believes.
“It makes me very proud,” Allison continued. “I feel that farther away from Nebraska and in the organic community people know my dad and my grandfather, but their story and everything that happened in The Grain Place isn’t as well known locally. This film may be satisfying people’s curiosity a little bit about what’s been going on at The Grain Place all these years. Now there is a way to access that.”
David Vetter admitted that watching the film again and again is emotional for him, but for different reasons.
“I still have a hard time watching the piece about my wife,” he shared, referring to Rogean’s battle with Alzheimers. “In some respects it’s kind of hard to watch over and over again on those points.”
Vetter has made several trips across the country since the film’s debut showing last July in Lincoln. He’s attended screenings in California, Ohio and Arkansas, speaking each time to the audience.
“Things have come a long way in the last couple years and it looks like there will be more programs coming out of the university with cover cropping and things like that,” he said. “The more of that we have going out there the better it will be for everybody.”
Another observation Vetter made is that many of the questions from the audience are dealing with policy issues on a broader scale, not just specifics about crop rotation on the Vetter farm.
Hawthorne made that observation as well.
“The high profile lawsuits involving glyphosate is one good example,” she said. “Farmers were told in part that glyphosate was safe and now there are lawsuits where juries are deciding that people haven’t gotten the whole story from big industry. There is growing general awareness these days about a lot of different things.”

A four-year process
Hawthorne, the film’s director, cinematographer, editor, writer and narrator, became enthralled with David Vetter’s vision for organic farming, so much so that she “put her life on hold” and spent four years researching, filming and editing a story centered around the Vetter family farm and Grain Place Foods.
“I met David at a conference in California and I just found him fascinating,” she explained last year when the film was first shown. “He was really instrumental in getting organic farming up and running and I always wanted to shoot my own film, so that’s kind of how this happened.”
Hawthorne tells the story of the family’s decades-long experiment with a self-renewing farm management system, beginning with the late Don Vetter’s decision to re-evaluate the way he was going about his business.
“The story begins with Don returning home from World War II and being an early adopter of the new agricultural uses of chemicals that were developed during wartime,” Hawthorne said. “Don (who died in 2015) did a lot of custom spraying and he decided after a few years of using these things that they didn’t do what they claimed, and secondly he was starting to see real damage. He knew the soil was a living thing and it bothered him that he was putting what he called poison on the soil.
David Vetter rejoined the family farming operating in 1975 and has since become a visionary leader in the organic realm.
“David to this day calls what they do an experiment,” Hawthorne said. “It’s an experiment that’s been going on now for 45 years. It’s successful, and it’s a model of how other people could farm if they chose to.”

New podcast
Hawthorne conducted interviews with 38 other organic leaders, local farmers and scientists. In fact, she announced Monday that many of those interviews didn’t make the cut, but will soon be aired on her podcast, available at
“You can’t put everything into one film,” she said. “It was already 77 minutes long. The web posts will dive much deeper into all of this stuff.”
The Vetter World documentary has been shown at 27 different events from California to New York, with more scheduled in the weeks ahead. The film has won two awards, including Best of Fest at the Oneota Film Festival in Decorah, Iowa, and the Special Award for Ecological Responsibility from the Common Good Film Festival in Claremont, Calif.

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