In rural Appalachia, an Army veteran is battling the federal government to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp on American soil. But his project is about more than a single crop—it’s about restoring a sense of place and giving family farmers new opportunities to sustain an endangered way of life.
About the Film
Fibershed, a nonprofit dedicated to regenerative textile farming, used funds from a Patagonia Environmental Grant to provide practical support for the reintroduction of industrial hemp as a commercial crop on American soil. Directed by Dan Malloy and shot on location in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., Harvesting Liberty profiles farmer, father and Army veteran Michael Lewis—and shows how a plant so important to the country’s past can help grow a more promising future for small-scale family farms.
Reconnecting Through Agriculture
by Dan Malloy
Ten years ago, just before a 17-hour flight to Indonesia, I stood in front of a giant wall of magazines searching for something worthwhile to read. Glistening nether regions, outrageous headlines, sugar-coated treats and self-help tips dominated my field of view. Stuffed in the back, however, in a negative space that drew me towards it, was a slim black and white periodical with no advertising called The Sun.
In it was an interview with author and farmer Wendell Berry and what would become the impetus for our short film Harvesting Liberty. Mr. Berry explained clearly that industrialized agriculture has inflicted “a kind of cultural amnesia” on our society. In other words, the chasm that has been created between the people raising our food, and us (the ones eating it) is doing more damage than we are capable of quantifying.
It is safe to say that Mr. Berry and his cohorts (Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva and Gary Snyder, to name just a few) have changed how I see my place in this world. They have challenged me to, as Snyder said, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
I now view the deliberate participation in healthy food-and-fiber systems as engaged activism that requires less fighting against and more working for—same goals, by the way, just less bureaucracy.
In Harvesting Liberty, we had the amazing opportunity to document the work and vision of Michael Lewis and Rebecca Burgess, two folks who have dedicated their lives to reestablishing meaningful connections to their communities and the natural world through agriculture.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Rebecca Burgess for inviting us on her journey and for introducing us to the forward-thinking visionary redneck Michael Lewis. I’d also like to thank the Lewis family for welcoming us (and our cameras) into their home in the midst of raising a family, farming and finishing college.
ALL PHOTOS: DONNIE HEDDEN