Minnesota farm featured in ‘Farmland’ documentary
By Mikkel Pates / Agweek Magazine
RGO, N.D. — Ryan Veldhuizen isn’t hinting exactly what his message will be in his role in the documentary movie “Farmland,” which will be released nationally in theaters. But he says he’s looking forward to being one of six U.S. farmers to take the message onto a national stage.
The movie premiered in a New York City film festival and will play in theaters in the region, with an invitation-only showing on April 30 in Fargo, N.D. It will be available to the public May 1.
All of this is a new experience for Veldhuizen.
“About a year ago, I got a call from Los Angeles, asking me if I wanted to do a movie,” says Veldhuizen, 27, who farms with his family in Edgerton, Minn. At first, he wondered if he should be suspicious. After some fact checking, he found out the project was sponsored by farm groups, so he got on board.
“It’s easy to so sit there and say, ‘We’ve got to do something about the image of our industry,’” Veldhuizen says. “I figured this was a way to have our voice heard in a reasonable way.”
Filmmaker James Moll was creating a documentary that was underwritten by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance of Chesterfield, Mo., a group of organizations including the National Pork Producers. The organizations offered a list of 500 names, which were winnowed to six subjects for the movie. Their stories will be told in a 77-minute production, with interwoven story lines.
“I think James Moll wanted to show the diversity of farming,” says Lisa Cassady, USFRA internal communications manager, about how Veldhuizen was selected. She says the movie shows diversity in geography and farming enterprise.
A family affair
The Veldhuizens had been named 2013 Pork Family of the Year in Minnesota.
“I think one of the biggest things that set us (apart) was that we’re a four-generation farm, and that all of my siblings are actively involved in the farm,” Veldhuizen says.
Veldhuizen’s farm has a typical heritage for this corner of Agweek country. The family has been in the region since 1911. Today the farm includes his parents, Chris and Clare Veldhuizen, as well as his older sister, Melissa Prouty and her husband, Brad. Another sister, Krista Bos, is in the operation with her husband, along with Ryan’s younger brother, Chistiann Jay Elliot Veldhuizen.
Ryan Veldhuizen’s grandparents milked cows until 1986, when they sold the herd in the federal dairy buyout. Chris Veldhuizen went into farrowing full-time. In 1994, the family went into a hog production system at the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic and Production System, one of the largest production systems in the nation.
The Veldhuizens own pigs from sow to finish, but farrow in two off-site specialized facilities. The Veldhuizens market about 30,000 hogs annually. They have about 14,000 on feed at any given time. Hogs are marketed through Hormel and mainly go to a market at Freemont, Neb., near Omaha.
The family also raises corn, wheat and soybeans, mostly on nonirrigated land.
“We’ve had good luck raising (wheat) farming on a three-way rotation,” Veldhuizen says. “We’re going more and more into it.”
Veldhuizen says he’s known he wanted to be a farmer since he was very young.
He remembers thinking it was the “coolest thing ever” to drive a tractor. He graduated high school in 2005 and went on to take agronomy and ag engineering at Dordt College, a Christian Reformed Church college in Sioux Center, Iowa. After a year there, he transferred to South Dakota State University in Brookings, where he completed his general agriculture degree in 2010.
A new experience
Being part of a movie has been an unusual experience.
Crews came to the farm several times in 2013 — two days in March, two days in April, a day or two in May and a couple more times through the summer.
“They just wanted to follow me in everyday life, doing what I do on a day-to-day basis,” Veldhuizen says.
Some of the scenes involve meals with the family, going to church and farming activities. He spent a fair amount of time with the movie-maker, sitting down and answering questions.
“James wanted to get an overall perspective of farmers from our point of view,” Veldhuizen says. “He wanted to cover every topic he absolutely could to make sure he told the story correctly. That man tried his utmost.”
Veldhuizen attended the premier at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, and saw a private screening on April 17. While he’s not budging to say what his message is in the movie, it’s a safe bet he’ll be optimistic. He acknowledges that we are in the “glory days of agriculture,” but he’s in it for life, with all its rewards and risks.