Documentary features farm family's transition to regenerative ag

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
The Richards family ranch in California was featured in an online documentary about regenerative agriculture and the generational differences of family.

As regenerative agriculture continues to take hold among evolving farm practices, one California ranching family showed their experience to the world – through a 24-minute YouTube documentary called "A New (Re)Generation."

The Richards family ranch, located in Oregon House, Calif. about 70 miles north of Sacramento, was first established in 1941 four generations ago. Carrie Richards says her great-grandfather, grandfather and now her father all led the farm through the years, and her family has helped run the business for about six years.

But Richards and her father take different approaches to their ranching styles. She said her dad is more of a traditional farmer, but she always asked why things were done a certain way. So when she found out about regenerative agriculture, she brought it to the farm table and hoped to make some changes despite the generational differences.

Carrie Richards

"It started off very complicated, but now he's really seen that some of these holistic

practices are actually paying off. ... He's just really loosened up on telling me what to do all the time," Richards said. "He is a more traditionalist grazer and so the only thing we really battled over is purchasing inputs, and I'm all about not purchasing inputs. ... It's a family affair."

The documentary is directed by three-time Emmy winner Mallory Cunningham, who also worked on the 2018 documentary "The Biggest Little Farm" that chronicles the story of a 200-acre farm's journey to becoming more sustainable. Cunningham said that she finds a lot of popular environmental and farming media to be too clinical and scientific, preventing the audience from truly engaging with the people of each story.

Mallory Cunningham

"As a person, I'm just always interested in other human stories and think that that's really what can turn into affection towards issues, seeing yourself in another person's story," Cunningham said. "What I pitched to (Kiss the Ground) was ... a series based on farmers (to) tell their stories and really highlight not just what the struggle is with the land, but also the human element, like Carrie's multiple generations of her family."

While the documentary focuses on bringing regenerative agriculture to the Richards ranch, it also focuses on family issues within the Richards clan. The family patriarch wanted to stick with more traditional methods, but eventually, Richards said, he came around and began to see alternative methods pay off.

Richards said her methods stem from what she learned at the Savory Institute, a non-profit that seeks to teach farmers and other members of the agriculture industry about sustainability, food security and climate change. She embraces "holistic management," which she said has made it easier to plan for the ranch in both the wet and dry California seasons.

"Here in California, it's extremely seasonal – there's rain season, and then there's no rain," Richards said. "Learning how to manage those two extreme opposites has been really challenging, but with the holistic framework of going out and looking at your pastures ... (with) all these tips and tricks that I've learned, the seasons have been less challenging every year."

Cunningham said the unique lens through which the Richards family is viewed in the documentary engages the audience in a different way than normal. She approaches her films by wanting to connect with the "boots on the ground," which helps the audience to better spread the message.

"I think it's from people like us," Cunningham said. "(It's) people talking about it and really starting to learn the importance and feel the effects. For myself, I do filmwork, but mostly I feel like I just talk about it and connect people with places."

Now, Cunningham said she's stepping away from film to help build a regenerative community garden, spending as many as 12 hours a day working on it.

"A New (Re)Generation" will be free for viewing, said Kate Oliva, vice president of content and education programs for Kiss the Ground, the non-profit that produced the film. She said it's part of their overall mission to get people aware and excited about regenerative agriculture and other sustainable farming methods. Oliva said films like this help farmers see how possible it really is to just start doing it today.

Kate Oliva

"Kiss the Ground's mission is to awaken people to the possibilities," Oliva said. "The main ways that we're focused on letting people know about this and spreading the word on the principles and the idea of it, and the viability of it as a practice, is through telling stories like Carrie's, which are so important. It shows the human side of this. We watched her story and we understand this is possible, and that it is profitable, and it is happening, maybe in my own backyard."

Giving a voice to the regenerative ag movement is one of the most important parts of this film, Oliva said, which gives these farmers a "powerful platform." She added that Kiss the Ground will continue to tell farmers' stories in popular media through more films and episodic series. One such series highlighting farmers across the country will premiere in April 2022.