The Fall and Rise of Farmer John

| November / December 2005

Foreclosure, film crews, free spirits -- ain't nothing that a country boy can't hack

One of America's enduring myths, honed by a thousand jokes and films, is that our farmers are ignorant, backward, and conservative. Sure, there's one in every bunch. In truth, farming demands intelligence, curiosity, and creativity, and that may be why the profession has given us more than its fair share of reformers and radicals.

Take John Peterson, the subject of the new documentary film The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Peterson, a third-generation northern Illinois agriculturist, is one farmer who single-handedly flattens the rube stereotype. He's handy with a tractor and haybine, and he's also an oddball artist who is unafraid to prance through his cornfields in a bee costume (complete with black-and-yellow tights and gossamer wings). Peterson is, to say the least, a complex character.