It’s no surprise that small family farms are disappearing around the country, but what hasn’t really been touched on, until now, are the stories behind the families who have run them for generations. In The Big Table, an incredibly moving and informative film, director Ben Niles and co-producers Megan Wetherall and Molly Knight from Gravy Pictures present the reality of a dairy farmer’s life.
Wetherall, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, decided to trace a bottle of milk from the New York City Greenmarket directly to the source. She landed on Ronnybrook Farm, located in the Hudson Valley, where the Osofsky family has been milking cows in the small town of Pine Plains since the 1940s.
The Big Table, premiering at the 2011 NYC Food Film Festival, is the first of six short films the small production company plans on releasing. After watching the film below, you’re left with an understanding of the great sense of pride and love that goes into operating a small family farm, as well as the serious difficulties these farmers endure under current market pressures and economical demands.
With an honest and simple portrayal of the family’s daily life, the film manages to perfectly balance humor and nostalgia with the reality of life as a farmer. And they manage to do it all without making you feel like you’re being lectured.
We spoke with Wetherall briefly to ask about the film and what some of the more surprising and shocking parts of the whole process were.
Why did you want to make this film?
Ben Niles, Molly Knight Raskin, and I came together around the kitchen table and started talking about how we really wanted to make a documentary about the food world. We got together and decided that we wanted to produce the story of people who created fundamental food products. We wanted to be regional within America, and we wanted to find producers who are still producing something in a very sustainable and local way and tell that story. Because, obviously, we make more and more industrial and processed foods and it’s harder and harder for the small guy to make ends meet and have a presence in the food market.
So we decided to form a small production company and called ourselves Gravy Pictures. We put in a lot of research into food pictures and, not surprisingly, we learned that more people are watching food television but less people are actually cooking. Food is still really important to people, whether or not you’re cooking. There are a large number of people who are watching food shows, but they are more removed from the source and focus more on celebrity chefs for example. We decided to make something more real, more local to the source.
We wanted to make a series, where our viewers could really connect with the characters and hopefully reconnect with the whole idea of being around the table, and being with friends and family and sharing a home-cooked meal. And we believe in the idea that there is a story behind everything that we eat and the more that you can know about that and the people who’ve created that story and the product, the more connected you’ll be to the source of your food and that inevitably enriches your whole experience of eating.
Our goal was to make something for television but that’s different from anything else out there and has that simplicity and character-driven feeling. We hope that people will watch this film and will be more thoughtful the next time they buy milk.