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Two New Films Paint Starkly Different Pictures of Farming in America

'Biggest Little Farm' and ‘Farmsteaders’ both showcase hardworking farmers on the land, and raise questions about economic realities.

“I have a bunch of fantasies,” Celeste Nolan said over the phone from southeastern Ohio, about improvements that would make her farm more sustainable. “My dream world was that someone would put us on reality TV and show us doing all these different projects to make a sustainable farm, and then at the end of it, I’d have biodiesel, and I’d have a windmill, I’d have all of these different things. How to pay to do those things… I haven’t figured that out yet.”

It was a Thursday, and Nolan was off the farm delivering cheese. It’s one of her many recurring farm tasks, some of which are depicted in Farmsteaders, an intimate documentary that aired as part of PBS’ POV series in September. In the film, viewers watch her wheel a standard blue-and-white picnic cooler into a restaurant kitchen in Columbus, with small children in tow. By turning the lens on the daily grind of farm life, filmmaker Shaena Mallett chronicles the challenges of supporting a family on a small, grass-based dairy farm in rural America.

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