Asparagus! (A Stalk-umentary)

05:57 min
Director: Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare
Producer: Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare

Winner of the Good Food Award


More About Asparagus! (A Stalk-umentary) from Directors and Producers Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare

Three years ago, we set out to make a film about the self-proclaimed Asparagus Capital of the Nation, the tiny rural community in western Michigan where Kirsten grew up in the 1970s and 80s. As the daughter of an asparagus farmer, Kirsten spent her childhood working on the farm and was a proud member of the pre-teen asparagus dance troupe The Oceana Stalkers. There was no question that asparagus was huge in Oceana County. Hailed as Green Gold, it was exactly what this poor rural community needed - a spring cash crop at the end of a long cold winter. Plus it was just about the only thing that would grow in their dry, sandy soil. Local merchants, housewives, and farmers banded together over the “Super Stalk.” They baked the world’s tallest asparagus cake, created “The Stalk” disco dance, and sang their asparagus songs all the way to the White House.

Asparagus was King in Oceana County. Then came the U.S. War on Drugs. In 1991, when cocaine imports were at an all time high, The U.S. signed the Andean Trade Preference Act, eliminating all import tariffs on South American asparagus. The idea was that South American farmers would stop growing cocaine and start growing asparagus. Ten years later, the U.S. continues to send huge subsidies to Peru for their alternative crop program, but it was asparagus that exploded there, even though it grows in entirely different regions than cocaine! The Free Trade band wagon was moving fast, with NAFTA bringing an additional flood of Mexican asparagus. Now, China has started exporting their asparagus to the U.S!

But where does all this leave the “‘Asparagus Capital of the Nation”? In June of 2002, Kirsten invited Anne to visit the National Asparagus Festival and we found a community’s identity at stake. Oceana County’s pride and joy was in direct contrast with the speed with which their most valuable crop was being taken away. We realized that what was happening in Oceana County brought up really big questions about American identity and global economics, and about what gives a community a center. With the Foreign Policy decisions the U.S. Government is making today, how can a small community keep its pride, identity and source of economic survival?

The following spring we descended on Oceana County with a small film crew and began talking to people about asparagus, their lives, and their livelihoods. As we filmed, two distinct stories began to emerge: one about asparagus collections, a Super Stalk comic book hero, 7-foot tall asparagus costumes and the heart of a community’s identity; and another story about family farms, the U.S. War on Drugs, and an overwhelming fight for a place in the Global Economy.

Over the course of our filming things started looking worse and worse for Oceana’s asparagus growers. Two of the country’s largest asparagus processors shut their doors and relocated to Peru. Asparagus flooded the U.S. market and prices dropped. But the U.S. farmers were not about to dig up their roots — they were pulling up their bootstraps and entering into an extraordinary battle! They were funding their own research, traveling to Washington for Senate Trade Hearings, and developing new value-added asparagus products in order to compete.

The result is a film about one of the last great success stories in American agriculture — where the right soil, the right crop, and the right timing allowed a feisty farm community to rise to the heights of the American Dream. And it’s the story of how their own government’s policies now threaten to take it all away. This short raises some of the important questions explored in the 72-minute feature-length version of the film.


economic justice, environment, Media That Matters 6, Media That Matters: Good Food,
Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works


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