FREDERICKTOWN — The end promised new beginnings at the premiere of a rough-cut edit of the documentary, “The Changing Face of the Family Farm in Fredericktown,” Sunday afternoon in the high school commons. The documentary was created by Fredericktown High School journalism students, with equipment purchased through a grant awarded by the History channel’s Save Our History program.
The grant was one of only 11 such grants awarded in the United States for the 2008-09 school year. Finishing the film opens up new possibilities, according to those involved.
Jennifer Smith, who along with Carolyn Grimm, Judy Divelbiss and Carolyn Elder, wrote the original grant proposal for the Fredericktown Historical Society, introduced the screening to an audience of 75 community members.
“This is just the beginning of a project to document the history of Fredericktown,” Smith said, pointing out that the current cut of the documentary is running about an hour, but that they still have over 12 hours of unused interview footage, plus the equipment to continue similar projects in the future.
The documentary is a rich source of firsthand comments, histories and descriptions of farm life, gathered by journalism students of teacher Grimm, who has been working on editing the project since school ended. She cited, in particular, the work of Trisha Bartram, Neil Brown, Jim Shinaberry, Lauren Stump, Miranda Ford and Brennan Goeppinger as going beyond the call of duty required for the class. She singled out for special recognition Bernie Douglas, who was not a journalism student, but who believed in the project so much that he volunteered his time and ended up coordinating many of the interviews.
Stories abound in the documentary about the historic roots of Fredericktown’s farming community, from the early slaughter of the Durbin family, who ignored Johnny Appleseed’s warnings to local settlers about Indian attacks during the War of 1812, to copies of early deeds signed by presidents such as James Monroe and Andrew Jackson. From there, farming grew to become the central activity in life in Fredericktown, a situation that continues for some to this day.
But with the growth of modern urban life and technology, many young people are no longer interested in life on the farm. Renota Miller directly challenges her interviewers at one point, asking the students if they could imagine doing the amount of hard physical labor farming required.
When an interviewer asks Bill Brown what advice he would give a young couple interested in going into farming today, Brown takes a long, thoughtful pause.
“Inherit a farm,” Brown finally says. “It’s almost impossible in today’s economy for a young couple to buy a farm and get it started.”
Dale and Mary Braddock talk about how there was a greater variety of food and animals raised on farms in the old days. Larry Hall agrees, saying that in his youth, his family did not go out to buy much, producing almost all they needed on the farm.
“Growing up, I didn’t know what store-bought milk was,” Hall said.
Survival in farming today requires a bit of luck, said Eric Dilts, who added that modern technology can help make farming efficient, although he also feels that some old ideas, such as neighbors bartering instead of relying on cash transactions, are bound to return. Dennis Shinaberry explained the application of modern technology by detailing how his GPS-guided tractor can precisely avoid overlap of rows, which would waste materials during seeding and spraying.
One old idea that has returned strongly is organic farming, cited by both the McCoy and Daniels families as not only a return to farming’s roots, but also as a way of sustaining business during a recession.
Even personal issues are touched upon in the documentary, such as when an interviewer asks the Browns if their religious beliefs have been important to their farming.
“It’s pretty hard to put a seed in the ground without a little faith,” said Kate Brown.
What is clear by the end of this sampling of farm life is that although the business of farming has changed vastly in the last century, it is still an indispensable part of American life.
“The farmer’s the backbone of the country,” said Renota Miller.
The organizers plan on having DVD copies of the documentary available for viewing in the near future. Grimm hopes to do further editing, overlapping some narrations and images, as well as adjusting sound levels and cleaning up audio wherever possible.
“I’m just so pleased,” Smith said. “The students did a fantastic job.”
She added that she hopes to arrange for some showings of the documentary at the Knox County Fair this summer, and for a commemorative book to be created as well. With the wealth of information already gleaned, and the follow-ups already planned, Grimm is anticipating what returning journalism students with some experience under their belts may be able to achieve next year.
Staff of the Fredericktown Historical Society is eager to get more old pictures to scan for the projects, and Smith encouraged attendees and community members to join them at their next meeting, Tuesday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the society’s museum at 11 E. Sandusky St.