City kids connect farmers to consumers in 'Before the Plate'

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What do you get when you connect two ‘city kid’ filmmakers, a world-class chef, and nine farmers and their families?

You get Before The Plate, a genuine behind-the-kitchen-door, on-the-farm look at how food is produced in Canada, and the passion and commitment chefs and farmers apply to their craft.

The driving force behind the film is 22-year-old producer and University of Guelph student Dylan Sher. He has no farm background but felt compelled by the seemingly endless ‘scary’ food stories to shed his own light on where our food comes from.

The film debuted in Toronto on Sunday to enthusiastic applause from more than 400 people.

What makes the film really work is its simple narrative approach. Sher and director Sagi Kahane-Rapport, another city kid, enlisted John Horne, executive chef for Toronto’s Canoe restaurant, to create a signature dish for his restaurant. The filmmakers then follow Horne as he visits the farms where the ingredients for his dish are grown and produced.

Canoe restaurant executive chef John Horne travelled Ontario to meet the farmers who contributed to his signature dish.

Horne acknowledges it’s difficult for consumers to cut through all the information and messaging targeted at them by marketers and interest groups. For him, the film was an eye-opening experience.

“Being part of the movie, I wasn’t trying to answer any questions or tell people what to do. The point of the movie for me was to be a connection between farmers and the viewers, to open up the lines of communication,” says Horne. “I think farmers really want to show what they’re doing and to express what they do and why they do it. But I think the consumer has to ask those questions.”

Horne propels the film as both protagonist and antagonist. He gushes with appreciation for the quality of the locally grown ingredients he encounters throughout his journey, but he’s no shill. He asks tough questions – the very ones his customers ask when they sit down at his restaurant.

Beef farmer Cory Van Gronigen is asked to explain how beef cattle are stunned and killed in a processing plant. Dairy farmer Ben Loewith discusses why dairy calves are removed from their mothers and raised in hutches; and beekeeper Hugh Simpson acknowledges that seed insecticides are one of several factors that impact bee health.

RealAg chats with Dylan Sher, Sagi Kahane-Rapport and Ben and Carl Loewith at the premiere. Story continues after the video.

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In all cases, the farmers do a credible job of handling the tough questions. What gives them that credibility is their passion and commitment. It’s obvious the farmers featured in the film care about their animals, their environment. their families and the farms that sustain them.

Capturing that passion and commitment makes the film a triumph for Sher and Sagi Kahane-Rapport. They’ve created a film that should leave many consumers with a feeling that they can trust farmers and their food system.

Other filmmakers have tried to build that trust but failed. A film like Food Evolution was well-intended, but was open to criticism because it was viewed by some critics as an agriculture industry effort to explain the benefits of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and the pursuit of profit.

That criticism continues to be an albatross for the film, as it struggles to find an audience. Unfortunately, PBS turned Food Evolution down in the U.S. and no European channels would show it. Streaming services such as Netflix have also declined to offer the film.

Both Sher and Kahane-Rapport are optimistic their film will fare better. They’re trying to make the viewing list for upcoming film festivals, land a distribution deal and hopefully be on demand on Netflix sometime in future.

Time will tell whether two city kids and a top chef can help farmers take their tale to town. If it gets there, consumers will experience the world of food, cooking and farming as they have never before.

RealAgriculture will provide updates on future showings of the film.

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