Documentary highlights pioneers in organic farming

Bonnie Hawthorne (right) discusses her documentary film with those who attended the screening at McHenry County College. The filmmaker highlighted the Vetter family in Nebraska who started converting their farm to an organic operation in the 1950s.

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — The 40-year journey of a Nebraska organic farm family is featured in the documentary, “Dreaming of a Vetter World.”

The film, made by Bonnie Hawthorne, focuses on the pioneering organic farmers in Marquette, Nebraska, who started the conversion in the 1950s.

Donald Vetter started the process, and it was continued by his son, David, who holds a bachelor’s degree in soil science and agronomy from the University of Nebraska.

The family operation grows barley, corn, popcorn and soybeans. In addition, about one-third of the fields are kept in perennials that are grazed by their cattle herd.

The rye, alfalfa, clover and turnip crops increase soil fertility and organic matter while controlling erosion and turning atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can utilize.

The screening of the film was hosted by The Land Conservancy of McHenry County and the McHenry County College’s Agrarian Learning Center and Sustainability Center.

“We care deeply about farmland, and about 60% of McHenry County is farmland,” said Linda Balek, land protection specialist for The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.

“We’re here to support farmers, preserve farmland, spread the word about conservation practices that can be used on farmland and hold events like this.”

Balek encouraged those at the event to support local farmers.

“The best way to do that is to buy their products,” she said.

The Agrarian Learning Center and Sustainability Center is a new initiative at the college that will include an associate degree, as well as community education for people who currently are farming and people new to farming.

In addition, the college plans to establish a farm on the campus to teach people farming skills, and the program will include business training.

Hawthorne answered the following questions after showing the movie.

How much time did you spend with the Vetters to get this footage?

I met David Vetter through his niece in the spring of 2014. I went to see what was going on, and that’s when I met his dad.

I thought his dad was a hoot, so I went back that summer and spent the summer of 2014 camped at their farm. I went back the next summer in 2015 and a little bit in 2016, so total time was probably nine months.

How did you get involved with making this documentary?

I met Molly Vetter under unusual circumstances during a hike in the Zion National Park called The Narrows. In 2011, she posted on Facebook that her family won the Farm Family of the Year award from MOSES.

A few years after that, I heard on the radio about a farmer in Oregon who discovered 100 acres of wheat that wouldn’t die when he sprayed it with Roundup. That story really stuck with me, so I reached out to Molly and she said I should talk to her uncle, Dave, and that’s how I met him.

With all the experience they had and mistakes they made along the way, is it any easier for other farmers to get into this now?

It took a long time for people in that area to understand what they were doing and now he’s helped so many farmers learn how to do it. It’s situation by situation because you can’t just take his style of farming and apply it everywhere.

Did the flooding in Nebraska this year impact the Vetter farm?

No, it did not. The Vetter farm has the best-looking crop it’s had in about five years. There are lots of people in Nebraska who didn’t plant anything this year.

For more information about the documentary film, go to:

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.


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