An Interview with Filmmaker/ Surfer Dan Malloy
Dan Malloy’s new film, Harvesting Liberty, investigates hemp, its place in American agriculture, and the fabric of small farmers – once valued as America’s backbone – who are fighting to reinstate hemp as a vital crop across America. This film showcases one man’s experience and efforts to provide veterans access to farming for therapy, and a chance to find purpose and a healthy way of life post-war. Though, in Dan’s —eyes— this film is more about the hurdles small farmers face, and the truth about what goes into feeding America through the eyes of small farmers.
Cyrus: It’s got to feel great to do all that hard work, and know that there’s a big likelihood that it’s going to open people’s eyes. And your choice of characters is really going to break down stereotypes.
Dan: Well, I feel a little caught between two worlds, being a little bit of a redneck and a little bit of a hippie, you know?
Cyrus: Why did you choose to make a film about him [Mike Lewis, the lead character]?
Dan: Obviously the film is about him, but if I was to take a step back and break it down, I don’t think the film is about him, it’s kinda about policy in a way. What’s happened in the last 100 years is that policy has built farms into things that are basically are big factories. In the beginning of our country it was clear that “small landholders are the most precious part of the state (a quote by Thomas Jefferson)”. Fast forward 150 years and you have the Secretary of Agriculture though the 50s, 60s, and 70s say that you need to get big or get out. Basically, be a big farm or get the fuck out. The Secretary of Agriculture is not just a respected figure, he’s the Secretary of Agriculture. He’s building agriculture. He’s building policy. He’s building laws that make it impossible for small farms to exists. And that’s what happened. That’s why for 99% of people who have a small farm (like me), it’s a hobby. They turned the heartbeat of the country into a hobby because you can’t make a living doing it. This film has a lot more to do about enabling people with a chunk of dirt to turn it into a small profit. I think it has more to do with that than the hemp plant. Farmers should be able to fold that (hemp) into their operation. Any extra diversity of crop that you have access to is good for the economy, for biodiversity. So the film has more to do with options and policy than being the champions of hemp, for me, personally.
Cyrus: Tell me a bit about Mike and the Growing Warriors Project. How would hemp farming create jobs for them, and how did it come about?
Dan: Mike did some time in the service, and his brother did too. When he was done, he lost his way a bit. He was starting a family and needed to make a couple of bucks. So he started growing some food, which he then tried to sell it to the school…and he couldn’t. He learned he wasn’t allowed to do it the way he was doing it, so he started learning more about the laws and rules. The farming started becoming a therapeutic thing for him, and he started seeing it being really therapeutic for his brother who was dealing with serious trauma from fighting overseas. So he thought ‘ well if this is working for my brother, then it might work for other veterans as a way to reengage with the community in that way.
Cyrus: Hemp is available today – where is it coming from currently?
Dan: Most comes from Asia, a lot from China, and some from Canada. If I were to guess I would guess that most of it comes from China. We import this product and let our consumers buy it but don’t let our farmers grow it. That’s the definition of crazy if you ask me.
Cyrus: What can we do as consumers and citizens?
Dan: I don’t know exactly… I think that what helps me understand it better is to connect with the people that grow my food, and try to understand what goes on with my food and with farming in general. Signing petitions is fine, but it can be really hard to understand the entire issue. For me, what has helped on a personal level is making a little extra effort to meet the people growing my food and pay closer attention to what they’re going through to pull that off.
Cyrus: So it seems like you’re coming to this film as a director, but uniquely as a farmer/director – tell me about what farming has done for you and your way of life.
Dan: To be clear, I’m not a farmer. My wife and I have a small farm, and I do chores and stuff, but it’s more of an educational farm. It’s more of a side project you know? If you look at the issues today, you can access all of them in a farm system. If you look at Co2 emissions or wages, look down the line… the lens I look at these issues through is through small and mid sized farms. My experience having a little chunk of dirt has gotten me interested in all these things.
In our little farm we have about 60 citrus trees. It’s illegal to sell fresh squeezed OJ off our property unless we have a commercial kitchen, but we would need to spend at least $30k. It’s not a make it or break it deal for us because I have a full time job. If we wanted to make a commercial kitchen, our orange juice operation would be in 6 years of debt. If we don’t have to have that and our juice is safe, we start making money tomorrow – a tiny bit of money. Not a lot. But for a small farm, any profit is good. So that little thing, it’s a no big deal for me, but when I see that Mike Lewis is going through that same thing – that that process would get him over the hump, but he’s not allowed to do it, you know, I saw this; that’s why this project stuck out for me. For this guy is not frustrating, it’s heartbreaking… it’s what he depends on. Its what the other veterans he’s trying to get involved depend on. We have regulated it so that it’s not a viable option.
All Photos Taken by D.Hedden 2015