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Movie Review: The Real Dirt on Farmer John

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In the opening scene of The Real Dirt on Farmer John, the eponymous farmer, John Peterson, kneels down in a plowed field and chews on a good-sized clod of dirt. It's exactly the sort of thing you might expect a true farmer to do when gauging the quality of his soil. Soon enough, though, John is riding his tractor dressed in a feather boa and being followed by a nude woman who appears to be channeling a zombie from Dawn of the Dead. It's that dichotomy of character and action that lies at the heart of this fascinating and odd documentary.

John Peterson is another one of those true American originals that the best documentaries always seem to unearth. We learn that as a young man in the 1960's he inherited his family's thriving farm which he soon turned into a sort of hippie farming/artist collective. Within a few years, his grand experiment failed and John was forced to sell most of the property. In most cases, the story would end there, but John couldn't let go of the land. After a long journey, both physically and mentally, he found his way back to the farm.