FILM DOCUMENTS PRAIRIE FRUITS OWNERS’ STORY
Fri, 10/10/15 | Melissa Merli
CHAMPAIGN — The title of a new documentary — “A Farmer’s Road,” about Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery — might lead some to think it focuses on the controversial Olympian Road extension, which was to have passed close by the farmstead.
But the 74-minute documentary, to be screened Sunday at the Art Theater Co-op, features just an 8-minute segment on Olympian, with interviews of the farm neighbors, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell, owners of Prairie Fruits, the first cheese farmstead in Illinois.
Instead, according to director John Murray’s synopsis:
“‘A Farmer’s Road’ tells the story of how two Ph.D. soil scientists (Jarrell and Cooperband) traded the security of academic tenure for the relentless challenges and economic uncertainty of operating a Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery in central Illinois.
“Surrounded by commodity-based agribusiness, they strive to embody the core principles of sustainability, showcasing artisan goat-milk products during slow-food dinners on the farm. Their mission to educate the public about locally sourced small-farm diversity is literally changing the American food system one meal at a time.”
Murray decided to make the documentary after he and his wife had one of Prairie Fruits’ popular farm dinners, in 2010.
“I was told the evening would be long and enjoyable with multiple courses of delicious small plates made from ingredients sourced locally, many of them from the farm itself, and all in the spirit of the slow food movement,” Murray said. “What I experienced, though, was much more than that.”
The four hours he and his wife spent at the dinner led Murray to do something he hadn’t done before — produce and direct a documentary. He spent five years shooting and then putting together “A Farmer’s Road.”
Murray had previously had experience with filmmaking — as a sound designer for 32 years and a media-arts educator for 25.
In the documentary, he covers all four seasons at the farm, opening with a scene of goats being birthed. He tells of how Cooperband and Jarrell sought to diversify by planting 350 fruit trees and 600 berry bushes.
The documentary includes scenes of Jarrell, Cooperband and employees selling their products at the Market at the Square farmers’ market in Urbana; interviews of other artisan farmers at the market; interviews with celebrity chef Rick Bayless, who serves Prairie Fruits cheese at his Chicago restaurants; and scenes of the farm dinners, with one diner calling the food the best in Champaign County.
One scene shows Jarrell and Cooperband at their dinner table, chatting with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin about agricultural subsidies. Like other artisan farms, Prairie Fruits, which produces 18,000 pounds of cheese a year, receives no agricultural subsidies.
If you go
What: Screening of “A Farmer’s Road,” a new documentary about Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband and their Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in rural Champaign, the first cheese farmstead in Illinois. Directed by John Murray.
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with a reception at 2
Where: Art Theater Co-op, 126 W. Church St., Champaign