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Photo : Video : Storytelling

A blog by Paul Bettings

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Documenting Life on a Farm

Slideshow Image #1: Nikon D850, Nikkor 24-120mm, 1/800, f4.

Slideshow Image #2: Nikon D850, Nikkor 24-120mm, 1/8000, f4.

In another life I may have been a farmer. I love the idea of existing outside, looking across large fields and seeing the horizon, driving tractors and working for my food. I know this idea of being a farmer is mostly based on fictional movies (Field of Dreams), photos in John Deere ads and the short but sweet moments I am driving down a country road and see a tractor driving across a field with a lovely sunset in the background. But that romantic idea is something I have grown up with in the back of my brain.

I have spent a lot of time this past year documenting life on a farm in Ontario, Canada.

When the world shut down in March of 2020, I was left wondering what to photograph. I was so used to leaving my home country to shoot that I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I just started. Fortunately, through a seemingly random series of events and another project I took on, I found myself at Lennox Farm which is run by Brian and Jeanette French and is just north of Shelburne, Ontario.

My first visit was a wealth of knowledge about our food system, our food supply chain, how food is grown and how far behind farmers were at the beginning of the 2020 planting season because the help they usually get from migrant workers was not available due to COVID-19 restrictions. Lennox Farm usually gets up to 12 workers from Trinidad and Tobago around mid-April each year, when I first visited them in mid-May the migrant workers had not arrived, and Brian and Jeanette had to do all the initial planting on their own with their 3 young kids. They were way behind, just like every other farmer in Ontario.

This is why your grocery bill has been getting higher. Our food supply chain is fragile and is stressed across all sectors, from planting to harvesting to shipping, because of COVID-19.

I have been following Brian and Jeanette’s journey for the entire summer and fall, and into winter. These images are a few in a large body of work I will share and speak about periodically in upcoming posts. For now, let’s talk about the images you see here.

Slideshow Image #3: Nikon D850, Sigma 24-70mm, 1/160, f2.8.

Slideshow Image #4: Nikon D850, Nikkor 24-120mm, 1/320, f4.

Slideshow 1: Image #1 and #2

The first day I showed up to photograph at Lennox Farm, the migrant workers had not arrived. So, the images at the top are from the second day of shooting at the farm. It was early, I had left my house at 4:00am to make sure I was at the farm while the sun was rising, which was about 6:00am. I would have liked to start shooting just before sunrise, with the low dynamic light just before the sun comes over the horizon, but it didn’t happen on this day. The sun was quite harsh in the fields, even though it was low on the horizon and the colour was a nice yellow/orange it was throwing a lot of contrast on the scene which made it difficult to shoot. Lennox Farm is known for their rhubarb crop and that is what the workers are picking here in this scene.

Slideshow 2: Image #3 and #4

These portraits were taken around thanksgiving 2020. For these images I opted to be at the farm later in the day to capture the photos during sunset, however, I arrived a bit earlier than expected and the sun was higher than I wanted. I tried to kill some time but the team was done work and wanted to finish up. I used a single light setup for the portraits of individual people, which helped to counteract the low contrast from the periodic cloud cover and fill in the foreground when the sun peaked out. It was quite windy and as you can see from the jackets and layers of clothing, it was getting cold. The team is muddy from digging up and transporting 50-70 pound rhubarb root balls from the field to be set up in the barn for the winter. These root balls are used for the forced rhubarb crop I will speak about in more detail when I get a chance to photograph the process.

Through this project I have been able to experience, in very small ways, what it takes to be a farmer. It's hard work, long days and a lot time spent adapting to the world of farmers markets, grocery stores and the changing landscape of our food system due to COVID-19. But, more importantly, when I look at those fields and those tractors, I now know that there are real people and real stories behind them.


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