From Unintended Villains To Heroes Without A Cape

Project Zoom
6 min readDec 24, 2020

Berkay Tunali is a filmmaker with around 10 years of experience, specializing in documentaries as well as different types of video production for positive change for humanity and the environment. Currently, he’s really interested in finding suitable storytelling for the main target audience in his works. He is the director, cinematographer, and also editor in this project.

Ilkim Idil Bursa is part of the team as the second camera operator and co-editor. Previously, she worked on various productions around the world as a producer and cameraman.

Barbaros Vardar is our farmer, has a long life full of adventures and enterprises. Now, retired, finds happiness in growing trees, doing İyi tarım. Skeptical at first, because this Onarici tarım was too good to believe, he wants to try now to help biodiversity.

Begoña Rodriguez is a Spanish Medical and Scientific Illustrator, a teacher at Trakya Universitesi. Environmentalists since the cradle, couldn’t hold herself from getting into activism in Turkey. She is the scriptwriter and pre-film researcher.

Let’s start remembering our childhood drawings, maybe we are weirdos in this team but all of us remember ourselves drawing the idyllic house, that was actually a farm with many animals, green fields with trees covered in fruit and flowers, a clean river nearby with fish jumping out of the water, blue sky with butterflies and dragonflies flying around the flowers that popped up everywhere, and landscapes patched of different colors with the different crops. Look at the farms nowadays, they are nothing like that, not at all. The farmer cut every grass that is not “productive”, “chapa, chapa, chapa”, afraid that it will eat the nutrients of his crops, and around the house make it all cement to make it easier to clean. The farmer cut the trees that give shadows to the crops, and turn the soil upside down again and again, to make it soft for planting the seeds, and when the seeds are weak because the soil is almost dead, add some artificial fertilizer here and there and pour the water form the pomp like there is no tomorrow; don’t worry if the water finish, we can protest and cry to the government, and the extra water running off will go to the river loaded with chemicals and soil, changing our blue river into brown. What about the happy animals in our drawing? They are locked in a grey industrial building, being fed processed food, medicated just in case there is an outbreak. Oh what about the butterfly and the…. Oh! shhhhh!! not even name them, we gassed all of them in the modern farm because some bugs are bad for the crops, and, sorry, maybe that gas affects us too, we just can’t say it out loud. What about the quilted landscaped? it is just one color, and in winter, just brown. And like this, our beautiful dreamed farm became a grey factory where the only lives that we may see are begging us to set them free. A horror movie made real.

For the life lovers, the conventional farmer is a villain, but the farmer does all of this for feeding us. We, all of us, depend upon farming. The farmer, his parents and grandparents have been told that this is the way to make farming productive, so he does. In the case of our farmer, Barbaros, he wants to produce healthy food, and he follows the advice of the Iyi Tarim Mudrululugu, as they told him to keep the soil clean of any wild grass or even old leaves, he was passing the tractor “cleaning” the field year after year, taking with it the biodiversity of his field. Thus, the farmer becomes an unintentional villain. Now that Barbaros learned the secret of soil, he looks at it in a different way, the color, the amount of grass, the worms that he can find when he digs for planting a tree, and he looks at the other fields with sadness wishing he could do more to change the system and tell the other farmers what he has learned.

Farming, our unintentional villain, is responsible for:

Water scarcity, 75%-90% of human water usage is dedicated to farming. For domestically people use about 30–300 l of water per person per day, for the daily food the needs are about 3000 l of water. (FAO 2003)

Water pollution, underground and rivers are polluted due runoffs from irrigated fields loaded with soil, PNK and pesticides.

Health problems derived of the usage of chemicals on the food, and food that is not really nutritional. There are many studies supporting this claim and many others debunking it making an extra clarification, saying that the “allegations of decline due to agricultural soil mineral depletion are unfounded.” We are not saying that its due the soil mineral depletion, we are saying that it is happening because the soil lacks of the necessary bacteria that helps the roots of the plants assimilate these minerals. As the gut bacteria in humans and other animals, the soil bacteria is essential for the plants nutrient assimilation and fighting diseases.

Climate change, many factors are involved in this issue, but let’s take into account only the farming responsibility on this. Farming contributes with about 15% of the global greenhouse’s production, or maybe even more, as it is not clear if the carbon released in every tillage is taken into account, because yes, the carbon in the soil is released in every tillage, add that to the gases emitted by the tractors that till. At the same time, farming is one of the most stroked sectors by climate change. Farming is feeding a monster that slaps its own face harder and harder.

Deforestation, 80% of the deforestation caused by humans is due to farming, and with this comes the loss of habitat and biodiversity.

Farmers are also victims of this system, they complain about the prices of gas, fertilizers, lack of water, empty towns and so much work that is not fairly paid. But to all of these problems Regenerative agriculture offers the solution, when the solutions are presented all we hear are excuses or incredulity. It is like someone complaining that has pain in the toes because he is wearing the wrong shoes and when you offer a better pair he refuses because he can’t quit using the same shoes that his parents and grandparents used. And it is such a beautiful solution that it is difficult to believe. When Barbaros watched the documentary film “The Biggest Little Farm” he said that it was just a fairy tale, a movie, fiction. He could not believe that the farm from our childhood could be true, when him, himself, remembers his grandparents farm being like this. That farm, by the way, was demolished to be replaced by the new conventional system of huge monocultives.

How could any farmer believe in this if there are no publications or news about it? Why is conventional the only way that we generally know? For years we have been hearing the miracles that GMO and modern farming would do in feeding the world and reducing the usage of pesticides and herbicides, but the experience has shown that there is more need for pesticides (look at the usage of Roundup in the US during the last 10 years), pests are becoming resistant, and we still have problems with providing food to people while, at the same time, one-third of the global food production goes to waste. Now the trend is to integrate high tech into the farming fields, and for that, there’s government funding, like if to modernize farming we just add gadgets. There is no interest in developing regenerative farming or anything similar because there is no business for agribusiness or tech companies. All our efforts to share this system will be fought back or obscured by agrochemical companies and even academicians whose research funding depends on these companies. Agroecological strategies are underfunded and overlooked in academia because there is no money invested in them, as it is free.

Let’s illustrate very briefly how converting to Regenerative Farming could transform the unintended villains into heroes without a cape:

Regenerative farming uses from one third to half of the water, one-fifth of the gas and almost none of the artificial fertilizer that conventional farming needs. This doesn’t happen miraculously, there must be a conversion and in this transition, the governments must help the farmers. Regenerative reduces the usage of NKP gradually until it is not needed anymore, instead, the soils sequester carbon to increase the fertility of the soil. There are estimations that calculate that we can sequester 20 tons of carbon per acre in regenerative agriculture for over 10 years. Sounds good, eh? Well, it can be even better if we apply the right compost; Dr. Johnson, Chico University, explains that soils rich in fungal biomass capture an average of 10 metric tons of soil carbon per acre per year. Only just for the amount of sequestered carbon, this system deserves serious investment.

Although we focus on farming in the documental, the science of soil can be applied to any piece of soil in earth. We don’t only manage the soils in farms, think about the city, schools, universities parks and gardens. If managers learned this, they could accelerate the carbon sequestration, and maybe it is not too late for us. We need the change, now.



Project Zoom

Impact Journalism Grant Programme // Medyada Değişim Yaratanlar İçin Hibe Programı