The following article was written by Jamie Clark Tiralla, Maryland Correspondent.  The article can also be seen at Lancaster Farming.

New Film a Recipe for Sustainable Farming

“The Dinner” is a new documentary about sustainable farming that tells the story of how ingredients come together to make a simple meal.

The film itself is like a recipe, a sort of “how to” for those who are interested in farming or simply seeking a deeper understanding of where their food comes from.

Set at Allen Heirloom Homestead in Park Hall, Md., the movie follows Frank and Christina Allen through a year on their homestead.

Filmmaker Shelly Wilson captures the essence of homesteading, which Christina Allen defines as growing food to sustain themselves, versus farming which is more about producing and selling food.

The film portrays the lifestyle as simple and almost idyllic, though it’s clear that there is an enormous amount of planning and patience involved.

“The secret is setting up systems that work well,” Christina Allen told an audience at a private screening in Calvert County, Md. “You have to think smart. Set up your systems and you never have to do it again.”

The film appeals to a wide range of audiences from local food enthusiasts to seasoned farmers.

Wilson said that was the goal: “For farmers who’ve been doing it forever, I hope they get a new idea. For someone who’s new to farming, maybe they’ll be inspired to just try one thing.”

The food and farm are the real stars of the film. Wilson opens with friends and family coming together to share a meal, then walks viewers through each course to show how things were grown, harvested, preserved and prepared.

Virtually all of the ingredients for the meal were grown on the 10 acre farm, many of which, Christina Allen pointed out, have been months, years or even centuries in the making.

“The dinner actually took two decades to make, when you consider the preparation that you need for the soil,” she said.

You could go back even farther, to more than a century ago when the black walnut tree was planted, which would eventually become black walnut bread served at the dinner.

An enormous amount of subjects are covered in the hour-long film. Christina Allen describes the importance of composting and permaculture. She talks at length about her flock of Jersey Buff turkeys, a heritage breed that is listed as “critical” by The Livestock Conservancy.

In one scene, Christina Allen demonstrates how to humanely and skillfully kill, and process a chicken. The actual killing takes place off screen, but the other steps are clearly explained and shown in detail.

The film also features a supporting cast of characters that are easy to overlook, such as the cotton and wool that was spun and woven into washcloths, or the sheep tallow that was rendered into soap.

One of the film’s most tender moments shows Frank Allen reading aloud to his wife while she is busy at the loom.

Attention to all details of the film was evident, including the soundtrack, which includes original songs performed by local Southern Maryland musicians Joe Norris, Charles Long and Nathan Cannon.

Wilson said she didn’t start out to make a movie, she really just wanted to learn more about farming. She admired Christina Allen, who is also a professional artist.

“I thought she was fascinating. I had seen her artwork and wanted to get to know her and try a garden,” she said. “I approached her to see if I could just help out and she came up with the idea for me to film her.”

In the end, Wilson said she learned more than she expected about “good living and sweating.”

Her next project is to document herself as she tries to put the things she learned into place.

“I really want people to see that there are all levels (of farming). Try anything, … even if it’s trying to recycle better,” she said.

DVD copies of “The Dinner” are available at for $20, plus tax and shipping. The price includes a 16 page cookbook with recipes from the movie, as well as a soap recipe.


Southern Maryland Trails has done a very nice write-up about “The DInner”.  Please take a moment to check it out.

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