May 23rd, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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What happens when people stop being polite and start getting real?

According to the last few seasons of MTV's "The Real World," they get drunk, hook up and make innumerable questionable decisions.

What happens when strangers come to live on a family farm in rural Arkansas, grow their own food, give up modern-day conveniences and attempt zero waste?

While it may not sound like a compelling reality show by MTV's standards, that's exactly the premise of the independent film, "The Garden Summer," which debuted to a sold-out crowd in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 16. It also premiered in Conway, Arkansas, on May 18.

Inspired by the idea of social capital, then-Georgetown graduate student Hailey Wist came up with an idea for a social experiment that would challenge people like her to live off the land. The ultimate goal was "to inspire, not preach."

Wist already had a location in mind for the experiment - a farm in the Ozarks that had been in her family for generations. Despite not knowing much about gardening, she had the assistance of her mother and aunt, both avid gardeners.

All that was left to do was find people willing to give up modern conveniences to spend the summer living a bit more simply.

"Will I get warm bodies?  I don't know.  Probably not," she mused in the film’s trailer.

Four willing "suburbanites" - Seth Amos, Marie Barker, Ben Williams and Emilee Cleary - eventually signed on without much persuasion. Wist said she sought out people who were strangers to each other, but who she also wanted to get to know better.

In preparation of their summer, the group had to decide what produce they would grow and what they could sell at the local farmers market. They also decided that coffee, cooking oil and booze would be the only three things they would source outside of the 100-mile radius of their garden.

When the group met at the farm in May to plant their garden, friendships took root immediately; everyone was getting along and having fun.

However, the summer was not without challenges. When the group returned weeks later to live within Wist's parameters, it took only a week and a half before they started "airing grievances" by candlelight on the front porch of the farmhouse.

Everyone obviously had a stake in the garden; their ability to eat and make money depended upon its success. As the creator of the concept, Wist became the leader by default, but being everyone's boss was not a role that came easy to her.

Maintaining a garden makes for long days of hard labor. Along with the close quarters of communal living, “there was a lot to be cranky about," Wist said.

Unlike some of the other reality-based programs that portray alcohol-induced arguments over hook-ups and break-ups, the rifts featured in "The Garden Summer" were rooted in the division of labor in the garden and expectations over what "local consumption" really meant.

In fact, a budding romance between Wist and Williams wasn't really featured in the film at all.

Over the course of the summer, the group made friends with locals who taught them, among other things, how to make soap and butter. They also welcomed a steady stream of visitors from the "outside," and found that showing off all they'd accomplished always gave them new energy.

It certainly didn't hurt that one of those friends was James Beard award-winning chef Mike Lata, who helped them prepare a field feast with the food they'd grown.

"The Garden Summer" turned five typical consumers of modern conveniences into producers and contributors to their community. While Wist remains very much a part of the Charleston food community, she admits her farm experience has been difficult to completely replicate in her real life.

But if farming isn't in her future, filmmaking might be, at least according to part-time Charleston resident and actor Bill Murray.

"To make a movie that is lousy is difficult," he said after attending Wist's first screening. "So to make one that is good, it's quite an accomplishment."

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Filed under: Feature • Fit Nation • Gardening • Local Food • Movies • Think


soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Dianne

    Be inspired!
    Plant a few seeds.
    Watch them grow.
    Harvest your "crop."
    Ask your neighbors over and rejoice over your efforts in being the change you would like to see in the world!

    May 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  2. America's Farmstand

    The American working farm is alive and well - just look at the unique bounty of locally produced foods at America's Farmstand (www.americasfarmstand.com) - the multi-generational stories of honest, hard-working farmers are the real-life backstory of 'The Garden Summer.'

    May 27, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  3. Hypatia

    Gardening is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors, nuture plants and learn a bit of horticulture in the process. Those who are turning this into some kind of tin hat issue need to restock on foil. No one ever learned bad habits from plants.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  4. Old Fashion

    Let's give Ms Wist credit of what she was trying to do, by doing this means she has good values in life, she has good upbringing. Gardening/Farming is good for everybody, you're bonding with nature, and definitely burning a lot of calories. She has good intentions and let's support her.

    May 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  5. farmerjohn

    Having come from 7 generations of famers and craftsmen who arrived in the pre-revolutionary United States in the early 1700’s, I can only hope this small group "harvests" or "gleans" some sort of appreciation for the effort, trials and satisfaction that self sufficiency can provide. IMHO factory farms (farms requiring large scale industrial machinery to manage) are destroying a way of life as much as any outside influence. Whether they are owned by corporations of single families, farms should first and foremost be about personal sustainment. Incentives to entice the next generation into self sufficiency are badly needed. Smaller is actually better in this case and offering programs with manageable land parcels under 100 acres with limited machinery requirements would go a long way into resolving some of the decay we see in this vocation.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • avid reader

      I find it interesting when people get on their soapbox about how we should all go back to the 'good old days' of farming with a few acres, a mule, etc since farmers today are bad. What I'd like to know is how you expect to feed the population with that sort of game plan? I have no problems with those who want to grow for themselves or take to the local market to sell at the premium most of these operations seem to expect but you certainly cannot feed the numbers of people just in this country with very small farms who would be able to either have access to grow sufficient amounts for themselves or the dollars in their pockets to pay a small fortune at the local farmers market. Add to that countries that need to import food and guess what farmerjohn, you just can't do it with your business model. Are you going to grow enough wheat in your yard for a year's worth of flour or put in a rice paddy for your pilaf?? We care for our land and do everything possible to manage it correctly. If you choose to go small scale that is fine but it is not fair or accurate to accuse those of us who have large operations as being uncaring for the land we steward. We farm to leave it better for the next generation and at the same time feed our world's population.

      May 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Hadenuffyet

    It should be a high school requirement ...self sufficiency 101.

    May 25, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Old Fashion

      I agre with you it's a must, for sure obesity will go down a little bit.

      May 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  7. irlmwookie

    To live an urban life in the Internet world is to build a persona with an abstract, virtual, remote relationship to others and the world underneath cement. To grow something requires hard labor under the sun, getting dirty, with no faith that anything can actually grow out of the ground save feed you and your family. You become interested in that little patch of dirt with an intensity rivaling a close championship series or stock-market price. But the real transformation happens when you wake up and overnight a sprout breaks the dirt. From that moment you realize that dirt and your sweat met and created sustenance – and that sustenance has no limit. And you start not only ruminating about survival, your mortality, but you understand the nature underneath your feet and realize you are a part of that system, not an onlooker.

    And then you watch your plants grow, a miraculous, sometimes grotesque formation that's not manufactured. When you see something come out of nothing and some guy is not running the gears, there is miracle and mystery. You can never have the same relation with Mother Earth after that. You are no longer Lord and Master of the Universe, the wicked spreadsheet guru, you are part of something wondrous, and imperiled. And from that roots your relationship to the community, and you start caring for each other like you cared and sweated over that little patch of dirt.

    Those are life lessons.

    May 25, 2012 at 4:08 am |
    • Carmen Melton

      Wow, someone who gets it – THANK YOU

      May 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • victor

      Very well put! I am not fully sustained by my vegtable garden, but when I cook sauces, soups, salads, etc. with the vegatable I have cultivated...and I know that they started from a little seed and taste so delicious...there really are fewer more satisfying things in the world. Happy (almost) summer to you!

      May 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Well

    So many comments missed the entire point...so many farmers do too for that matter.

    It's about putting food on the table. But in America we get so wrapped up in making money to put it there we have totally industrilized and forgotten how to actually...put food on the table.

    More...bigger...faster...when the reality is 15-acres could feed your family for life and you would be so much better off.

    But no...we need to buy it. So they can tax it and profit from it. Without that structure the 1% ceases to exist and that destroys their way of life.

    May 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  9. erica1112

    Who cares if its gardening or farming. In the end, my thought is that these people will learn how much work it is to grow crops – however big or small. My family in Germany had a huge garden (out of necessity – not a hobby after WWII), but everything they needed they grew. I would love to take some of the bratty, self-entitled kids that this country is raising and throw them into a garden for a week. The would wither down and die – just like a garden that wasn't properly tended. As well, if you have a garden, or do your own landscaping (not on a riding mower), you can throw your gym membership away.

    May 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  10. GENE Of iowa

    WAY TOO HOLLYWOOD. YEARS AGO A FRIEND, A FARM KID, MOVED TO LA, AND SOMEONE WAS TELLING HIM ABOUT THE RANCH THEY LIVED ON, SEVEN ACRES. OUR FRONT YARD, HOUSE YARD AND OUTBUILDINGS AND FEED LOTS PLUS A GROVE OF TREES WAS THAT MUCH. SOMEBODY'S WHO THINKS SUMMER CAMP IN A GARDEN IS FARMING, NOW, FIFTY YEARS AGO, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO HAS BEEN SIPPING TO MUCH MOUNTAIN MOONSHINE. TRY TOO MUCH RAIN, DROUGHT, DEER EATING THE CROP, BUGS, HAIL STORMS, 12 TO 14 HOUR DAYS, CHORES SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, ALL NIGHTERS TO GET DONE BEFORE THE STORM HITS, ALL REALLY HARD WORK, WITH THE FINAL PAY DAY WAY IN DOUBT, THEN YOU HAVE FARMING. FARMINGS NOT A SUMMER CAMP WITH FOUR FRIENDS.

    May 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • GENE Of iowa

      IN YESTERYEAR, ACTIVITY USED TO BE CALLED KITCHEN GARDENING. FARMING WAS PLANTING GRAIN, WEEDING, CUTTING AND HARVESTING. THEN HOPING IT LASTED THE WINTER, OR WAS WORTH A DIME A BUSHEL IN THE MARKET, IF THERE WAS ANY CROP TO HAVE WHAT SO EVER.

      May 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Hadenuffyet

      Your point is made . Independent farming for self reliance is not a walk in the park.

      May 25, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • JR

      *clapping*

      My parents were both born and raised on family farms in the upper Midwest. Although their kids were raised in a west coast urban area, we have NO romance when it comes to 'farming'. Farming is not a 'garden patch. Farming is a lifestyle, 365 days out of the year. It's backbreaking work for a lifetime, it's definitely not 'camp'. It's not airy fairy theory, it's dealing with the unforgiving realities of Ma Nature.

      The only thing that these people could get out of this is a taste, it's nowhere near reality. There's gardening and there's farming. Two entirely different things.

      May 26, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  11. UrbanGardener

    For all those bashing gardening vs. farming, to your point, yes, there is a difference. I consider what they are doing a garden on a grand scale, but CNN was the one that labeled them as farmers. However, if you live and work on a farm (which they are doing), and work in a field all day, it might be surmised that your title would be "farmer". It might not fall into modern-day convention of the term "farmer", however I believe those naysayers are forgetting the term "sustenance farmer", who farm their own land for their own well-being, and selling the excess, and NOT to simply grow mass amounts of a single crop for the sole purpose of sale. Seriously, if these 5 suburbanites calling themselves "farmers" instead of "gardeners" is keeping you up at night, I feel sorry for you. Props to these people for continuing the push for local living!

    May 24, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  12. Tom

    They're not even dirty, give me a break! I'm sure they don't get up before 7 in the morning or work past 7 at night. Nice rubber flower boots. Try working a dairy farm!

    May 23, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • what

      GARDEN is the name of the story..... not Dariy farm.... go watch MTV and be quiet no typing.

      May 24, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  13. gstlab3

    It's too bad we are'nt allowed to grow medicinal crops like marijuana that si proven to kill cancer cells and tumors.

    It's too bad we can't farm our poppies and make our own narcotic pain relievers that when used in the old fassioned way do not allow for over dose to occure just sleep and relief.

    So many medicinal plants can be grown for little or nothing and most of it is illegal because it would hurt big pharma profit margins and plants cannot be patented if you did'nt know that's the real reason the cure for cancer has been delayed for seventy five years.

    Thank a guy called Aslinger for that mess and millions of deaths and untold suffering.

    Thakns for your time America.,

    It's been a blast and now I'm going to look into giving up or renouncing my citizenship.,

    why? because this country is all about the power and the money and the people be damned!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yeah screw you Washington D.C. you all can go straight to HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That means you too Obama!!!!!!

    O.ne
    B.ig
    A.ss
    M.istake
    A.merica!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Dianne

      You get more of what you think.
      Angry words create an angry life.
      Loving words create a loving life.
      Choose love!
      You will be released from your pain!
      No need to consume any drug or plant:-)

      May 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  14. Careme

    What you might call "hobby gardening /"farming". Its a cute social experiment but much of the lessons of farming are learned over long periods. IE own an animal that you eventually will slaughter. Plant and grow a crop that the market has dropped out of in the time you took to grow it. The great lessons of farming incorporate both economic AND social truths over the long term.
    ""The Garden Summer" turned five typical consumers of modern conveniences into producers and contributors to their community" Lets just hope so.

    May 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  15. cando

    I agree. Gardening is not farming. Modern farming is multiple acres, requiring large equipment.

    May 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  16. Stephanie

    5th paragraph. That's not social capital. Social capital is "who you know"

    May 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Nornoel

    May I suggest an alternative title? "White World - Dilettantes at Play." That snark aside, at least these young people are growing vegetables, instead of simply 'vegetating' for the summer.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  18. furrypawz

    pst Confused! That's why the film is titled "The Garden Summer" and not "The Farm'n Summer". ;-)

    May 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  19. Confused

    I'm sorry but gardening is NOT the same as farming. Growing things to sell at the farmer's market is WAY different than growing acres of food to feed the world. I'm glad they had fun with commune living and making soap but this is a slap in the face to hundreds of REAL family farmers across the nation.

    May 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Keith

      There is always people looking to be offended, farmers are not like that. Your ignorant opinion is not needed.

      May 23, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  20. mae

    The real-life lesson I learned after being a farmer's daughter, is to NEVER be a farmer's wife.

    May 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Margret Raines

      I'm sorry to hear that. Small farming is an honorable profession–and an endangered one. As soon as I can make enough of a stack of money to afford a small farm, I'm going to have a stab at it–hope there are some prospective farmer's husbands out there.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Keith

      It is a tough job, but you are right it isn't for everyone

      May 23, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • jedrothwell

      Yup. I know what you mean. I am not a farmer. Far from it. But I married a farmer's daughter! I think there can be no better wives than farmer's daughters. It is a hard life but it shapes good people.

      Agriculture is gradually heading toward 100% mechanization, so there will be few farmer's sons and daughters in the future. That is is good for them but a loss for the rest of us.

      May 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Hadenuffyet

      I know some farmers wives that are doing pretty dang well...just sayin

      May 25, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  21. Emmy

    So when/how can we see the movie?

    May 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  22. TX4UREXKARLENE

    Loved the first episode of Real World ;-)

    May 23, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  23. TX4UREXKARLENE

    I buy hundreds of seeds every year , flowers & veggies – it's cheaper & more fun to watch them grow :-)

    May 23, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  24. TX4UREXKARLENE

    I think this is a Great idea :-)) Best of Luck to everyone !

    May 23, 2012 at 9:19 am |
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