New Documentary “Farmsteaders” Shows the Struggle Small Farms Face in America

Nick and Celeste Nolan have risked everything.

A new documentary telling the couple’s story is set to premiere on PBS and provides an unvarnished look at the challenges of running a small farm.

Filmed over five years, “Farmsteaders” follows the Nolan family trying to reinvent an organic dairy farm in Ohio. Nolan bought his family farm when his grandfather died. Since then, the Nolans have been doing all they can to keep the farm afloat while using sustainable methods.

The film doesn’t shy away from showing how hard it is to run such an operation. While the Nolans find happiness and meaning in what they do, they sacrifice a lot and work long hours.

“So many people connect to the idea of farming, but are not necessarily informed about some of the real struggles and hardships,” says Shaena Mallett, the documentary’s director.

Mallett grew up on a farm and left rural life behind to pursue a career in photojournalism. She says something always drew her back to farming and she soon found herself photographing farmers. 

She first met Nick Nolan at a farmers market on a cold dreary day in February. Mallett had gone to the market to buy some groceries and Nolan was the only stall that had not moved inside. He had chosen instead to stand in two feet of snow and slush to offer passersby samples of his family’s cheese. Mallett noticed the farmer and felt like she needed to talk to him.

That moment sparked a friendship between the filmmaker and family that has lasted years. Mallett was immediately enamoured with the Nolans’ personalities. 

“I was completely blown away by their ability and tenacity to find creative solutions to survive,” says Mallett, who is in the process of starting her own organic orchard and medicinal herb farm in North Carolina.

A few years later, she started filming them.

The film chronicles hard times the family goes through as they lose major customers and endure sleepless nights. But the film also tells a story of hope in the face of hardship.

Mallett says she hopes the film will make people ask questions about where their food comes from and help connect them to local food sources.

Mallett also bills the documentary as a love story—the love between Nolan and Celeste, but also their love for the land they farm.