Marlowe Ivey, a 36-year-old, fourth-generation farmer, is passionate about educating others about farming — including the 15-person film crew that filmed a docudrama about her life and struggles as a North Carolina commodity pork farmer.
“One day, one of the lighting guys asked me, ‘Hey, why is all that corn dying? It’s all brown,’” Ivey recalled with a laugh. “I told him, ‘That’s what it’s supposed to be doing. We’re getting ready to harvest.’”
The corn was field corn, rather than the sweet corn with which most consumers are familiar. It’s grown along with soy to become feed for Ivey’s pigs as part of a closed loop farm cycle. The soy and corn, grown sustainably in her community, are fertilized naturally with her pigs’ manure. Soon a tent to capture the methane from the manure and turn it into renewable energy to power farm operations will close the loop even tighter, bringing Ivey one step closer to her goal of raising carbon neutral pigs.
Speaking about the industry she loves and educating others about it, like why the corn leaves are brown, is why Ivey agreed to star in The Carbon Neutral Pig. The short film documents the true story of her struggles as a single mother, her work toward making the farm carbon neutral, and her run-ins within the community, which have only made her dig deeper and work harder.
“You got to have a tough skin to advocate for animal agriculture,” Ivey said. “I feel like in North Carolina we’ve taken a lot of heat from people that just don’t know what we do out here. It’s been a real passion for me.”
Marlowe Ivey (in red), 36, farms near La Grange, NC, and serves as executive director of Feed the Dialogue NC, a platform that educates and shares stories about North Carolina agriculture.
The Carbon Neutral Pig touches on several climate-smart agriculture practices Ivey uses. It’s the second short docudrama in a series about U.S. farmers and ranchers harnessing technology and tenacity to improve their practices, become more sustainable, keep their businesses thriving and act as partners in climate action.
The first of the series was the award-winning 30 Harvests, featuring the story of Texas row-crop farmer Jay Hill. Hill was on the brink of giving up and selling his family farm when he decided to invest in making it carbon negative instead.
The series is produced by U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA), a farmer and rancher-led non-profit connecting food and agriculture leaders to act on a shared vision of sustainable food systems. The Carbon Neutral Pig was produced with support from United Soybean Board (USB) and North Carolina Pork Council (NCPC).
Sustainable soy is part of Ivey’s closed loop farming process.
“U.S. farmers and ranchers are superheroes. The work they do can provide climate solutions,” said USFRA CEO Erin Fitzgerald. “But they can’t fulfill this calling if we don’t hear their stories and help bring investment and collaboration to their practices. Marlowe’s story serves as an example, one among many. She’s working hard to do her part, using science, working with experts, forging solutions, and she’s brave enough to speak publicly to the truth of what she does.”
U.S. farmers have made great strides in protecting and enhancing America’s natural resources. Farmers like Ivey have increased their efficiency using technological innovations and precision agriculture — a mix of farming practices that harness satellite technology and advanced data analysis to make sure they are applying the best practices on every square foot of their land.
As a result, U.S. farmers grow more food per acre and produce more animal meat, dairy and fiber products for less inputs and on less land than at any other time in U.S. history. Since 1948, U.S. agricultural productivity has more than doubled but U.S. farmers use 25% less farmland. Between 1980 and 2011 total farm inputs — like fertilizers — declined by 15%, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Farmers Need to Share Their Stories
Previous generations of farmers, like her 65-year-old father who started their family hog business, didn’t focus on educating consumers about their practices, Ivey said. That’s something she is working to rectify.
“It’s up to farmers like me who are out there advocating for their stories, to show people why and how we do what we do and continue to be transparent about our practices,” Ivey said.
As shown in the film, her dad worries at times about her public profile as she speaks out often on behalf of pig farmers, but ultimately, he’s proud of her, and the two are very close, often speaking daily.
Ivey is excited to share with consumers and fellow farmers who watch the film her journey to make her farm carbon neutral. While she’s not there yet, “we’re close,” she says.
She is also proud to support partnerships with fellow farmers — including soybean farmers. According to USB, the soy and pork industries are natural partners, contributing to increased efficiencies and better farming practices between the two sectors. Soybean meal is a high protein feed perfect for growing pigs and the manure from the hog barns is used to fertilize soybean fields.
With her approachable manner and determination, it’s hard not to applaud Ivey’s love and pride for her industry and her legacy in continuing – and continually improving — the family tradition.
Ivey’s story of the past year isn’t rosy — in addition to business challenges from COVID-19, it includes a recent divorce and the regular need to defend her industry in her community – but it’s real, which drew director Jasper Claus of 1Camera to tell her story.
“As I looked for a subject for this film, I saw that the work Marlowe is doing is truly emblematic of what many U.S. farmers and ranchers are doing,” Claus said. “Running a farm involves continually observing, learning, pushing and improving. A bright future for Marlowe’s daughter and her generation is a huge motivator for her goals, and we brought that out in the film as a value so many people share.”
The Toughest Part About Filming a Farmer
Making the film was a lot harder than Ivey had anticipated — the crew followed her everywhere for a week. Now that she has gone through the process, Ivey said she has a newfound respect for the film industry.
“I’m a farm girl who knows how to work, but this was a grueling experience, in a good way,” Ivey said. They often put in 12- to 14-hour days, and Ivey developed blisters on her feet from walking back and forth in the barns retaking scenes.
But the hardest part was “I had to act,” she said. And she didn’t even have the luxury of pretending to be someone else. It was “Marlowe playing Marlowe.”
“Some of the scenes are personally emotional. Having to do it over, again and again, was tough,” she said.
Regardless, it was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Ivey said. She hopes that fellow farmers who see the film will be inspired to take on the mantle and tell their stories. But she also hopes the film will touch people who don’t interact much with farmers.
“I want people to trust me. I believe in what I do and the science behind what we do,” Ivey said. “With climate change such an important topic right now, I want people to realize farmers can be part of the solution and not the problem. It’s up to me to show them what we’re doing out here, to be transparent and show them how we are striving to be better farmers.”
Click here to watch the film.