The Textbook Farmer | Film Library Review

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Featured Guest Post by Zulakha Iqbal, Small Planet Institute intern

It’s just two wheels and some metal strewn together, but for some it embodies economic stability, access to education, and a hopeful future.

Farming is just about planting crops and raising animals to outsiders, but for farmers, tending to the land is an intricate, demanding, and risky business.

Often, one sees only the simplistic character instead of the complex nature and everlasting effects of entities such as a bike or farming.

That is what we can learn from The Textbook Farmer and filmmakers, brothers Benjamin and Jacob-Siegel, and their work with World Bicycle Relief.

What started as a project on the organization known as World Bicycle Relief, turned into a short film with an even deeper message once they stumbled upon a Zambian farmer named Benjamin and his inspiring story. Before digging into the wise words of Benjamin, the economist/dairy farmer, let’s take a minute to focus on the original intention of the filmmakers, explaining the work of World Bicycle Relief and how they change lives on a daily basis. If you’re interested in learning even more about the transformative effect of a single bicycle take a peek at their groundbreaking film, With My Own Two Wheels. You can watch the whole thing here.

World Bicycle Relief is a Chicago-based international non-profit organization that operates a bicycle distribution program that helps to reduce poverty and build communities in developing countries. Armed with the knowledge and statistical proof that communities in Africa and Sri Lanka experienced a more than 30% increase in income as a result of owning a bike, the organization aims to provide well-designed reliable bikes to impoverished communities that can use them in a variety of ways to improve their overall quality of life.

For example, World Bicycle Relief reserves 70% of their bikes for the Educational Empowerment Program for girls who face extreme challenges in order to access education due to household chores, personal safety, and early marriages. The bikes improve access to schools for teachers and students with proven success rates.

The Textbook Farmer 2Along with education, the program also helps out local farmers. Those living in rural areas can avoid walking long distances and ultimately decrease their travel time with a bike instead of paying for expensive transportation. This is a significant plight for farmers who must take their goods to sell in more populous areas. The bikes carry up to 220 lbs., enabling dairy farmers like Benjamin to be able to transport their products to distant co-ops.

However, The Textbook Farmer takes us on a more personal journey with the story of a man who offers us a unique lens and differing perspective. Benjamin, the focus of the film, is a trained economist with a Master’s degree from Australia. Upon returning to Zambia and not being able to find a job that suited his interests, he took up dairy farming. The way Benjamin’s words resonate in the few minutes of the film is so astounding that it’s no surprise that the makers of the film also found a need to focus on him.

Not only is one intrigued by Benjamin’s journey to dairy farming despite his international education, but also we are pushed into further contemplation when Benjamin himself challenges us on this notion. Why should we find an educated farmer to be a surprise? Why do we find ourselves upset that Benjamin ‘has to be’ a dairy farmer because he couldn’t find a job that suited him? According to Benjamin, we’re wrong.

“I’m a practicing economist, just in the dairy industry,” Benjamin explains as he goes over the analytics he employs in operating his farm such as cost-benefit analysis and other economic terms you would find being employed by a firm. As one of the filmmakers, Jacob Seigel-Boettner explained to me, Benjamin’s story forces us to “Reshape what jobs we see as valued by society.” Important work like farming and other blue-collar jobs have been increasingly looked down on in society in comparison with the corporate world.

Although it’s set in Zambia, the global message Benjamin exudes is one of humility and self-reflection to understand that the measurements of success are not as simple as we thought. In less than four minutes the film will have you questioning your own definition of success, hence why it is certainly worth a watch, and a visit to World Bicycle Relief to learn more about enabling farmers and communities in developing nations.

Closing with Benjamin’s own iconic words, regardless of your education, job, or background, “You are the master of your own destiny.” No matter your stance on the correlation between status and success, this is one statement most of us would find ourselves agreeing with.

 Watch The Textbook Farmer:



ZULAKHA IQBAL is currently a senior at Boston University, where she is pursuing a degree in international relations with a minor in history. During the course of her internship at Small Planet, Zulakha is excited to gain more knowledge about sustainable food practices and how environmental policy plays a major role in the fight against global poverty and hunger. She also regularly contributes as a translator of Urdu articles to an index of foreign publications. Zulakha enjoys playing the violin, going to concerts, spending time at the beach, and working on future business endeavors.