Larry Jester never saw himself as a leading man.
Yet the Townsend farmer has a star turn in a new documentary about Delaware’s agricultural industry.
“I’m not used to being on camera, but I think it turned out pretty good,” said Jester, one of a half dozen farmers interviewed in the new, 30-minute film, “Delaware Agriculture: Farming in the First State,” produced by Wilmington-based Teleduction’s nonprofit initiative, Hearts and Minds Film.
While the documentary had its world premiere at the 42nd annual Delaware Agricultural Industry Dinner in January, its first public screening will be held at the University of Delaware’s Trabant University Center at 7 p.m. tonight.
Narrated by state ag secretary Ed Kee, the film touches on the industry’s past, present and future.
“Farming in Delaware has a long and proud history, matched only by the strength and success of our farmers today,” Kee said in a press release promoting the screening. “This documentary will help introduce Delaware residents to their farmers and neighbors next door, building awareness about the contributions and challenges of agriculture today.”
Jester, a third-generation grain farmer who tills about 3,000 acres located throughout the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area, is interviewed in the film about the role of technology in modern farming.
“I’d say that’s the biggest thing that’s changed since I started farming after high school,” the 55-year-old Middletown High grad said this week. “When things started becoming more technologically advanced, a lot of the older farmers would say you were buying gadgetry just because it’s the newest thing, but the fact is the technology helps you do things faster, safer and with greater [profit] margins.”
Jester, who operates L&L Farms with his nephew Mike Kitts, said the GPS systems he purchased for their farm tractors and sprayers about five years ago have made a significant difference in reducing planting costs and improving yield.
“They tell you exactly where you are, where you’ve been and where you’ve got to go next, which prevents overlapping and reduces the amount of chemicals you use by putting it exactly where it needs to be,” he said.
Jester said the stereotype of a farmer in coveralls with straw in his mouth is no longer applicable.
“It’s big business, and you’ve got to be on your game or you won’t survive,” he said. “Fortunately for me, my parents and grandparents taught me well, which has had a lot to do with the success I’ve had over the years.
Page 2 of 2 - Jester will attend Tuesday’s screening and participate in a panel discussion afterward that will include Kee; Mark Rieger, the dean of the university’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; dairy farmer and Woodside Creamery owner Jim Mitchell of Hockessin; and Dover poultry farmer Georgiana Cartanza.
“I think what [Kee] is trying to do is plant the seed in the minds of the UD students that there is more to farming than just cows and plows and hard work,” Jester said.
Fans and supporters of local agriculture who can’t make it to Tonight’s screening will be able to catch the documentary when it airs on WHYY-TV later this spring.
The Delaware Humanities Forum, which provided the initial funding for the film, also will be showing “Delaware Agriculture: Farming in the First State” at a series of upcoming events.
A trailer for the documentary also can be viewed here.