In 2014, as Farm Aid planted the seeds for our first festival in North Carolina, we were introduced to documentary filmmaker Charles D. Thompson, Jr. From our first conversation, it was abundantly clear that Charlie’s life experience—as a storyteller, farmer, farm and rural advocate, and social and racial justice advocate—was perfect for understanding a huge responsibility that Farm Aid bore: telling the story of farm advocates who rose up during the 1980s Farm Crisis to help other farmers save their farms.
Charlie became the director of our film, Homeplace Under Fire, and in the process met our farm advocate heroes. With the recent publication of his memoir, Going Over Home, we feel so fortunate to learn the details of Charlie’s life, values and beliefs that connect him so dearly to Farm Aid’s work. With this book, we know the specifics that put Charlie in the category of our heroes like Mona Lee Brock and Ralph Paige, who fought for farmers, rural communities and for a better system of agriculture. Charlie’s story—and his sharp and poetic insight into the hard truths of land ownership and agriculture and racism and inequity– is one that every person who cares about agriculture and rural communities should know.
Going Over Home tells Charlie’s story of a rural upbringing in Appalachia. His parents were the first generation to move off the farm, but he spent hours on his grandparents’ farm, where “every turn of a door handle meant new adventures and lessons learned. Those forays are how I first came to embrace my sense of belonging to agriculture, and how I knew that I, too, wanted to be a farmer.” But from an early age, watching his grandparents struggle to make ends meet on the farm, with his grandfather working multiple jobs, Charlie understands that farming is more difficult than it should be. “It all made me wonder, ‘Why isn’t farming enough?’ I asked Grandpa why people who work hard can’t at least get back what it costs them to raise food.” In Grandpa’s answer, Charlie found a foundation for his own concepts of justice.