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Organic farming gets boost from Pulitzer Prize-winning Peoria native

Anthony Suau

Peoria native Anthony Suau won awards for his photography while taking pictures for big-city dailies like the Chicago Sun-Times and Denver Post. His photographs have appeared in Life, National Geographic and Paris Match.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for his images of the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 while in 1996 he received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for coverage of the war in Chechnya.

Now the 67-year-old Suau has his first full-length movie out, a film called “Organic Rising.” Suau said that what started out as a 10 to 15-minute short turned into a 10-year project.

“After living in Europe for 20 years, I moved back to the states in 2007 and got interested in organic agriculture,” he said.

That interest quickly turned to passion.

“I’m very inspired by the amazing farmers who farm organically,” said Suau who crossed the country gathering information and shooting pictures for the film including doing interviews here in central Illinois.

Suau hopes his film can revive the fight against business interests that have sought to suppress the organic movement, he said. Suau cited the impact of lawsuits filed against “60 Minutes” and “Oprah” when those programs raised concerns over chemicals like glyphosate and atrazine in the nation’s food and water.

“Seed companies basically shut down the press,” said Suau, who credited Clare Howard, a former journalist with the Peoria Journal Star, with inspiring him to focus on problems caused by the use of atrazine as a weed killer.

Suau cited Howard’s work in exposing an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign conducted by the Syngenta Co.
to protect profits made from the sale of atrazine, a chemical which research indicates can run off fields and contaminate water supplies.

“Organic Rising” also includes footage shot on a non-organic farm near Galesburg. “In order to learn about all elements of the organic sector, you have to learn about conventional agriculture at the same time,” said Suau.

Along with interviews with farmers, Suau includes comments from scientists like Charles Benbrook and Tyrone Hayes. “A day of reckoning is coming for the United States,” said Benbrook regarding the use of pesticides.

The good news is that organic agriculture has been embraced by the public, said Suau. “Organic agriculture today represents a $35 billion business. It’s moving,” he said.“ The film can be viewed at www.organicrisingfilm.com/the-film.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.