A Story of Succession on a New Jersey Farm, in “Seasons”

The buzz of bees, the twitter of chickens and wild birds, and the whisper of rustling leaves take hold on a clear day at Bodhitree Farm, in the New Jersey Pinelands. “Seasons,” a documentary by the filmmakers Gabriella Canal and Michael Fearon, tells the story of Bodhitree and its leader, Nevia No. Beginning in the fall of 2020, it cycles through the farm’s operation the following winter, spring, and summer.

“When I first saw this land, I fell in love in five minutes,” Nevia recalls in the film. Before she was a grower, she had met a farmer and become enthralled by the life style that the work could provide, which led her to start Bodhitree. Since then, Nevia’s sixty-five-acre plot has supplied some of the top chefs and farmers’ markets in New York City—New York magazine’s Grub Street has called her the “Greenmarket Goddess.” A two-hour drive from Manhattan, the farm is depicted ethereally, as a place lush, pristine, far removed from the mores of urban living. “You’re on a giant piece of land that is tended to so meticulously and with so much care and love from the people who live there,” Fearon told me. “And that’s not an experience you actually get very often.”

Nevia’s immigrant experience, and the ideas of tradition and legacy stemming from it, drives the narrative of “Seasons.” She talks of how her mother, who emigrated from what is now North Korea, was embarrassed of Nevia’s chosen profession. In turn, the film largely focusses on Nevia’s desire to pass on her lifework to her own daughter Euni Park, who began working on the farm—somewhat reluctantly, it seems—at the start of the pandemic.

A child of divorced parents, Euni grew up in Maryland, away from her mother. “I was convinced that if I learned what she was doing, it would bring us closer, and it would help create a better relationship with her,” Euni says in the film. “I picked up a lot of the understanding of farming through wanting to spend time with her.” She makes it clear that the separation from Nevia was difficult for her. “Mother-daughter relationships can be tricky, but they’re also so beautiful,” Canal told me. “If there’s someone out there who is living the same experience, they can relate and find solace in the film.”

There are thorny moments of family discord. In winter, Nevia, Euni, and Nevia’s mother make mandu, Korean dumplings, and sit for a Lunar New Year meal together. Nevia says, of Euni and her boyfriend, “If you guys are going to do this with me for many, many years, I will build a kitchen on the farm to do whatever—” But Euni interjects: “We’re not going to do this for many, many years.” In spring, Euni, irritated at her mother’s lack of record-keeping, mentions that she’ll mark a task they did that day in a calendar. “It’s all in my head,” Nevia protests. “That’s not how we’re doing it this year,” Euni says. “I’m not coming on your emotional rollercoaster with you this year of when to do something or not.”

The squabbles between the two accentuate moments of tenderness, of love. Behind a parked car, Euni checks Nevia’s heart rate: “Ninety-five. But you also just did . . . a lot of heart work.” Nevia then reaches down to lift a heavy bucket, but Euni takes it from her. “You’re not bringing that over there,” she says. “Mom, you’re, like, so old. Bye.”

Summer, during the closing chapter of the film, is abundant with vibrant scenes of harvest: Nevia and Euni wash leafy greens, vegetables brown in a steaming pan, bright-red kimchi is preserved in glass jars. Euni reflects on the significance of her time spent with her mother on the farm. “​​I know it’s not forever. I know my mom doesn’t plan on doing this for too much longer. Physically, I don’t think she can,” Euni says. “And so at least I know that I had a part of this vision with her and for her.”

The film concludes with a cookout on the farm. Cheeseburgers and hot dogs crackle atop a grill, and Nevia eats corn on the cob, smiling and dancing in delight at first bite. Mother and daughter dine together with other loved ones. Nevia is then pictured wearing all white, surrounded by greenery and sunlight. She rolls up her long sleeves and then sits and sings a song in Korean while plucking the strings of a gayageum, a stringed instrument played on one’s lap. The end reveals that Euni is still contemplating whether to return for another season at Bodhitree. “She’ll run the farm her own way, which is fine—it doesn’t have to be my way,” Nevia says, of her daughter. “I hope she understands that someday.”

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