Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Harvesting Cucumbers (Jennie)

A visit to Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Friday the 28th of August. I picked cucumbers with "the guys" - Pee Wee, Orlando, Miguel, and Teliv. I say I picked cucumbers, but mostly I followed behind, gingerly parting leaves of the plants they'd already visited, chatting with them while they worked and wishing I had a better hold on my Spanish. This is what I always wish when I spend time on Penny's farm. That's okay, though, there's something kind of sweet about the awkwardness of it all, how we struggle to have the simplest conversation and rejoice at the slightest success. I discovered that Teliv is practically my neighbor, and asked about the rain, of course - Pee Wee shrugged and said it was okay. Seems like it's been a good year. I joined the troop as they were working their way down the rows of pickling cucumbers. When they started on the European slicers (PeeWee had to repeat this word for me three times: "slicers". I had never heard this classification. I've always thought of it as pickling cucumbers and "normal" cucumbers), I was handed an empty bucket of my own. I worked my way down the rows behind them feeling a bit like Sal in McClosky's classic, excepting that I was not eating my bounty as I went - I had no bounty. The boys took to throwing their cucumbers in my bucket in good-natured pity, until Pee Wee sent me to the front of the line, where I did fare better. When I finally dropped a long, ripe, and twisted European into my nearly empty bucket, Miguel nodded with satisfaction and coached me: "buenos".

I retreated to the cool of the farm stand to talk to Jasmine. Jasmine grew up on a farm in the County, where her family leases land to a large producer of broccoli. She described to me her affection for the smell of broccoli at the end of the season - uniformly rotting broccoli. While we talked, we rinsed the crates of cucumbers I had just helped (sort of) to bring in. Jasmine has always worked on farms. Growing up in the County, she could work on the school farm in place of taking chemistry. She is a recent graduate of UMaine Orono, with a degree in Creative Writing, and she carves herself at least a couple of weeks in the winter to hole up on her family's land and write.

On my way out I stocked up for the week on vegetables and picked a bouquet of gorgeous flowers from Jordan's "pick-your-own" flower beds. Later in the evening, I felt a twinge of that satisfaction I'm always reading about, when I sliced for dinner one of the cucumbers I had reached through those prickly plants to claim.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Visiting Broadturn (Jennie)

August visit to Broadturn Farm on Tuesday the 11th. My last visit was in March, when we trudged about through mud and the last vestiges of winter's snow. Now the farm is lush and vibrant.

On Tuesday the 11th, I walked about and took pictures: of the chickens in their convenient home next to the tomatoes, of the cabins where the interns live, of the sunflowers. I sat with the farm campers (ages 4-10) as they ate their snack. They told me about feeding the chickens, the ones that lay eggs and the ones that don't, and they explained where the turkeys live and that there are three baby pigs. Farmer Stacy was showing her Saturday bride the flowers. I dug potatoes with Farmer John and three farm share workers. They explained that we were harvesting the potatoes early because of the "blight" which affects both tomatoes and potatoes. This is apparently the same blight that caused the Irish potato famine and tends to appear every year, but this year it has arrived early and set to work with surprising severity due to the sale of plants at big box retailers. I followed behind the shovel pulling hard red tubers out of loose soil and tried to explain this project. Farmers, actors, giant puppets. You know, community-based theater.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August Visit to Kay-Ben Farm (Jennie)

A visit to Kay-Ben Farm on August 5. Becky (Benson) and I talk about the rain. She says they've never seen a year like this, not in all the years her husband (Eddie) has been farming. They are in danger of not being able to feed their cows through the winter - the corn on higher ground looks fine, but you get down in the valleys and it's yellow, six inches deep in water, and the hay fields are muck. Thankfully, she says, they have the ability to wrap round bales, which they couldn't have done five years ago. Grass ferments inside the plastic wrapping and the cows love it like candy, cow saurkraut. But you can't feed round bails in the dead of winter because they freeze. You can't even cut into them. So they may have to sell cows or buy feed. She's not sure which they will do.

Becky walks me over to the side of the barn where about fifteen cows are spending the day outside. We're there to watch the cows for heat. Becky explains their various behaviors to me: "See, she's just nervous about the dog. And she's interested in us, she's like - what's up guys? And that one there is just lettin' 'em know who's boss. They do have a pecking order, that's for sure." We're looking for signs of aggression that are slightly out of place, or if a cow can "stand to be ridden", Becky explains, it means she's in heat.

We leave the milk cows and cross the road to watch the heifers. We discuss their complex naming system as we walk. I don't profess to fully understand the whole picture, because I still don't really understand how cow families work, but each cow has a name and a number. And the name is related in some way to the mother. And names are used for some purposes, numbers for others. The numbers are big, like 2524. I am amazed that they can keep track of these cows. I asked the herdsman, Ryan, how he can keep them straight. He shrugged and said: "It's just every day." Also, he points out, he helped a lot of them into the world. He says he remembers when most of them were born.

I stay to watch them lead the milk cows back into the barn. "This should be exciting," says Ryan. "We're going to try to take them one at a time into the barn, and they all want to go." If they break loose, he says, they'll just walk around for a bit and head into the barn themselves. In many cases, they know exactly where their stalls are and they'll find their own way. It's dinnertime.