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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

City Girl, Farm Girl (Claire)

Its 7:30 in the morning and I am a step behind at Broadturn farm. Everyone else has been working since 5, but I’ve only just arrived from Portland. I wander around the farm looking for workers amidst the tall stands of rhubarb, in the cow barn, in the greenhouse - and I finally spot John, one of the owners, by the pig pen measuring the temperature of some compost piles.

Relieved, I tramp over to say good morning but before the words can get out of my mouth a squawk louder, brasher, and more gruesome than anything a person is equipped to deal with at 7:30 in the morning blares out from the woods behind us. Its like the sounds of a car alarm and a person being strangled mixed in a blender- even the pigs next to me are a little flummoxed.

I jump out of my skin a little and while I’m settling back into it John says, “Oh, we think someone abandoned a rooster here.” (I can’t help thinking, “Just one?! Does it have a megaphone? a PA system?”)

He goes on to tell me that recent Portland ordinances allow people to own hens within city limits, but not roosters (Given the noise that just one rooster can make, I completely understand why). In the few years that the ordinance has been in place, he has noticed a lot of abandoned roosters appearing in the woods behind his farm. Sometimes they will try and sneak into the henhouse on the farm and challenge the resident rooster, but John assures me that If this city rooster gets to be too much of a nuisance the interns will track him down and make him into dinner. He adds, “This one sounds like a real healthy big one to me,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Roosters are not the only thing that the city of Portland gives back to Broadturn Farm. Later that day we load up the trailer and set to work mulching the large flower beds that will supply the farm’s flower share program. The mulch we are using is basically yard waste- sticks, leaves, grass clippings, and whatever else ends up in the raking pile. It is collected from the city and surrounding towns and gets composted for a shorter time than normal, leaving it pretty rough, perfect for spreading over beds.

We can still make out oak and maple leaves in the warm dark mix as we spread it between seedlings. Amidst the organic matter we find other recognizable things- tennis balls, golf balls, and plastic bags. In one wheelbarrow load, intern Sam and I find a winter mitten, three freezie pop wrappers, a tiny plastic toy tiger, and a magic marker. We try and cull as much of the plastic stuff as we can, but as we finish up a row I’m still bending down to pick out a little plastic chewing gum tray on my way back to the truck.

Its not like these urban intrusions into farm life are unwelcome or unused. The abandoned rooster will be dinner. The mulch will keep weeds out of the flower beds, leach nutrients into the soil as it continues to break down and even diffuse the impact of the rain squalls that roll through as we wrap up our day in the early evening. Even the tennis ball we unearth from the mulch pile is donated to the farm’s dog, Stella.

What strikes me about this farm is how it completely embraces the circumstances that surround it. Sure, every farm has to do this, or it just won’t work- and Broadturn is a CSA, dependent on community members to support and participate in it’s programs. But these guys seem to really have it figured out.

As it happened, my first day at Broadturn was the first CSA pick-up day for the year. We set up tables in the long barn with crates of chives and rhubarb we picked that morning and watched as cars and minivans arrived from all over the greater Portland area.

As the project’s documentarian, I had the great privilege of hanging out in the barn with my camera, taking some snapshots of the CSA in action. There were lots of people brand new to the idea, some who had been with John and Stacy for years, some families, some people fresh from their office jobs. Watching them leave the barn all loaded up with their week’s veggies, I couldn’t help but think about their presence on the farm. Whether they were work share CSA members who physically worked with us, people who simply buy into the CSA and finically support the work here, or those who donate their yard waste- they all fit into the farm’s systems and make everything work. Without the city and its surrounding outposts, Broadturn would be a totally different place.

As Keith and I drove back to town that evening we talked about how resourceful everyone at Broadturn seems to be, but the more I think about it, it seems to me that they may be a little beyond that- they’ve evolved to match their surroundings just like the plants and animals that they raise. Taking in and giving back- what a cycle! As this innovation broke, we rolled over the bridge to Portland and I went back to my urban life. I scrubbed the last of the mulching residue off my hands a few days ago, and have been waiting tables and carrying on my city bound life for days now, but I can’t shake the feeling of thankfulness that all my city living is somehow appreciated and useful on the farm (As long as I remember to pick all the plastic freezie pop wrappers out of my yard waste).

till next time-