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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Concerns Everyone (Cory)

Last time I saw Eddie, he told me to look out for Benson cows in Germany. They're here, though he says even he wouldn't know how to find them. I haven't run across one yet, but this summer's experience on the farms continues to resonate with me in many ways even all the way across the pond.

When I walk down the produce aisle in the German grocery stores I frequent, in Netto or Lidl or Aldi, I am very aware of the Ursprung of the potatoes and the tomatoes, the peaches, the onions. Germany? Italy? New Zealand? It doesn't mean that I stick with only German products, but when I do buy nectarines from Spain, that's a choice of which I am conscious. It's clear that the local/organic fad is here, too, and it's similarly complicated (people tell me, for instance, that you can't necessarily trust a food item marked "BioBio" or "├ľkologische" to be organic, due to wide disparity in controlling and evaluating organic farming). I've had a surprising, to me, number of conversations in Berlin about eating locally and eating organically -- are people here more aware of some of the food-related issues the OFAF team started to consider this summer? Or is it just that I'm more aware? It's hard to tell. But I am definitely more aware. And I feel that my perspective on food, the way I think about it, purchase it, and prepare it, has changed. Permanently, if not massively. As someone who as of six months ago saw nothing but price tags in the grocery store, I feel excited about this change in myself because it seems to me an indication that just opening the dialogue is a big step. I mean, really all that did it was getting to know some farmers and hanging out on some farms for a while.

From two months' distance, these themes and surprises rise to the top for me:
  • Farming is a job. A farm is a business. (Small farms have to find their niche to survive.)
  • For a small farmer, farming must also be a lifestyle. (No vacation, or not REALLY.)
  • Tradition is significant, as is the breaking of tradition. Farmers are not stuck in the past, but they are certainly in dialogue with it.
  • Working extensively on or owning a farm gives you a close and unique relationship with the life cycle.
  • There is no set definition of "farmer." (Pride.)
  • Farming is a rollercoaster of emotion.
  • Each generation on a farm has a tough decision to make.
  • Farming is about family. Growing up on a farm is something special.
  • There is no easy solution to the difficulties these farmers face. It's all complicated.
And these images: Bright vegetables and faded clothing. Early morning mist and dew so that everything looks old or like a dream. A July afternoon when everything sticks to you -- straw, your clothing, sawdust, cat fur, the smell of dung -- and small blisters pop out on the palm of your hand under the hoe. When it's too hot to talk. White shirts showing scrubbed-in dirt. Picking a lemon cucumber and eating it, in the field, with its prickles and its cool watery insides that quench thirst. (Cool as a cucumber. How is it that cucumbers really are still cool on a ninety-degree day?) A sick cow, the way her eyes turn glassy, the way the fight comes back into them after an IV. Or the deep sleep of cows -- a cow passed out with her tongue lolling from her mouth, Ryan pulling on it, the cow sleeping on. Tali in his hooded sweatshirt and thin plastic gloves. Huge sudden welts from afternoon mosquitos layered over a rash of tiny bites from early morning invisibugs. Stout geese running, wings spread. The absence of the barn as strong as its presence. Clothes that people wear every day or almost every day, like Penny's polka dot boots or John's feminine straw hat or Trey's orange rubber apron or the Crocs that abound in Broadturn in the morning -- like costumes or uniforms. Flora's porcelain-doll face smeared with homemade cheese spread, white and peppered with fresh herbs. A field full of weeds bigger than the fragile salad greens sprouting underneath.

For me, theatre, indeed art in general, is about asking questions -- not providing the answers to them. Artists alone don't have the solutions for the things farmers are facing. Neither do the farmers, alone. Neither do the scholars who study agriculture, alone. Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt wrote 21 "points" to accompany his play
The Physicists which I find to be absolutely lovely, and a few are very pertinent, I think, for us:

15. [A drama about physics] cannot have as its goal the content of physics, but its effect.
16. The content of physics is the concern of physicists, its effect the concern of all men.
17. What concerns everyone can only be resolved by everyone.
18. Each attempt of an individual to resolve for himself what is the concern of everyone is doomed to fail.

Strongly worded for sure, but what I like about it/take from it is that it's our job to identify important questions, and to start helping to ask them. So, some questions that I've thought of:
  • What role does farming play in our world? What role should it play?
  • What role does it play in Maine?
  • What is going to happen to farms like our three farms in the future? What should happen?
  • What are the sacrifices and rewards that farmers make/receive? At what point do the sacrifices outweigh the rewards?
  • Why should non-farmers care about farmers/farming?
  • What is the role of tradition in farming?
  • What is a farmer? (SURPRISE!)
The question for us, then, is not how to answer the questions we come up with, but how to dramatize them. And, also, how to craft a story out of farm life that will be dramatic and at the same time not seem to the farmers played up, overblown, unreal.