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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Updates from German-Land

1. Spring is here!
I have a bike. There is sunshine. I joined a Berlin CSA-type dealie a few weeks ago and have been getting cases of vegetables; I have to figure out what to do with this week's fennel. (Any suggestions?)

2. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra just played a concert for a bunch of plants.
Weird -- but true. So very true. You can see video evidence below. The video host is a cheeseball, but I liked the idea. And you can download the music they played to the plants here, for free. In case you are looking for a springtime growth spurt.

3. I wrote a play.
Oh right, I finished the first draft of the OFAF play. So there's that. I am relieved and happy and nervous and all sorts of things. Responses from Jennie and Claire and my usual trusted posse of script-readers have been, so far, encouraging. I am working on having a First Draft, Version 1.2 (or should it be 1.1? I shouldn't use nerdy lingo that I don't understand) in time for our first public reading (!!!!!) at SPACE Gallery on April 14. If you live in Maine -- you should go. I'll hopefully be there via Skype. You'll have to attend the reading to see the whole script, but click here for a teaser.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We Are Reading a Play!

On March 22, Cory delivered the first draft of the Of Farms and Fables script. It is a monstrous 97 pages long, involves about 25 different characters, 2 farms, lots of family, Puerto Rican fables, fantastic dreams of dancing cows, and a GAP certification game show. On Thursday, April 14, we will be reading this script at Space Gallery with an excellent ensemble of local actors. Presented as part of the annual sustainable food event, Food & Farm, the reading will be followed by a Q&A. An integral part of our script development process, this event will help us shape the play through subsequent drafts. Please come, enjoy the script, and share your feedback!

Food+Farm: Of Farms and Fables

Thursday 04.14.2011, Doors at 7:00 PM, Starts at 7:30 PM, Ends at 9:30 PM, FREE, All Ages

Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland ME 04101 (207) 828-5600


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Growing Stories: Growing A Photo Show (Claire)

Earlier this year, I pitched an idea to the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery in Belfast. I had been looking over some of the photos I took last summer and began to notice that some of them were actually pretty good. What if I took some of those pictures and put them together with blog posts we have accumulated over the past months (yikes! almost a year now!)? Do you think we could make Farms and Fables into a gallery show?

Fortunately for me, they were just as excited as I was and their wonderful gallery director, Anna, helped me focus my ideas and booked us to open Growing Stories: Photos and Writing From The “Farms and Fables Project” on May 6th. (Mark your calendars!)

Ever since then, I’ve been looking back through the blog, through the thousand or so photos I took... Its been quite an

adventure. Let me tell you.

First of all- I’m not a trained photographer, nor have I ever organized a gallery show. So

when the deadline I had set for myself started looming large in my mind, I gathered my ruler, tape and cardboard and built a scale model of the gallery. Its cardboard walls are scarred from tearing off and re-taping little paper scale sized “photos”.

Most of the time, it sits under the coffee table and holds the 70 or so photo kiosk prints that comprise my “rough draft” edit of photos. When it’s in action helping me plan out just how many pieces can fit where, it often hosts gallery patrons collected from the shelves of the apartment. (see 'em? Its like the beginning of a bad joke: the little mermaid, a flying pig, The Buddah and his african finger puppet girlfriend go to an art gallery...)

When I’ve got an hour or two, I pull it out and start laying out the sets of photos I’ve already chosen and commence playing a complicated game of mixing and matching to help me figure out which piece of this puzzle comes next.

Fortunately, I’ve had the good luck to be able draw on the incredible eye and generous spirit of my friend and roommate Lizzie. Thank god she doesn't mind coming home to find me sitting in the middle of a flurry of photographs having minor breakdowns about which picture of a cow I should choose.

She’s also one of the smartest people I know. After mulling some images over with me yesterday, she said, “you know- you’ve got a pattern here. There’s the people who do the work, the work being done and the stuff you work with. Try thinking of it that way”. Clouds part. The sun shines down on me. All is clear. I think, “Its as simple as beginning, middle and end. Close up, middle distance, depth of frame. Worker, work, worked on”.

For a moment- I am enlightened. Then I get caught up in the cow picture conundrum again.

I’m getting down to the wire. I’ve given myself until April 1st to get all my ducks in a row- to get from 1000 photos to 18. To condense almost a year’s worth of journaling, blog posts and essays in 8 8x10 inch plaques.

On that day, I’ll pack all these things up in a big digital package and send it out to a printer. And when they come back I’m pretty sure it will be better than Christmas. I’ve had dreams in which I’m holding the large print (18x24) of Jennie chasing a cow and I can feel the weight of the gatorboard in my hands.

By then, I’m sure I will have gotten used to the idea that all my favorite photos can’t be in the show, but right now I’m haunted by them. Every image that is eliminated feels like such a betrayal. I don’t just betray my longtime favorites, but also the images I’ve grown to love as I go through the process of evaluating them. There are so many more favorites I didn’t know that I had- making it even harder to turn them face down on the carpet and move on to the next one.

In their honor, I’m dedicating this blog post and maybe a few more to come to show off the really great images that just don’t fit into the big show in Belfast. Maybe this can be their moment in the sun they so highly deserve.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Real plow, pencil plow (Cory)

My connection to the farming world is very different than it was five months ago at the end of our work exchange. During the work exchange it was physical, it was experiential, visceral; it was personal and interpersonal, it was tangible, it was about particular stories and memories and opinions. It was this farmer and that intern and this potato beetle and that cow and this CSA member and that hot sweaty day of tossing hay or misty morning weeding.

Maybe it is a strange order of things, but I started -- through the work exchange -- with the effort to understand the smaller elements of the picture; and it's now that the work exchange is over, in stepping back from that tangible experience and from Maine and from the United States, that I am for the first time really trying to get a sense of the picture as a whole. Reading articles. Listening to radio programs. Checking out documentation on every website from MOFGA's to the FDA's.

It is overwhelming.

It is a big picture. BIG. It's over a year ago that I first started talking with Jennie about working on this project and it has been a year of being constantly surprised by how much I didn't know about the issues of food production and processing and consumption, and land use and preservation, in the United States; and how much there always is, still, to learn. It is a puzzle. It is a very complicated puzzle. And it's possible we bought it from Goodwill and don't even know whether all of the pieces are there at all, or maybe some pieces of another puzzle are mixed in. Seems like every time I turn around, there is a new can of worms to open.

A Partial Listing of Opened Worm Cans
  1. The Big Guys vs. the Little Guys (GAP certification, farm subsidies, federal price of milk) -- how government ends up getting skewed towards making things easier for big industrial farmers, exactly the guys who don't need the help of, say, subsidies
  2. Environmental issues: carbon footprint of food transported from one side of the country to the other, animals bred for their meat consuming massive amounts of grain
  3. Is the "slow food movement" or the "local food movement" classist? Affordability vs. health vs. capacity to feed everybody vs. people just wanting to eat what they want to eat, damn it...
  4. Health issues: is it healthier to eat organic? How can we avoid major food-related health scares related to food production/processing (that GAP certification thing is tied up in this)? Does the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics do more harm than good?
  5. Community: is the American community deteriorating? What are the negative effects of globalism (I know, getting SUPER big picture here) and how can community-building, buying locally, and creating locally fight those negative effects?
  6. Land use: small farmers often can't compete with certain buyers who are able to pay much higher prices for land; how do we even things out? What are the benefits and drawbacks of land easements?
There are more. There will always be more. Point is, this stuff wasn't even close to being on my radar a year ago. And what put it on? This farm. That farmer.

It's hard to be away from those individual farms and farmers, far away, quite far, working on a play for them. Distance lends perspective, but drama is in the details. The big picture isn't theater. Theater is pink crocs, memories of an old barn, a cow dodging a rope halter, hustling to get CSA shares ready, chatting with an old blind woman in floral print on the farmstand bus.

I don't know what the context of this quote is, but I'm sure you can see why it speaks to me: "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."

Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn't writing a play, but I can read a wealth of encouragements and cautions in what he says. At the heart of it is an exhortation not to simplify, not to forget what it's like to be much closer -- to be there.

One way that theater can be a vital part of the conversation about the future of farming: It can help people be there. Remove that distance. Help us remember there's a woman behind that head of lettuce, a man behind that gallon of milk. That a farm is more than the tangible consumables it produces -- it is a part of the delicate and endangered ecosystem of the American community.