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.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the Inside Out (Cory)

First of all, if you're reading this then I know you care about our project so you should take a second to check out our Kickstarter page and consider donating a couple of dollars or passing it on to your friends. There's a video about our project on the page where Jennie and Claire will charm your pants off, so at the least, give that a gander!

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Since coming back to America on July 12, I've been in six different cities. I've ridden two airplanes, Megabus and Concord Trailways, two different commuter trains to and from New York City, and Jennie's bike, and I've driven for a total of about 14 hours. I've seen and hugged seven family members and about two dozen good friends. And I've done it all without a cell phone.

Somehow during the past three crazy weeks, I also found the time to make a decision: I want to spend six weeks on a farm. I'm not sure what brought it on. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was my all-too-brief return to Portland and our three farms in July. Maybe it was swinging by the Chicago Green City Market and buying some sweet-as-candy beets. Or maybe it was the hectic pace itself: experiencing different towns and cities and states, one on top of another, with no time to reflect or sit back and take things in.

There were benefits and drawbacks to the way our work exchange was structured last summer. Benefits: Experiencing three very different farms and getting to see the way the farms changed over the course of the season in a broader sense - because a month would go by between our first and second shifts on each of the three farms, we could see the shape of the growing season, the dramatic changes it brought each farm. Drawbacks: Because of the part-time and time-staggered nature of our schedule, I saw and heard about but never experienced what it's like to work on a farm. To do the kind of work we did Tuesdays and Thursdays for 40, 50 hours a week as an intern or farmhand, or more than that as the farmer. To see something you've planted or an animal you're raising grow day by day, not month by month. To feel the way the season unfolds from the inside, not as a bystander. Kind of like visiting a city for a few days every couple of months, but never living there.

So I started contacting farmers about coming on as an end-of-season intern and was even able to visit a few of the farms. I ducked under electrified fences, ate chocolate-avocado pudding, saw refrigerators full of processed chickens and met eclectic intern crews. Some observations from the experience so far:

  1. Fastest hiring process ever. Never experienced anything like it. I got an incredibly high and fast rate of response to my inquiries, which were all (initially) by email. Some of these farms had no website, or only the most rudimentary sort, but they are on top of their game with communication. And you really get the feeling that your work on the farm will be absolutely integral and necessary if you do decide you're the right fit for one another.
  2. I've already learned quite a bit about the farm intern/apprentice community. For instance, one of the reasons I found so many opportunities so quickly is that many farm interns are college (or even high school) students who will be heading back to school soon. I ran across other programs I didn't know about, like an international apprenticeship program for young farmers and intern networks that help connect interns with one another across a state or region.
  3. Our project isn't as "out there" as you might think. One farm responded saying, "We unfortunately don't have any openings right now, but we think your project is fascinating - and we (the wife and husband team who run the farm) are a poet and a playwright!" Another farm has an outdoor stage and a non-profit housed on the farm that provides artist retreats and workshops throughout the summer. A third told me that one of their current interns, a college student, is studying theater. And on and on. We've been right all along: artists and farmers go together.
  4. Our script is on the right track. This is just a side effect, but it's been very encouraging to talk to the farmers who have been interviewing me a little bit about our script and the themes we're exploring. They're invariably interested in the project and they've all responded with excitement when I say that our script deals with farm transfer, the dynamic between generations, and the dynamic between multigenerational and new farmers. It's clear that we're touching on issues that are really important to the farming community and that is so exciting to hear.
So that's that. I'm excited about this last phase of writing and about the prospect of doing it while living on a farm. The two go hand-in-hand: the revisions to be done in large part have to do with making the day-to-day realities of running a farm believable, so though I'm not officially doing this as research, I know it will be helpful to the script. And I'm looking forward to getting really dirty and spending a lot of time outdoors and learning by doing and weeding, weeding, weeding. To not running from place to place, or farm to farm, but taking the time to get a little rooted, to try and see a farm from the inside out rather than outside in.