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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

So You Want To Be A Farmer? (Claire)

In our latest conversations about the script, Cory, Jennie and I have been putting a lot of energy into finding a story that explains the transfer of a farm. This is what we know: that one farmer leaves his farm and a new family- one that is brand new to farming- takes it over. Sounds simple, right? But we found out the truth. Its really really not.
Just take the case of the new-to-farming family. Its easy to imagine that first impulse to get away from the lives they know most of the time and trade up for a life of vegetables and bird song. Who hasn't run that though experiment? "Thats it! I don't need this _______ (fill in the blank: job, schedule, commute, etc.) I'll just raise sheep!"

Beyond that though, things get... complicated.

We've learned from our farmer friends that they need to be their own business manager, marketing director, hired help, blogger, weather man, veterinarian and and infinite number of other things to be successful- but nothing has laid these facts out quite so... nakedly... as a quiz I recently found that was posted on the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension Service Website. Its called, "So You Want To Farm In Maine?"
The quiz boasts four sections of questions: Basic Decision Questions, Financial Questions, Personal/Management Questions, and Miscellaneous Questions. On the surface, it looks pretty straight forward- each of the 42 one or two line questions has a yes or no answer, unless it could also be "undecided" or "unsure". So lets dive in, shall we?

So- not kidding around, huh?
The next section gets into the nitty-gritty financial details of running a farm but I think my favorite, (maybe because its where all the drama is...) is the Personal/ Management Questions section. Check it out:

...and there are more after that. I think number 6 has to be my personal favorite- followed closely by number 7 and its adjacent health insurance question. Subtle, extension service. Real subtle.

All this reminds me of an essay that I love love love by Suzan Lori Parks called "Elements of Style." When Cory was here visiting she reminded me of this part of it:
Jesus. Right from the jump, ask yourself: "Why does this thing I'm writing have to be a play?" The words "why," "have" and "play" are key. If you don't have an answer then get out of town. No joke. The last thing American theater needs is another lame play.
(Dramaturgy note: Of Farms and Fables will not be another lame play.)

I feel like if the U. Maine Extension Service was in a more concise mood we could've just switched "theater" out for the word Farming and with minor adjustments received similar results as the 42 question test. "Why does this thing I'm doing have to be farming?"
As it stands now- this is how the test concludes:

Got that? No "try again!" no gentle reminders. Every question counts, and even if you do answer more than the requisite 32 questions with a "yes" all you get is my favorite congratulations I've read in a long long time: "congratulations on having a moderate chance for a successful farming career." Oy Vey.
Feeling optimistic yet?

All in all I think that this must be a very useful tool for potential farmers, and I'm sure it doesn't cover it all- where is the section of questions about managing a farm stand ? Or updating your blog? Or what about the part about dealing with town zoning laws? Its the tip of the farming ice burg-

So, you still want to be a farmer?

PS: "Growing Stories" the photo show that came out of our research process last summer is hanging up on the second floor of The Public Market House in Monument Square in Portland- if you're in town, stop by and check it out!