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, August 6, 2011

The Theater of Mulch (Jennie)

Scattered through the narrative of our play are a number of weeding and harvesting “interludes”. These are full-company moments, an opportunity for our audiences to remember and to observe some of the work that takes place on farms, to be reminded of the crops that appear in their season and of the constant need to protect these plants from pests, drought, and WEEDS.

One element we may employ in the staging of the interludes are snippets of conversation between workers on our fictional farms. These conversations have yet to be written. I joined the team at Broadturn Farm this year as a “work share member”. This means that I work for four hours each week in exchange for a share of vegetables. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been paying special attention to the conversations I hear and participate in while working in the fields, in the hope of providing some fodder for Cory’s snippet-writing process. Here are some conversations I've noted:

Back in the first week or so of June, John and Stacy welcomed 150 middle-school students from Scarborough to the farm for a tour. Part of the deal was that the students would do some “work”. The two jobs assigned were picking rocks and mulching Stacy’s flower garden. I helped to manage crowds of twenty to thirty pre-pubescents as they scrambled through the mulch pile. I heard some great sound-bites while performing this duty, most notably:

“Just use your hands. Stick your hands in there.”

“No way, I’ll puke. I’ll puke.”


“Ew. I don’t ever want to be a farmer.”

To be fair, there were a number of kids who were able state why the mulch is necessary and who asked some intelligent questions about the process, though these questions did tend to revolve around discerning the cause of the smell emanating from the pile. At one point, I heard John addressing a group of squeamish thirteen-year-olds from atop the pile of mulch on the other side of the garden:

“Did you know that a study was done recently which showed that kids raised on farms didn’t get sick as often because of their exposure to the bacteria in dirt and compost?”

In response to which the teachers began chanting:

“The dirt will make you healthy! The dirt will make you healthy!”

And John told me a story one day while we were harvesting kale. Last summer, a group of Courtney’s friends visited the farm on a scorching day in July or August. (Side note: Courtney was an intern last year. Now she’s working on a new farm very near John and Stacy!) The group of friends camped on the farm and they wanted to do some work, so John invited them to mulch – this time in the potatoes. In similar form to his address of the middle-school students, John climbed atop the pile of mulch and delivered an eloquent speech about the potato plant and its cultivation.

“From the beginning of time, from the dawn of agriculture, ne’er has there been a plant such as the potato!”

Sheesh. Talk about theater . . .

And then there are the conversations that have nothing to do with farming or plants or food, the completely arbitrary conversations like the one I was part of yesterday in the middle of the squash field. It was a conversation about pet names:

“I think it’s weird when people name pets after people.”

“I don’t know any dogs named after people, but my friend had a baby and the name she chose for her son was the same as my family dog’s name. Of course, she didn’t know the dog, but it’s still a little bit weird for me.”

“I like dogs that have human names, as long as they’re not named for a specific person. But none of my dogs have human names. One of them is Cabot, like Cabot cheese."