Land Stewardship Project staff facilitating discussions between experienced, new farmers
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 8:58 AM
Giving voice to the soil, Doug Nopar, Land Stewardship Project program organizer, authored a creative dramatization entitled "Look Who's Knockin.'" This play is stimulating conversations in southern Minnesota centering on land ethics.
Playwright Doug Nopar, along with members of the Land Stewardship Project, are pleased with discussion on land ethics being generated by the play "Look Who’s Knockin'" which has two remaining live performances in Zumbrota and Winona during the second weekend in April.
The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) was founded in 1982, as a nonprofit organization, with a mission statement dedicated "to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture and to develop sustainable communities."
For the last 25 years, Nopar has lived on a farm in this region, raising sheep and cattle. All this time, he has been involved in some capacity with Land Stewardship Project.
Nopar commented, "In recent years, it has become more and more difficult for beginning, sustainably-oriented farmers to rent or buy land without the moral and financial support of retiring landowners. This play will help jump start the much-needed conversation of how to provide affordable access to farmland for farming's next generation."
"Look Who's Knockin'" is directed by Dream Acres farmer and LSP member, Eva Barr who lives near Wykoff. Her expertise with both the agricultural and theatrical realms are a couple of the reasons Nopar chose her to direct his play.
"'Theater is the art of looking at ourselves' is a statement a theater director from Brazil, Augusto Boal once said. We are hoping this play breaks the ice and gives the public permission to discuss this topic," Nopar explained. "Eva has helped hone our ideas into something dynamic. "
An independent theater artist and an organic farmer, Barr is enthusiastic about the performance opportunities of "Look Who's Knockin'."
"Being a theater artist, I believe in the power of the live moment to inspire further conversation. Often you'll find characters reflecting your very sentiments, your very gestures, your very glance across the horizon, which I think these actors are doing very adeptly," Barr mentioned. "My perception is that more farmers we have on the country side, who are approaching farming responsibly, the healthier the land's going to be in the long run."
Helping with rehearsals, James Engesser of Spring Valley witnessed the transformation of the actors as they stepped into the dilemma facing many involved in agriculture today.
"Although I didn't grow up on a farm, we do live in a farming community here in southeastern Minnesota and I see the importance of the role farmers have in everyone's life," said Engesser. "'Look Who's Knockin',' although dealing with complicated issues, is a drama which everyone can relate to on some level. These actors do a phenomenal job of transforming themselves into these characters and I am amazed at their talent. Eva is a fantastic director who does outlandish things with stage productions!"
Barr's cast members reside in or near Fillmore County. Because of the traveling nature of the show, this two-person play utilizes the talents of four actors as it moves throughout the region. Linda Niemeyer of Ostrander and Margaret Nelson of Chatfield take turns portraying the character of Nettie who was raised on the farm discussed.
Her husband, recently plagued with health concerns, Gerald, is portrayed by men who are both currently working with the Commonweal in Lanesboro, Richard Nance of Cresco and Art Moss of Sioux City, Iowa.
As the play begins, audiences find themselves in the kitchen of an old country farmhouse where a retirement-age couple are discussing their future and the future of their family farm. The gestures made and words spoken will seem familiar, because the script was written after listening to stories real farm families shared.
This one-act educational play has ignited community discussion. It begins with retiring farmer, Gerald Dietrich, expounding on a recent pastor's sermon on "legacy" which caused a stir in his family.
The word "legacy" holds different connotation to the actors on stage. One is more focused on their monetary needs of the future. The other is focused on the gift of the land and being concerned that the work they have done is not destroyed.
As they ponder the questions of "What to do with the farm, now that they are no longer able to farm it?" many emotionally charged questions are addressed. The options before them seem to be to turn the farm over to the Wilsons, who are the biggest cash grain farmers in the county or to invest in a young couple who are desiring to begin farming by helping them get started on their dream of raising a dairy herd.
Nettie's roots are deeply planted in the soil of the award-winning conservation farm on which the play is based. She has close ties to the land which sustained her family when she was a little girl. She recalls the days of working side-by-side with Gerald raising a family and farming for more than 50 years.
Both Gerald and Nettie have deep connections to farming and a clear understanding that the time has come to make decisions which will affect not only their lives, but the lives of countless others. The routines of life on the family farm are entwined throughout the script. Common tasks are performed and members of the audience can almost see the brilliance of the sunset as Nettie gazes to the west.
Numerous interviews and stories of both beginning and retiring farmers are condensed into this half-hour play.
"'Look Who's Knockin' raises questions of land ethics and the moral dilemma between getting top dollar for selling one's land and the social purpose of helping the next generation of farmers get started farming," Nopar stated.
Humor, sentiment and the common everyday tension in a farm couple's relationship prompt the audience into personal reflection as they view this play. Then after the performance is completed, a community discussion allows the audience to share their various opinions and experiences.
With a focus on the "ethics of farmland stewardship through cultural programs and by creating a farmer-to-farmer network to help farmers move to more sustainable farming methods" LSP not only vocalizes concerns found in the farming community, but brings an awareness of the link between the rural and urban population.
The four areas LSP concentrates on currently are: Community Based Food and Economic Development, Farm Beginnings®, Policy and Organizing, and Stewardship Science.
The play takes a unique approach to identifying and addressing farmers concerned with the future of the land which has been cared for by farm families and opens the door for a discussion not only of the retiring farmer, but of those wishing to step into farming with Farm Beginnings.
There is a dilemma facing retiring farmers, farm widows and absentee landowners, which needs addressing. Although opinions can be offered, the decision rests with the independent landowner.
Understanding the importance of starting these conversations at this time in history is key. Bruce Barnum, a young farmer from Brownsdale, commented, "Why is this an important conversation for people here in southeast Minnesota to be having? I think everybody should be talking about this, from old farmers and young farmers to city dwellers in Rochester and Minneapolis. Everybody who eats is involved in farming, if they know it or not. It is everybody's problem, if farms aren't still small and healthy and prosperous. And it's every body's wealth, if we have a richness of real, local food to eat and people among us who care for the land."
He continued, "Everybody, not just farmers, should go to this play, and should be having conversations about who cares for the land. It makes a difference not only for farmers, but for anybody who goes to a farmer's market and buys a juicy bunch of berries or crisp green beans. Whoever cares for the land cares for all of us, and we need to pay attention to that!"
Two live performances remain and are scheduled for Friday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. at The Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota and Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Historic Masonic Theatre co-sponsored with Theatre du Mississippi in Winona,
After the Chatfield performance at St. Mary's Catholic Church hosted by area farmers, a lively sharing took place.
One line, being stated by a young woman, was about the importance of "real food" being purchased by "real people" with "real money," remarked Karen Stettler, program organizer for the Farm Beginnings Program, who generally leads post-play discussions.
"Look Who's Knockin'" and the discussion that follows will provide both the inspiration and the means for retiring landowners to begin to connect with these aspiring, young, conservation-oriented farmers. At each of the play performances, LSP provides resources and first-step guidance for those landowners interested in learning more about renting or selling their land to a beginning farmer.
"We are hopeful that these initial eight performances will generate significant additional demand for this program from farm organizations, rural churches, civic groups, schools and universities throughout the Midwest, and that this performance will be viewed by thousands of people these next couple of years," states Nopar.
Stettler concluded, "I feel the reason that we are doing these plays is to keep 'culture' in agriculture and to open up a needed conversation around the next generation of farmers accessing land to grow food locally and what people want their rural communities and landscapes to look like."
To continue the discussion, readers are invited to informal meetings that will be held at the end of April. For more information on locations and dates of these meetings, contact Stettler at (507) 523-3366 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org