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Forty people gathered at Jon and Tina Bakehouse’s Maple Edge Farm on August 25 to celebrate the ties between agriculture and art. Why, you may wonder, would Practical Farmers hold such a field day?
Just shy of 25% of Practical Farmers’ membership is made up of non-farmers. To better bring them into PFI’s community, Practical Farmers committed to holding at least two events each year to educate non-farmers about agriculture in Iowa. Agriculture is such a staple in Iowa, and art feeds our hearts and souls. Art engages and educates people on important topics. Elevating the role and influence art can have when applied to agriculture is a wonderful thing, and was the focus of this creative event.
The day started with Tina Bakehouse and Mary Swander sharing stories of how their lives have been impacted by food, and how that relationship has shifted over their lifetimes. Tina said, “Iowa has some of the richest, most beautiful soil. It should be full of agri-hoods!” She asked the audience to imagine a healthy food system, where farming is a panacea for a healthy economy, environment and people.
Next Practical Farmers member Ardy Gillespie of Atlantic provided a short presentation on nutrition. She started the conversation by asking member Ellen Walsh-Rosmann of Milk and Honey, of Harlan, to share the menu for the day’s meal. Milk and Honey provided a delicious menu bursting with locally-sourced food:
Ag Arts Buffet Menu
Braised Beef | Onion | Carrots | Tomato | Beef Shoulder | | Garlic | Fresh Herbs | Stout Beer Mustard
Ratatouille | Mix of Squashes | Onions | Roasted Red Peppers | Garlic | | Herbs | Red Wine Reduction
Southwest Potato Salad | Onions | Spicy Ranch | Local Cheese | | Garlic Chives | Black Bean Corn Salsa Coleslaw | Local Honey | Lemon | White Wine Vinegar | | Grains Of Paradise | Fennel | Tomatoes
Rhubarb Cobbler | Candied Rhubarb | Strawberry | Vanilla | Brandy
Brownies | Chocolate | Walnuts | Coffee
Ardy commented that the menu for the day was lacking additives found in many pre-packaged products. Additives help stabilize food products for longer shelf life but often detract from their health benefits. She talked about the difference between proteins in meat versus pulses versus vegetables.
Ardy pointed people to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website that illustrates what a healthy plate looks like. She advised, “Don’t look at food in isolation; look at the big picture, not just one food or meal you eat. Strive for variety, balance and moderation.”
Ardy suggested we all strive for a triple-A local food system. “We need local food available, accessible and appreciated by our communities.” During discussion, attendees talked about how to eat local food year-round, and how light processing impacts the nutritional value of food.
Attendees also talked about the connection between soil and food health. Member Fred Kirschenmann, of Ames, said, “There is beginning to be an awareness about the connection between eating whole foods from healthy soil and human health.”
Creativity in action
After our delicious lunch, Tina led the group through some creative activities. First, volunteers worked together to create a story by each contributing just one word in succession. Then, volunteers participated in storytelling by each coming up with a sentence, with each sentence starting alternating with fortunately, or unfortunately. Finally, small groups came together to work on food stories. The group was eager to participate, kids and adults alike, and the activities were quite fun.
The final act of the field day was a performance of Mary Swander’s Farmscape. Previously in the day, Mary had explained that Farmscape was meant to be a one-off performance, but the play has now been performed more than 70 times. Mary, who lives near Kalona, is executive director of AgArts, [https://www.agarts.org/] a non-profit designed to imagine and promote healthy food systems through the arts. She is also artistic director of Swander Woman Productions, her own theatre troupe. Mary wrote and produced Map of My Kingdom, a play commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa to bring attention to the complexity of farm transfer, and Vang, a drama highlighting the experiences of recent immigrant farmers. You can find more information about Mary’s work here.
Farmscape is a culmination of interviews Mary conducted with farmers about our farming history, and how the way we farm is changing. This riveting production brings real issues to light. Tina and Jon, along with Jon’s parents Bach and Nancy, were part of the cast. So was PFI member Steve McGrew. Throughout the performance, Steve played music on his hauntingly beautiful saw, with Jon accompanying on acoustic guitar. They performed songs relevant to the topic and mood: Country Roads Take Me Home, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Shenandoah.
Practical Farmers was thrilled to have AgArts, Golden Hills RC&D and Humanities Iowa as sponsors of this artistic event. The day really reinforced the reason why PFI put a goal to have non-farmer events as part of its repertoire. We all eat, and we are all reliant on our food system. As Iowans, agriculture is part of our state’s identity, and we should be aware of how it impacts our lives. Thanks to these creative PFI members who put such a fun learning event together!