Real farm life, at the intersection of arts and agriculture

by Amy Mayer, Harvest Public Media

“Art is to stop and make you think,” she said. “That’s the goal of what we do, right? Is to put something out there to change an image or to update a perception.”

Artists use their work to understand the human experience. So here in America’s breadbasket, many artists turn their eyes on Midwestern farming. The intersection of agriculture and art features a lot more than amber waves of grain.

In a living room converted to a theater for the evening, Ethan Peterson and Madeleine Russell portray the characters from Mary Swander’s play, “VANG.” In it, the actors share the emotional stories of four immigrant couples who farm in Iowa. Swander used transcriptions of conversations with Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese and Dutch farmers to create the play.

“I’d written another play called ‘Farmscape,’” said Swander, who is Iowa’s poet laureate and an English professor at Iowa State University, “that was a verbatim play, a sample based on interviews of people in all sorts of different areas in the changing farm landscape. And I worked on that with my students and it toured extensively in Iowa and the Midwest, out to New York, Colorado.”

The success of “Farmscape” helped propel “VANG” into more communities. And the reception the plays have received, especially in rural locales, has led Swander and Fred Kirschenmann, of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, to consider how the messages of the arts might help bridge the chasm between farmers and consumers.  Read more…