Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Updates on Tennessee and the future.

Well folks, Gay Farm Tour Summer 2009 has come to an end. It closed with an amazing week in middle Tennessee where I visited several queer land projects and farms run by queer folks. About an hour east of Nashville, there is a collection of around 100 queer folks living rurally, most all of whom are involved in food growing of some sort. This community of queer folks is centered around two larger notable queer communities- one of which is called Ida and the other I am not legally allowed to reveal the name of. Ida, which was my most wonderful host for the week, is home to 8 queer folks and on a beautiful piece of land that has several houses and barns which people occupy. I spent time getting to know MaxZine the main gardener there and one of the oldest residents. Ida is host to the notorious Idapolooza queer music festival to which 100s of queers flock to every year. Its known for being a highly sex positive space and just a safe space for being queer. One of my favorite things about Ida is one of their composting toilets that looks like a striped palace, has a very long dramatic staircase leading up to its platform which is home to not just one, but two lovely places to shit so you and a friend can do your business and have a chat at the same time. 

The other community I visited is home to author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, Sandor Katz. Sandy and another resident Spiky gave me a great tour of the gardens where they grow lots of food. This community is home to lots of folks and known as a sanctuary for faerie identified folks and gay men. I don't want to say too much about it, because its the kind of place where the beauty and uniqueness of it are beyond the capacity to be described and captured in words. 

I also spent a day hanging out at Little Short Mountain Farm, a new farm in the area running a CSA for its first year. I spent time with the CSA manager, Jimmy Rose, who talked a lot about what it means to be a queer farmer in a rural area. My visit to Tennessee brought me to a greater understanding of the difference in experience between queer farmers in the city and those in the country. I know that in the future, I want to focus on interviewing those queers who are living rurally, I know they are out there and their voices and experiences are a much needed contrast to that of urban queer farmers. 

Unfortunately, I was SO BUSY filming that I didn't have time to snap any photos in TN, so you'll just have to stay tuned to see these places and farmers. This tour has been amazing and rejuvenating, I met amazing farmers and saw unbelievably gorgeous land. It was such an honor to be taken into peoples lives for a day or two and to be able to ask folks any question and have them answer with such gusto and heart. So many thanks to all the farmers who participated and have interest in this project so far. Now that the tour is over, posting on this blog will subside for a while as I focus on making a trailer for the movie, applying for grants so that we can do more traveling and start on post-production, and having benefit events to raise some cash. I'll also be submitting a short film from footage shot this summer to the transgender film festival in San Francisco. Stay tuned... 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Beltane Farm

On this trip, I was lucky enough to be able to make a stop through my home state of Connecticut for a few days. Although once a highly agricultural state, Connecticut today isn't really well known for it's agricultural production, so I was really surprised and excited to be in touch with gay farmer Paul Trubey of Beltane Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut- just one town over from where I grew up. 
Beltane Farm is a goat farm producing delicious artisanal goat cheeses like Chevre, French style ripened cheeses and Feta. They sell at farmer's markets all over the state, wholesale, and have cheese tastings every weekend at the farm. 
Paul told me that the name Beltane Farm comes from the old Mayday celebrations of Northern Europe- cheese and other dairy products were central to these celebrations as a way to welcome a renewed milk supply and  honor the successful kidding and lambing of the early spring. Coincidentally, Paul and his husband Mark purchased the 8-acre farm on May, 1- about 14 years ago.  

This is Beltane farmer Paul, who I was able to spend the afternoon with. Here he is with 16-year old (thats really old for a goat!) goat Maddie. I loved the way that Paul related to the goats- he knew each individual goat and many of them responded to him by name, especially one baby goat named Milagro (or Miracle in English) that Paul had nursed back to health from an infection inside his house, literally propped up with pillows on the couch.   

There is also an old house on the property, which Paul estimated had been around since 1840. When I asked about the history of the land, Paul told me that there was a pretty large population of Jewish folks who began settling in rural portions of the state, such as Lebanon. Paul said he had uncovered some old bottles with hebrew writing on them in his attic. This was a part of my home state's history that I never knew about. I did a bit of further investigation and found out that Jewish farming in Connecticut is actually a really important part of the state's agricultural history. Jews began fleeing crowded New York City to return to the land and began farming initially for subsistence, and later for profit as demand grew from growing urban cities like Hartford and Willimantic. Many Jews also used their farms as tourist destinations for fellow Jews to escape the extreme heat of New York in the summer time. Jews even started the first farmers' credit union in the United States in Fairfield, Connecticut. Who knew?

Here is the beautiful old barn at the farm where milking and cheese making happens
This is where the milking magic happens goes down twice a day. 

Paul cares for two kinds of goats La Mancha and Oberhasli. Here are some photos of the Betlane Farm goat superstars: 
Oberhasli Boy goats.

The La Mancha's look like they don't have ears. 

These kids melted my heart!

This goat was scratching her booty like this in the barn the entire time I was visiting.

Sweet beard.

And some shots from around the farm...
Overlooking one of the goat pens, a lovely place to relax.

Beltane Farm was a terrific example of successful small scale food production. The farmer was happy, the animals were happy, and the people who buy his products- many straight from the farm are happy too. It was really refreshing to meet a gay farmer in my old neck of the woods- and especially interesting to talk to someone living rurally. Compared to most queer city farmers, Paul's experience was dramatically more isolated and lacked a sense of greater queer community. The intricacies and distinctions in experience amongst queers in agriculture are surfacing with each farmer that I meet. 

On to Tennesse!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Queer Farmer Film Project Promo Video

Please check out this new promo video for the project made recently by my pal Sammy Lyon of Videos for Justice. Many thanks to Sammy for all your support and hard work shooting and editing this video.

For All Who Wish A Simple Burial


                            A burial ground, what?
The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground is located in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania- just over the border from Philadelphia. It is a 16-acre burial ground, intended for laying Quakers to rest simply and naturally- with things like biodegradable coffins instead of concrete grave liners. While there are around 4,000 graves on the property- there are also beautiful trees and places to find moments of quiet in the midst of busy city life. The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground is open to the public, and from my visit I observed that it was as much a burial ground as a lovely green space. A dear Philadelphia friend of mine clued me into this place, and the queer folks who grow food there.  

Hello Nancy (left) and Margo (right). Nancy had heard about the Friends Southwestern Burial Ground Garden years ago and jumped at the opportunity to grow food there. Now she trades taking care of the land and growing a beautiful garden for use of the space. Can anyone say sweet deal? I would call these folks subsistence farmers- they grow a lot of food that they eat, and give the rest away locally to places that will use it. This mini-farm was pumping out a lot of food.

Lettuce and onions being staked for seed saving.
  Swank cabbage patch, me doing some shooting.
I spent some time talking to Nancy, one of the farmers who had been growing food for a long time, she had even run a small CSA operation off of this land a few years back.. When we first met, she told that she wasn't sure she qualified to be a part of the project as she has been living a heterosexual lifestyle with a husband and child for many years. However, after talking with her for a while it was clear that she did. She told me about some of her experiences being confused in public for a different gender because of her queerfabulous gender presentation and gave me a great run down of her very radical thoughts on gender. 

It was a serious pleasure to interview Margo, a queer and mixed cultured identified farmer while they were doing some mulching. One of the things we talked about was WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and what its like for queer people trying to navigate that particular program which connects willing volunteers to organic farm work around the world. If you are queer and you want to be in a safe place, its sometimes hard to gauge from the often vague descriptions of the farms what the environment will be like. 

My brief visit to this place left me feeling as happy as Margo looks here, and was a nice metaphor for queers in agriculture- that there are unanticipated things in places you might not expect. 

I also want to give a shout out to Chris, an amazing African-American gay farmer who I spent a long time interviewing in his West Philadelphia home while I was in town. I wasn't able to visit his site, a public high-school where he runs the garden and works with inner city youth, but look out for him soon on video! 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mill Creek Farm

I spent the past weekend visiting with different farmers around Philadelphia.  It was so amazing to learn about the rich history of community gardening in the city, and to see it in action first hand. It seemed like on every block at least one house if not more had a front lawn busting out with tomatoes, okra, and greens creating a luscious urban landscape.

My first stop was at Mill Creek Farm in the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The farm is located on a previously vacant lot that was once home to row houses that were built on top of an underground creek (hence the name, Mill Creek). Unfortunately, those homes collapsed over 30 years ago due to poor structure and wet conditions and the land sat vacant. The Philadelphia Water Department leased the land from the Redevelopment Authority for a storm water management project in 2003- the farms founders got wind of this and made a proposal to start growing food there. The 1/2 acre farm has been around for 4 years and is doing lots of truly amazing things in the neighborhood. The farm's mission is to "improve local access to nutritious foods and to promote sustainable resources by growing and distributing produce and by demonstrating ecological methods of living."

On the right is Johanna Rosen or Jo, one of the founders of Mill Creek Farm who I was so honored to interview for the project. I was able to spend some time with her out on the farm too- here she is with a farm volunteer giving some cabbages a much appreciated hand weed. 

This is Jade, another Mill Creek farmer and founder who I wasn't able to interview on this trip, but who was fabulous nonetheless. Here they are scaring off white flies from the curly Kale with some neem oil. When sprayed all the white flies would furiously flee from the kale plants creating what Jade called the "dandruff effect." 

One of my favorite things about Mill Creek farm was their tool shed/packing/washing station. Here it is from a distance.

This cob structure has solar panels which provide power to the farm when they need it, collects greywater, is decorated in a beautiful mosaic of recycled and found materials, has a living roof and a composting toilet!
A lovely place to poop.
Some contrasting signs explaining the benefit of the composting toilet hung on the wall behind it. 
Some photos from the beautiful mosaic.

On the top of this structure it says, "This is a living roof, come look." I, of course had to look. Here is what I saw.

And more sedums! Sedums are succlent plants that don't need much water to live. 
The living roof was really beautiful, I did some shooting from up there, and was able to snag some beautiful birds eye photos of the farm. 

From the living roof, I also had a great view of the large community garden located right next to Mill Creek Farm. I was told that this community garden has been there for over 30 years and met some of the gardeners, one of whom was concentrating on growing medicinal herbs.

Mill Creek has a farm stand twice a week, holds community workshops of all kinds, trains youth to work on the farm (there was a queer youth intern who I interviewed!), and donates a lot of produce to local food banks. Mill Creek Farm is definitely a safe place for queer people- its run by queer folks, and Jo told me that often their volunteers are queer as well. Here are some photos from around the farm of their beautiful Saturday farm stand.

Wall of tomatoes!
Onions drying.
A beautiful hedgerow of fruit trees. 

Jo and Jade told me that this banana tree behind their compost does something magical to speed up the decomposition process. 
Okra, Jade told me is the farm's biggest seller by far. Here is a lovely okra flower.

Many thanks to everyone at Mill Creek Farm for showing me around and for all of the important and hard work you do!

And remember...
More from Philly soon...