Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fruit Loop Acres

Meet Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer of Fruit Loop Acres in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Fruit Loop Acres is a 3/4 acre permaculture fruit farm in the heart of the city. Like many post-industrial midwestern cities, much of this urban center is fledgling, depressed, boarded up and faced with significant challenges to accessing good fresh food.
Amidst blocks of abandoned lots and boarded up homes, we were so lucky to visit with this truly queer farm which was a shining green beacon of hope and good food and an example of something really different and beautiful in an unlikely location.

The amazing fruits and nuts (which include many Indiana natives) grown at Fruit Loop Acres is available to people in several ways- they have a u-pick by appointment service, they sell produce to local restaurants, and they also have a delivery service called Basic Roots Community Foods which has been around for 5 years and in collaboration with other sustainable farms delivers fresh produce to customers in Indianapolis.
Kay and Sue told us that the name for Fruit Loop Acres comes from several double entendres- fruit because they are a fruit farm growing many delicious heirloom varieties of cane fruit and stone fruit, the word fruit as synonym for queer, loop because the farm is located near the loop of interstate highways running through the city and because in line with permaculture principles and practice the farm is a closed loop system always recycling and reusing what they have on hand rather than brining in outside inputs.

The gayest looking bee hive I've ever seen!

In addition to tending a permaculture food forest in her backyard, Kay (also proudly known as Krazy Kay, which she told us is a name people have given her and she is OK with being called as long as the "krazy" is with a K...) is an installation artist of sorts. Using recycled and scavenged materials Kay uses her farm as a space for her installations, here are some photos from around the farm:

Fruit Loop Acres' beautiful back fence made from recycled doors. Check out the babe in the window...

look closely...

When we asked Kay and Sue what their definition of a farmer was, they gave one of the best answers we have heard so far, "Someone who grows something bigger than themself." What a perfect way to sum it up.

Our southern and midwest trip has come to a close. Thanks for following our tour. We are almost done with production and have just a few California interviews to do this Fall. We are going to start editing soon and are applying for Frameline's completion fund. Stay tuned...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Homestead Ranch

Meet the Skeebas- Marek, Courtney, and Denise- the farmers of Homestead Ranch in Lecompton, Kansas.
Homestead Ranch is a small 3 acre family farm that raises La Mancha and Boer goats. Since Kansas' raw milk laws are strict and allow the sale of unpasturized dairy products only from the site where they are produced and the farm is in a rural area making travel to the farm by customers an unreliable business model- the Skeebas transform their goat milk into soaps and lotions which they sell online and at the Lawrence farmers market.
We met up with Courtney, Denise and Marek for their morning milking. After visiting Alabama and Arkansas, we were of course interested in their experience as queer people living rurally. When we asked them do describe how they identified, the most important way they said was, " a family..." This just about melted our hearts. Courtney and Denise said they have felt extremely supported and respected by their neighbors both for being farmers and for being a queer family.
Check out that soap, so beautiful. Courtney and Denise are both self taught caretakers of goats and soap makers. We talked in depth about the long and hard trial period it took for them to get their soap recipes perfected.
Here are some of the kids born this year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Arkansas: A Safe Space for Unicorns

As we pulled into Arkansas we were excited to continue our journey in the rural south. We were headed for the Natural State's town of Proctor to meet with Brandon Pugh of Delta Sol Farm.
After exiting the interstate the winding country road we followed to Proctor was completely surrounded on all sides by 1,000s of acres as far as the eye could see of fields of rice, cotton, and soybeans. We saw cropdusters flying low and dropping dust clouds onto seemingly endless fields of moncultured food.

Meet Brandon Pugh and his dog goose. Brandon is a gay farmer growing organic flowers and veggies for market and CSA on 3 acres of his family's land. He grew up in Proctor and comes from a family of conventional farmers. His brother and father farm in the area conventionally, and despite the prevalence of mainstream agriculture there Brandon has resisted using chemicals in his fields, even though he has wanted to- as he told us the Arkansas heat makes the weeds grow incredibly fast.
Delta Sol Farm lies amongst fields of soybeans which you can see beginning in the distance. Brandon told us a story about hand weeding carrots in end of his field which borders with a neighboring soybean farmer and having the cropduster drop fungicide on him.

Much of Proctor looks like this.

Brandon's fridge looks like this. Note the amazing tribute to Cher and Madonna. Brandon was our gracious host for our evening in Proctor and we got to chat about his deep love for Madonna and dancing to her songs in the field. While Brandon did grow up in Proctor, he found his organic farming roots in California- he is a graduate of the well respected Farm and Garden program at the University of Santa Cruz and ran Sol Food farm in Sonoma County before deciding to move back to Arkansas to start Delta Sol. Brandon said that he is out to his family and greater community and has experienced very little discrimination based on being gay. A greater struggle for him seemed to be meeting other like minded gay men in his area.
Brandon sells veggies and flowers at 2 markets in nearby Memphis, Tennessee. Brandon told us about his idea for making t-shirts for Delta Sol farm that instead of the John Deer deer, have a unicorn instead and said that his farm is for sure a "safe space for unicorns..."
His beautiful stand full of produce that is...

c e r t i f i e d f a b u l o u s ! ! !

The Saturday market where Brandon sells is in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church. Check out their flag- bike repair!

Thank you Brandon for giving us a great reason to visit Arkansas.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sweet Homo Alabama

Our tour unexpectedly took us to visit with 3 queer farmers managing a certified organic CSA and market farm in Northern Alabama. As we drove into the tiny town of Falkville we were bombarded by religious evangelical messaging signs with firey flamey backgrounds reading, “You think its hot here?” Though it has been over 100 degrees and miserably humid everyday, we wondered if Alabama was a safe space for queers. Spending less than 24 hours listening to the stories of the 3 queer farmers we met with we discovered just how welcoming and safe this part of the rural South can be.

Welcome to Falkville, Alabama. Population: 1, 219.

Meet Oliver Flowers- farm manager. A queer and trans tomatopicker extraordinare with amazing farm fashion! Can you say boots and short shorts?

This is Suze Bono, also farm manager. A Pennsylvania native- traveller, farmer, and food processing genius. She's harvesting herbs and beautiful Zinnias. And she can bake delicious bread.

This is Elijah Mountain, chosen brother of Oliver and queer farm volunteer. Raised in Baltimore and once a student of computer science, Eli is getting his hands dirty on a farm for his first time this year. He is a practicing Christian and attends a local church and he thinks garlic is really gay. I bet you will see him talking in the movie about all of that.

The Northern Alabama farm we visited (which will remain nameless for now) spans over 200 acres and farmers Suze, Oliver and Eli with a rotating crew of WWOOF volunteers grow flowers, herbs, veggies and fruit on 3 acres. Suze and Oliver are partners and found the farm by chance while looking for winter farm work last year. They love it so much they plan to stay on for at least another season.

We joined them for their early morning CSA harvest and had the chance to talk with them about their experiences living and farming as queer people in the buckle of the bible belt. We wanted to know if they were out- they said they weren’t necessarily hiding it but weren’t broadcasting their queerness either. Suze talked to us about how people show they are heterosexual through their behavior, the same way some people show queerness through behavior. All 3 farmers we talked to said that they have been welcomed into Falkville with open arms(they are all not from Alabama), despite being viewed as a little wierd. People tend to see their farm as different than others in the area mainly because of their small scale, because they are farming organically and will spend hours going row by row to look for pests and kill them by hand instead of simply spraying chemicals, and because none of them are from the area.

Queerness seemed to be largely irrelevant to the farms relationship to the larger community- as Suze told us it would be inappropriate to talk about it with a farmer friend who comes over to help about sexual preference and identity. Its just not something that comes up in conversation, rather, they connect deeply with farmers and neighbors over farming techniques and advice. Though their farm is viewed as different, and they are certainly viewed as different both because they are outsiders and due to how they present (Suze mentioned she is often read as male and Oliver talked with us about being an effeminate transgender man- AND they are partners often read as a straight couple or as a gay man and dyke in a relationship...) the bottom line seemed to be that people in the community who have gotten to know them respect them because they are hard workers and good farmers and haven't seemed to care about them being queer or not.

The crew checks in...

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes.

figs from...
this huge 17 year old fig tree!
there were also pecans!

We loved visiting this farm. If you are ever in Alabama, there are a few sweet homos waiting for you there...

Department of Fagriculture?

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet in Washington DC with Perry Stevens, the LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager for the USDA's Natural Conservation Resource Service. After hearing about my project, he got in touch and wanted to pick my brain about my the movie and LGBT farmers. His current work is to make the internal USDA a safe place for LGBT employees through awareness trainings around queer issues. Though it was exciting to meet with him and hear about the work he is doing at the USDA, my main interest in meeting with him was to have a greater understanding of the USDA's relationship and stance on queer farmers. Should we be viewed as a minority population and be eligible for special grants and loans? Is this something queer farmers would even want- government help and recognition? How do USDA employees interact with queer farmers? Have there ever been complaints filed to the USDA from either employees or from farmers on the basis of gender or sexual identity?

The USDA has historically not been a friend to minority farmers, especially farmers of color. For example, see the Pigford Case- a class action suit filed by black farmers that was settled earlier this year for $1.25 billion dollars after black farmers had complained for many years that they were subject to unfair treatment while applying to local county committees for farm loans and assistance. Black farmers were consistently denied USDA farm loans or forced to wait longer periods of time for approval than non-minority farmers often causing farms to shutdown because of foreclosure or financial disaster.

Considering this horrific historical relationship to minority farmers, I wanted to know what the USDA was going to do to be an ally for queer farmers. Mr. Stevens didn't seem to have too many immediate answers, as his focus is currently on increasing awareness and leading the USDA's employees to create queer friendly workplaces. He mentioned that it would most likely be around 5 years until real the work of outreach and focus on queer friendly customer (farmer) service from the USDA side would happen. In good news, he did mention that to his knowledge, no discrimination cases have ever been filed with the USDA based on issues related to gender identity or sexual orientation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

St. Louis Screening and Q+A

Please join us this Sunday, August 8th for a screening of the Queer Farmer Film Project short
7:30pm drinks and snacks
8:30pm outdoor screening of the short followed by a Q+A and Agnes Varda's film The Gleaners and I

Slow Rocket Urban Farm
1938 Cherokee Street
St. Louis, Missouri

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Common Ground

Meet Julie Puhich and Nancy Laich, 2 of the farmers at Common Ground Farm in Olympia, Washington. Both Julie and Nancy are long time farmers in the Olympia area and collectively run the farm with Julie managing the field veggies and Nancy overseeing the goats and orchards. Common Ground was one of the most magical, welcoming, and aesthetically beautiful farms we have visited yet.

Common Ground grows diverse veggies and fruits for their 40ish CSA boxes. Members pick up directly at the farm or are delivered to in Seattle. They are growing some serious food here!

Here are some of their baby goats and milking goats. Julie described the goats as the "heart of the farm, " not only because they are physically located in the farm's center but because they are used in conjunction with so many important aspects of their farm- eating extra veggies, providing fertility for the farm, offering milk and grazing the land on rotation.

The babies were so happy to see us!

Through this project I have discovered that there are quite a few queer goat farmers out there. I don't think it is coincidental that queers are drawn to goats- they are very queer themselves. Strong personalities, individualistic and creative, polyamorous, feminist and lesbionic-
all qualities found in these amazing creatures. For a deeper understanding, I suggest reading the chapter in Brad Kessler's book Goat Song that talks about goat reproduction- I think you'll find the detailed descriptions of males in rut proof enough.
Meet Lucy, Common Ground's resident queer goose. Nancy told the magical story of Lucy who lives among the milking goats and has had many doe partners in her life. She usually chooses one doe, mounts her, and continues to cuddle up.

Some beautiful shots from around the farm...

poppies fading, asparagus background, bees on lavender...
oats and wheat

pallet fence held together with bailing twine, do-it-yourself recycled material style

Thank you to Leu for taking these beautiful photographs and for help in the field and to everyone that hosted in the Pacific Northwest.

Next up: meeting with Perry Stevens in Wasington DC-the USDA's National Conservation Resource Service's GLBT Special Emphasis Manager.