Farming from the heart: Farmers share their stories

The Recorder, November 12, 2018, by Richie Davis

Three farmers walk into a barn …

But seriously, folks: Farmers need to share stories, too.

And CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) wants to share them, along with stories about food, told by chefs, farmers and others. As part of its 25th anniversary observance, CISA is hosting “Field Notes” Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., a storytelling performance at Northampton’s Academy of Music Theater.

Take Laurie Cuevas of Sunderland’s Thomas Farm, for example. One of 10 storytellers from around the Pioneer Valley, she recalls the day the family’s dairy herd had to be sold.

“I was an outdoor kid, and I spent a lot of time with the cows, in the barn, in the field. I was in 4-H, and it formed who I was in a lot of ways,” remembers Cuevas, who now raises 80 Nubian goats, as well as 400 chickens and cows, has a vegetable stand, and recently won a second-place national competition for Thomas Farm’s goat cheese.

Now, Cuevas, who was 16 when her parents’ Cheshire farm went bankrupt and was auctioned off due to plummeting milk prices, hears from farmers pouring their hearts out about having to give up their way of life, and says, “It cuts me open every single time, like I’m reliving it over and over,” although she offered her parents her $925 life savings from 4-H competitions and was able to keep her brown Swiss cow, Korey.

“In light of what’s going on, this is kind of my response,” she says of the story she rehearses over and over, trying to whittle it down to five minutes. “I need to put it out there and be a voice for all these farmers. The struggle’s so real for them, I can just feel it.”

Other storytellers, like Alden Booth of People’s Pint, Nan Parati, former owner of Elmer’s Store and Dave Wissemann of Warner Farm, or Meg Bantle of Kitchen Garden Farm will take part in Sunday’s event, planned as a way to bring people together around a format popularized by the Moth Radio Hour or Valley Voices — with their competitive aspect.

“Over the years, it’s felt we hear so many stories from farmers and chefs and other people we work with that are moving and funny and sad,” said CISA spokeswoman Claire Morenon. “We thought people sharing their own stories would be a way to give people a peek into what happens on farms and in kitchens and out in local communities — activists and educators — and provide …. an opportunity for those stories to come out.”

An open call for story submissions, using a dedicated CISA story line, brought forth a flood of entries, including the winners, who will perform on Sunday: real-life stories about how not to steal a pumpkin, about the struggles of a cosmopolitan restaurant owner hoping to gain the trust of a rural town, about compost mishaps, about confronting the reality of hunger in the classroom, food insecurity and hunger, about a farm in transition. …

“People dug deep to share stories that were so varied,” Morenon said. “A lot of them were really quite personal and some were pretty raw. Others were really funny.”

CISA even offered a workshop with a professional to help selected raconteurs polish their stories.

Tickets for Field Notes are $15 — get yours online or at the Academy of Music box office in Northampton.

Proceeds will support CISA’s Local Food For All initiatives, which increase access to local food for low-income members of our community.