Farmer John Writes: I Didn’t Sing that Evening

Week 12, September 24th – 28th, 2019

The Weather and the Crops
Whoa…lots of rain last week–alotta lotta rain. We were lucky to get the crops harvested when it wasn’t storming. 

The vines have died back now from the ripening winter squash, and the ground is littered with lovely squash–some of the best yields in years–strange, because the squash went in late and was unusually weedy (not hopelessly weedy, just kind of weedy.) It looks like we’ll have good fall carrots, too, if they don’t turn to mush in the mud. And I have a hunch we’ll have a lot of potatoes, though the ground has to dry considerably before we can harvest them. There’s also nice looking kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli, choi, Chinese cabbage, and more baby lettuce. It is a reassuring sight to see such loveliness in the fields again.

The tomatoes are finished this week. Some of the spaghetti squash has dark circular marks on it, likely due to moisture, which are quite superficial and should not affect its quality. Now that much of the squash is ripe, we will hasten to get it out of the fields, as the mud and humidity may have adverse impacts on it. 

Spaghetti Squash Harvest

The Weather and the Field Day
This past Saturday was a rainy day, yet almost 100 shareholders showed up for the Field Day. The pot luck was a fantastic culinary adventure. Spirits ran high as we all sat and
 ate in the comforting shelter of the loft of the big barn. There was drizzle and rain all afternoon, so we did not have a hayride. Fortunately, in anticipation of rain, I had the crew load up a trailer of pumpkins and gourds for our guests, which I parked in front of the barn after lunch. 

A Tour with Stories
Many shareholders departed rather early in the gloomy afternoon, but fortunately some of the guests lingered. I offered a farmstead tour to one family, which gradually expanded into a tour with several other shareholders.

In the renovated granary, I started sharing stories, meandering through my life a bit. The audience was most enthusiastic in hearing these tales. They requested that I share some of it in Farm News. I don’t believe I have shared the following in Farm News with our shareholders.

My Performance at The Bluebird Cafe
The Real Dirt on Farmer John, the film about the farm and my life, was screening at a film festival in Nashville in spring of 2005. Lesley Littlefield (the other bumblebee in the film) and I attended the festival. Several days before we arrived in Nashville, Lesley called the Bluebird Cafe, a place she and I knew almost nothing about, and asked to perform there. “Sure,” they said. “Come on Writers’ Night. We’ll hold a space for you.” 

“Can my friend Farmer John perform, too? He is the subject of the documentary screening in Nashville that week.”

“Sure, we’ll give him part of your set.”

The evening that we were scheduled to perform at the Bluebird, Lesley and I were having dinner with Al and Tipper Gore in their home. (I’ll leave out the details about how this came about.) It got late, so the Gores offered to take us to the Bluebird, and then they decided they would come in to watch the performers. Al already loved Lesley’s music, and now he would get to see her perform in a public venue.

(I had never gone to a public place with the Gores before. I didn’t realize that the main stage would be wherever the Gores sat; it seemed that almost all eyes in the room were on us. However, the evening went on as scheduled.)

During the first set, it dawned on me that Writers’ Night at the Bluebird was Songwriters’ Night. 

I did not have a song to share. I had a written piece to share. The piece was extreme enough for me to think of reading it as a bit of a performance, but it was not a song. 

Lesley got up on the stage and wowed the audience, as she usually does. (Sample Lesley’s music at Little Songs by Lesley Littlefield. Here is a video that Lesley and I did together, which was cut into the film: I Used to Bee.)

Although I had no idea that the Gores would be in the audience that night, I had already decided to read a piece that made me think of Al, an acknowledgement of his presence in Nashville at the time and his work on behalf of Planet Earth. Weirdly, Al and Tipper ended up in the audience on this night when I was…ahem…performing my story.

(When I was recounting this tale to the shareholder group at the Field Day this past weekend, a young person noted, “Ah, the Bluebird–that’s where Taylor Swift got her start.” 

“And many other famous musicians,” chimed in another.)

What a blunder. Was I really going to go up on the stage and read a story to a crowd that was there to hear music? In front of Al and Tipper Gore? My musician friend Lesley and I had been total rubes about this Bluebird place. We approached it out of ignorance. Later we were told by many people, “awfully hard to get to perform at the Bluebird. I’m surprised it happened.”

“Now we’re going to hear a piece by Songwriter John Peterson,” the host announced, “subject of the feature documentary film screening here this week at the Nashville Film Festival.”  

I took to the stage.

“Not a songwriter,” I explained. (Was I blushing?) “Writer. Farmer. This story is a tribute to the Gores who are with us tonight. In a way, it’s an environmental story. It’s an excerpt from The Way We Whir, a piece I wrote in the eighties.”

I proceeded, ‘Scarlet O’Hara dug her fingers into the earth and swore never again. The smudge empowered her. In the etheric eighties, however, strength is not a wedge of dirt under the nails. Earth is the fluff of our time. The potency of this decade lies in things that scoot and careen – ideas, signals waves, ratios. 

I had once envisioned for the farm a grain dryer, farrowing house, grain leg, augers and aeration fans, more studios and a large workshop. In anticipation of this growth, I had constructed a glass and cement block building to house the electrical equipment. Its name was the power house. It was a distribution center for electricity.

Power house in the 80’s

Electricity is modern and ancient. Physicists study it; so did Vedic seers. It zips about and tingles. Dinosaurs and vast fern forests had to rot and liquefy, then wait until we sucked them back from deep black pools, back to the surface where we pipe their spirits through the incandescent lights and Cuisinarts of the twentieth century. From dust to dust, from rot to rot, from earth’s innards to strobe-lit basketball games we’re dredging our heritage and making it sizzle.

After I built the power house, I Reynolds-wrapped its electrical conduits. Then I blue-cellophaned them. I glittered its great switch boxes. I gave the brontosaurus a gala send off. The pterodactyl soared through my copper lines and out into the light. I invoked the sacred ratios of pi and phi with which the Pharaohs had empowered their Egypt. I squared the circle, cubed the sphere. I stuck cowboy whistles on the fuse boxes so the great earth enema could pass through a song on its journey back through light.

Power house interior, 1980’s

One day, I ran into the meter reader coming out of the power house. ‘It’s kind of different,’ he said.”

I returned to my seat amidst enthusiastic but uncertain applause (if there is such a thing.) Al leaned over and said, “you’re a very powerful writer.”

When the Gores took Lesley and me back to our hotel that evening, Al and Tipper got out of their car to hug us goodnight. As Al bounded towards us, beaming, Tipper looked at him and exclaimed, “Al, I haven’t seen you so excited since you were a teenager. It’s like you’re floating on air.” 

I later realized that, at the Bluebird, I could have sung the story.

Angelic Organics Learning Center’s 12th Annual Harvest Moon Dinner, Thursday, October 3
Join like-minded people for a delicious dinner, drinks, live music—and much more. Experience the farm in the city–goats included.

Location: The Ivy Room, 12 East Ohio Street, Chicago, IL

5 – 6 PM VIP Reception: panel discussion about increasing the food supply of local and sustainable food

6 – 9:30 PM Cocktail Reception and Dinner, featuring local, seasonal and organic ingredients

Angelic Organics Learning Center relies on the generosity of people like you.

Learn more and purchase tickets here: 2019 Harvest Moon Dinner

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Thank You
Thank you for being with us for a dramatic farming adventure this season. 

Warmly,
Farmer John

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