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Farming as a Performance Art
December marks the end of eight years of unremitting effort, great emotional and financial risk, family stress and turmoil, and a never-ending internal query: is this all going to work? Is it really worth all this so we can provide holiday ice cream, sending mail order ice cream around the country, providing access to a really superlative mail order ice cream product for a reasonable rate and bragging rights?
2020, in particular, a year that should have been a rocket ship for the farm and the brand, rapidly became a test of just how fast the company could pivot, creating new and unplanned revenue streams, establishing a whole new set of clients to generate cash flow coming in the front door just in time to go out the back. As with the rest of the small business community of the USA, this year was all about survival. And, of course, it was all about Farmer Bob’s ongoing performance art project.
“You do understand, that’s what we are doing here?” Saying this, he gives me that smug, smirky smile, like how can I be so slow on the uptake … he’s smart enough, after 30 years, to pull up short before going over the mansplaining cliff.
“Film and television were risky, unpredictable, potentially embarrassing, but at least very few people saw the end result if it stunk. Farming and ice cream, particularly mail order ice cream? Everyone knows, every step of the way that there’s no hiding bad outcomes. Kind of like free climbing El Capitan with the cameras rolling.” And he really, really thinks either is fun.
“What we are doing here is like a long, long Cristo project, the guy that used to wrap islands in pink gauze, or covered the German Reichstag in tin foil. He died in May this year, and he spent his life doing big, bold, audacious things that you couldn’t ignore. Lets do that too.”
I guess, given the fairly short time we have above ground, maybe this isn’t a bad way to approach life. And farming is most definitely performance art on a scale that Cristo could appreciate, played out over years, not the two hours of a feature film, like Peruvian Nazca lines carved into the dense clay soil of Vermont. The best part is, for the thousands of farm visitors month after month, year after year, the performance is largely free, always more complex, more nuanced. To play a part, all you need do is drive by and open your eyes.