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An important conversation

January 21, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

When it comes time to retire, farmers sometimes may face a certain dilemma - to sell the land to a person turning in the highest bid or to a young farmer just getting started.

The Land Stewardship Project is sponsoring a one-act play "Look Who's Knockin'" that will be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Black Box Theatre at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Area actors Nadine Schmidt, a theater professor at SMSU, Bob Schwoch of Lynd, Kurt Schulz of Glencoe and Mary Fylling of Montevideo are involved with the play. Schmidt and Schulz are doing the January performances and Schwoch and Fylling are acting in the February performances. Each pair of actors portray an older couple, Nettie and Gerald, trying to figure out what to do with the family farm after they retire.

The play was written by LSP policy program organizer Doug Nopar and directed by LSP member and farmer Carmen Fernholz.

Amy Bacigalupo, program director of Farm Beginnings for the Land Stewardship Project, said that within intentional conversations with members, the issue of affordable access to land for farmers came up. Nopar, who is also a playwright, started interviewing beginning and established farmers to create the one-act play.

"The writing came from (LSP) members," Bacigalupo said.

Bacigalupo said the play uses humor, storytelling and everyday tension to tell Nettie and Gerald's story.

"The moral dilemma of 'should we sell it to the highest bidder or a young farmer getting started?'" Bacigalupo said. "We don't have all the solutions."

Schmidt said that her husband had seen the show at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service conference last year and told her about it.

"Since our family is committed to sustainability, and I am an actor, he thought it would be something I would be interested in," said Schmidt. "When I saw that the Land Stewardship Project was going to tour the show in western Minnesota, I knew I wanted to audition."

Schmidt said "Look Who's Knockin'" raises some very important questions in a very human way.

"I emphasize with Nettie's desire to protect the land and Gerald's desire to provide for his family - they are facing a complicated dilemma that many of us will face, and this play can help people get the conversation started and take a proactive role in deciding what they want their legacy to be."

After the play is performed at a venue, a community discussion is encouraged, Bacigalupo said. LSP will also provide resources for landowners interested in learning more about renting or selling their land to a beginning farmer.

"We want people to come and talk about the issues," Bacigalupo said. "We think it's important that people show up and have conversations about it."

Bacigalupo said the other performances after Marshall will be in Litchfield, Clinton, Milan and Glenwood.

"Purposely they're (performed) in smaller communities," Bacigalupo said. There were 30 people at the first performance in Madison on Jan. 8, and Bacigalupo said LSP aims to have at least 30-50 attend the play in the smaller venues. Local farmers are also being invited to share their testimony, she added.

"It's something we see as an important strategy to bring these issues to the table," Bacigalupo said.

Schmidt said there was a good turnout, audience response and discussion at the Jan. 8 show in Madison. She hopes that more people will come and see it and talk about what future they would like to see for the land around them.

Schmidt said the experience with the one-act has reinforced and reminded her of something she already knew, which that theater is more than entertainment.

"It can be a way for people to explore and understand the situations they find themselves facing in everyday life," Schmidt said.



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