The Pendulum Swings

Dream Acres Farms serves pizza every Friday night from 5-8pm. 

(Photo S. Yao)

The pizza is cooked up with ingredients from the farm. 

Susan and I had no idea what to expect, and I laughingly realized as we pulled in the driveway that I had no idea how we had been connected with the farm, and how in the world, they found us. The answer would be discovered later. 

We showed up early because we wanted to test out equipment- given that we were screening on a farm and not a theater. 

Everything about the evening was a surprise. 

The building where the pizza is cooked. Note solar array. (Photo S. Yao)

Dream Acres Farm is almost completely off the grid, and an impressive array of solar panels are found on roofs throughout.

Eva Barr. (Photo S. Yao)

We were immediately greeted by Eva, who has a strong presence and the muscle definition of a person who works outside everyday doing manual labor. Todd- also part management of the farm- was upbeat and curious with a quirky sense of humor. He showed us to the Dream Theater, a converted barn with church pews as movie seats, and a number of bats that fly across the light of the projector and help to keep the insect population low. 

The Dream Theatre. (Photo S. Yao)

The projector worked so we ordered a pizza.

When making pizza, apparently one must cut the dough. (Photo S. Yao)

It was phenomenal- all kinds of vegetables grown on the farm, cheese, fresh crust, baked in a brick oven in a few short minutes.

Ingredients from the farm go onto the dough. (S. Yao)

It's kind of ridiculous how well we've eaten on this trip.

Yep, we ate that! (Photo S. Yao)

We were the first to arrive, and so we had no idea what kind of a crowd to expect. By 6:30, the farm felt a bit like the ending scene from Field of Dreams. Car after car pulled up, often with young families, and ordered pizza.

If you build it, people will come. Pizza Fridays at Dream Acres Farm. (Photo S. Yao)

All of the seating, which was an assortment of picnic tables and found furniture was filled up, and people drank beer and wine they'd brought themselves as their kids ran roughshod through the pastoral landscape, pulling up grass, petting horses and climbing tree houses. It seemed a bit like what a medieval wedding might have been like, but then again, who can be sure. 

Amidst the crowds, Erin Meier introduced herself, a wonderful woman with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who was a big part of helping us choose where to screen our documentary in Minnesota. She's a frequenter of the Dream Acres pizza days, and thought it would be a nice fit- and voilá- that's how we got there. 

As the sun started to set, and the pizza making ended, most of the people returned home. But about 40 or so, decided to join us in the Dream Theater, where after some technical challenges, mainly that we couldn't figure out the sound until Todd returned from the kitchen- the film got rolling, with sound. 

Following we had a spirited discussion, in a tight-knit crowd of people who often have such discussions, as none were bashful, and everyone well heard. 


Bob Barsch- probably in his 50s- talked about how he went into conventional agriculture in the 1980s with a simple choice- either go big or don't farm. He chose to go big, and currently raises about 130,000 hogs a year for the big integrator Hormel- perhaps the company best known for producing Spam. Bob has a level-headed demeanor, and an incredible depth of knowledge.  He talked about how the pork industry adapted to consumer needs and made pork "the other white meat", a move which lowered the fat content, and perhaps the taste. He talked about how the efficiency of scale necessarily means that the tractors and buildings continue to get bigger and more expensive- which allows for more meat to be produced more cheaply- but agreed that the high cost of equipment makes it very difficult for young people with little capital to get into agriculture. 


Bob Barsch- conventional hog farmer- talks about the changes in agriculture over the past decades. (Photo S. Yao)

Mike Cotter, 82 years old, talked about his first days farming when the family used horses and tractors. He had begged his father to get rid of the horses, a fact he laughs about now. He spoke with wisdom and humor about the cycles he's seen agriculture go through. After feeding antibiotics and growth hormones for a while, he was forced to change when his first wife said she wouldn't eat the stuff. Now he's adamant that antibiotic-free and growth-hormone free tastes much better.

Eva talked about how the farm has grown slowly over 15 years, as she and Todd have built it by hand, and have always raised vegetables at very small scale. The pizza thing is a new development, one that has caught on almost entirely from word of mouth. 

As the night wrapped up, Mike said something that has stuck with me. We were talking about how agriculture went from the horse to the tractor, and then from the 50's until today through a very science-based approach- one that dared to turn a fatty animal like a pig into something that can't survive the winter and tastes more like chicken. And Mike said, that he can feel another shift happening today. That our culture's previously unshaken trust in the ability of science to engineer a better food- like Spam- has begun to change. The pendulum perhaps has reached the furthest it will go in that direction for now, as it seems that people are beginning to want to know where their food comes from, and that people are beginning to understand that certain vegetables only grow in certain seasons, and yes, that pigs are meant to be fat, and that means they'll taste better and be able to go outside again. 

Of course, once this food movement has taken its course, we will have many unintended consequences, and the generation following us will think they've got some clever ideas about how things have to change. Or at least that's what I think Mike might have been thinking as he walked out of the barn doors into the unusually brisk July night.




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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-28 18:32:26 -0400