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Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:39 am

Land Connection Play


You can grow your own chives for this yummy recipe, Asian chive pancakes with dipping sauce.

A play? Really? I’ve known about and admired The Land Connection – a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting farmland, training sustainable and organic farmers, and promoting a vibrant local food system – for years, especially its executive director, Terra Brockman. I’ve attended Land Connection events, some at Henry’s Farm in Congerville, where Brockman’s brother Henry and three generations of their family work the land, and where TLC had its beginnings.

I’ve had enlightening conversations with Brockman, who always seems to be in five different places doing five different things; watched as she testified at state legislative hearings; and thoroughly enjoyed her book, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm. The book catalogues the frustrations and satisfactions, joys and sorrows, sensory pleasures and pains of small/sustainable farm life. For me, much of the book was a trip back to my childhood/young adulthood on such a farm. For those without similar memories, it’s a glimpse into why that lifestyle (trust me, it is a lifestyle) is both extraordinarily demanding and extraordinarily fulfilling.

I’ve come to expect innovative ideas from Brockman and TLC that promote agricultural sustainability and help reverse the flood tide of mega-industrial monoculture “farming” back toward smaller family farms. But I never imagined that one of those innovative ideas would be a play.

“What made you think of a play?” I asked Brockman. She laughed. “Well it developed over a period of years,” she told me. “It was written by The Minnesota Land Stewardship Project’s Doug Nopar, who originally titled it Look Who’s Knockin’. The Land Connection has had a long relationship with the MLSP, which is actually a much older organization than TLC – MLSP is about 40 years old,” she said. Its mission parallels that of TLC’s and other central Illinois organizations such as the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s, as well as Sangamon County University of Illinois Extension programs headed by Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant. “I saw Look Who’s Knockin’ twice at various meetings and was blown away by the impact it had on the audiences and the conversations it stimulated,” Brockman told me.

“Because the play was written in Minnesota about Minnesota farming issues, a lot of the dialogue was oriented toward dairy farming, which isn’t a big factor in Illinois – especially central Illinois,” Brockman told me. “So we adapted parts of the dialogue to be more relevant to farmers’ issues here.”

What Will Be Your Legacy? centers around a dilemma faced by Gerald and Nettie, a retiring farmer and his wife facing a decision about what to do with their farm that has been in Nettie’s family for five generations. Gerald and Nettie must choose between getting top dollar from a large industrial operation, or taking less and taking a chance on a young couple who would farm sustainably and naturally. Their dilemma is a common one throughout America, as established farmers grow gray and neither their children nor grandchildren plan to return to the family farm.

Central Illinois’ adaptation of What Will Be Your Legacy? benefits from a director who has had his feet firmly planted in both central Illinois sustainable agriculture and New York City’s theatrical world. Doug Day spent many years as an actor in the Big Apple before returning to central Illinois to raise organic fruits and vegetables for local markets at his Spring Bay Farm. “It lets me combine my two favorite activities: theatre and farming,” he says.

What Will Be Your Legacy? has already been staged in Bloomington, Peoria and Urbana. The premier performance in Bloomington was a sellout. Because the play ends with no clear answer, it gives the audience plenty to reflect on and talk about when the curtain falls.

After the show Brockman facilitates a discussion among audience members, who so far have ranged from farmers and families of farmers, to students and local food supporters. “We leave it open and ask the audience to react,” Brockman said. “We know every farm and every family situation is different. We’re looking for a discussion, a conversation about options.” So far, Brockman says, the discussions have engendered lively conversation as community members voice their opinions on issues that are often swept under the rug. “[The play] reminded me of the way my mom and dad talk when they talk about the farm,” said one participant.

An alternative to selling the family farm to “big agriculture” presented in the play is for retiring farmers to connect with young folks looking for an opportunity to begin farming. It stimulates much of the post-play conversation. “We know these people,” says Brockman, “and know that they are ready to farm because they have completed the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings Course and mentorship. All they need is a secure long-term lease, or option to purchase. And often all they need is five to 25 acres. The hardest thing is to get everyone involved with a family farm transition to sit down together at the table,” Brockman explains. We [TLC] can be the matchmakers, and we can help people tap into their core values of stewardship and explore creative solutions.”

Actors Cindy Hoey and Charles Brown as Nettie and Gerald in What Will Be Your Legacy?

Springfield performances of What Will Be Your Legacy? will take place on April 19 and 20 at the University of Illinois Extension Office, 700 S. Airport Drive at 6:30 p.m. They are free and open to the public and will feature snacks made from locally-sourced food.

Pancakes made with rice flour or a combination of wheat and rice flours are found throughout Asia. They’re almost always savory (as opposed to sweet), and have a uniquely delectable taste. Asian chives (sometimes labeled garlic chives or Chinese chives) are usually available at Little World Market and in local seasonal farmers markets. They’re an easily grown perennial, so easy that they can become invasive. But garlic chives have so many uses – including serving as a spinach-like green in stir-fries – that keeping them in control hasn’t been an issue in my garden.

From The Seasons at Henry’s Farm, Brockman says: “Asian chives are wonderful in eggs, whether scrambled or in a quiche. And they are good in any stir-fry or Asian noodle dish. But I have come to love them most in Hiroko’s [Terra’s sister-in-law; Henry’s wife] chive pancakes. The dipping sauce is what puts this dish into the winner’s circle, and you can modify it according to your tastes.”

Asian chive pancakes

For the dipping sauce:

•    1/4 c. soy sauce
•    3 T. rice wine vinegar
•    1/2 tsp. [roasted] sesame oil
•    Sugar, hot pepper flakes, minced fresh ginger, or toasted sesame seeds, to taste

For the batter:
•    1 c. garlic [Asian] chives, about 1 big bunch
•    1 c. all-purpose flour
•    1/4 c. rice flour
•    3/4 c. cold water
•    1 T. canola oil [or other vegetable oil], plus extra for the pan

To prepare the dipping sauce, stir together the liquid ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Add the extras as desired. Set aside.

Wash the chives and roll them in a lint-free towel to remove excess liquid. Chop into approximately 1-inch lengths and set aside.
In a large bowl, gently mix the flours. Add the water, a little at a time, until you reach the consistency of thin pancake batter. You may need to add additional water. Add the 1 tablespoon oil, and stir until smooth. Stir the chives into the batter, tossing to coat.

Heat a large frying pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat and coat it thinly with oil. When the pan is hot, drop in the batter with a ladle to form 4 pancakes, each about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cook over medium heat about 4 minutes, and then flip and cook about 4 minutes on the other side.

Serve the pancakes hot, with the dipping sauce. Makes approximately 8 pancakes.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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