Farm-to-Fork Tales

Mary Swander, Playwright
(319) 683-2613

Janine Calsbeek, Touring Director
(712) 707-2910 or (712) 441-6094


Farm-to-Fork Tales

An evening of stories with YOU as the teller!

An eighty-year old conventional corn and bean grower who has lived on the same century farm his whole life tells the tale of how his ancestors managed the land years ago. A young woman tells of the decisions she makes to prepare foods within her own ethnic tradition. A middle-aged farmer tells of his experiments with prairie strips and cover crops. A forager tells how she learned to identify mushrooms. A beginning immigrant farmer tells of finding access to enough land to begin her CSA farm. A high school student tells of learning to cook, highlighting his biggest success and biggest failure. An urban farmer tells of her adventures integrating chickens into the garden plan.

Swander Woman Productions (SWP) is looking for a diverse group of people to tell stories like these to perform on local stages. We’ll gather together storytellers, a supportive audience, delicious local food, and local musicians to create a night of fun entertainment that will reflect a region’s agricultural activity and heritage.

We will travel to conferences, libraries, universities and schools, farms, or other venues to gather people together to share their stories of food and farming—from memories of favorite foods to favorite barns, from memories of holiday celebrations, to hanging on to the land in tough times. A woman farmer might tell of the first time she fixed her tractor, or a teenage immigrant might tell of his first job at the meat packing plant, or a senior farmer might tell his story of farmland transition. Storytellers will focus on specific events in time and space, moments unique to them but universal in their resonances for the wider world of agriculture. These stories will include customs, techniques, folklore, and historical events—all viewed through a diverse lens.

We’ll record these valuable oral histories, archive and publish them to a website with photos and video clips of the performances. We’ll encourage publication in other sites: high school and town newspapers, family newsletters, and pamphlets. We’ll capture the rich agricultural and culinary history of locales through the words of its own citizens. In the telling and performing of Farm-to-Fork Tales, we hope to spark rich, thoughtful conversations across cultural and generational divides.

About Swander Woman Productions

Swander Woman Productions (SWP) creates and tours dramatic performances focused on food, farming, and the larger rural environment. SWP was started by Mary Swander in 2008 and has toured its shows to over 80 venues in 15 states. SWP is looking to partner with local communities in gathering and documenting stories that will spark further conversation on the evolving role of farming and agriculture in today’s world. For more information, visit

How will Farm-to-Fork Tales work?

A venue will contact Swander Woman Productions (SWP) to secure a Farm-to-Fork Tales performance. SWP’s booking agent will work with a contact person to find a date and location for the performance. The contact person will help locate storytellers in the community who can tell an engaging tale of food or farming. SWP will employ one of its professional story coaches to meet with the storytellers by phone or Skype and coach them in their presentations. SWP recommends a two-to-three month lead-time for story coaching. For example, if the performance is November 30th, SWP would begin working with storytellers as early as August 30th.

The professional story coaches will travel to the venue for a one-to-two-day residency. Story coaches will teach an optional workshop for the community, then rehearse the local storytellers as an ensemble for several hours. The rehearsal will be followed by the actual performance, then the talkback (if elected). The venues will be responsible for the publicity for the show and may sell tickets to cover the costs.

SWP is willing to work with a venue to tailor a performance to its own needs. A conference on beginning farmers, for instance, might want a performance of all young farmers telling stories about their situations. An immigrant community garden might want an event focused on stories of their members adapting their farming techniques to a new climate and a new country.

How many local storytellers will be involved?

Four to five local storytellers will be involved in the performance with the SWP professional storyteller anchoring the show and serving as MC.

What if I want to tell a story, but it’s my first time? What can I expect?
SWP welcomes all types of storytellers and is always excited to work with new tellers. If you are selected to share a story, you will be working with a story coach who will assist you in crafting and developing your story, and also provide day-of performance support.

Storytellers will have 8-10 minutes to share their story in front of a live audience. It is up to the storyteller if he or she wants to read, memorize, or just “tell” the story.

What is the Storytelling Seeds Workshop?

Everyone has a story about food or farming. Or at least a seed for a story about food or farming. Join SWP’s professional story coaches for Storytelling Seeds, a workshop for new and seasoned storytellers to plant the seeds for new ideas and story starts. In this workshop, participants will generate new personal storytelling material through prompts, on-your-feet exercises, and paired telling. Participants will leave with three solid story starts and a list of tips and tricks for performance for the next time they take the stage. All that is required is a willingness to listen, share, and pen and paper. All levels of experience are welcome!

Storytelling Seeds is a 90-minute to 2-hour workshop for local participants to develop a farm and or food story. An ideal size for the workshop is 20, but with advanced notice, SWP can accommodate larger numbers. Ideally this workshop will be offered before the Farm-to-Fork Tales performance. Please see pricing below.

How will musicians figure into this performance?

We’ll use volunteer local musicians to provide musical interludes between the stories during the performance. The contact person can help locate these artists who might include country western, bluegrass or old time, jazz, polka, hip-hop or other musicians, given the tone of the stories, their focal theme, and the location of the venue.

What kind of performance space do we need?

The production will need at least a 10×12 space. There are no detailed technical needs—only one standing microphone. This show is designed nimbly to be able to travel to small venues for families and farms. The show will need a general wash of light. The lighting doesn’t have to be fancy—SWP has worked with large lighting grids and in church basements with just a few wall switches. There are no lighting cues; we just need to be able to adjust lights at a minimum.

SWP would like to be able to arrive and set up 1.5 hours before the audience begins to arrive. So if the show is at 7:30, we would like to arrive, unload and begin set up at 6:00pm. That gives us enough time to adapt our performance to your space and then have everything cleaned up and ready to go at curtain time.

What about food?

SWP encourages local farmers and gardeners to distribute healthy snacks in the lobby before and after the show. The farmers, gardeners, and other food-related groups might set up tables to provide further information about their businesses and organizations.

Will Mary Swander be present at this performance?

Mary Swander will give an optional talkback discussion after the performance for an additional fee. During the talkback, Mary Swander will tell a story of her experience of food and farming. The talkback will also allow the audience to respond to the performance with comments on the content of the stories, or to allow the audience to respond to the performance with stories of their own. Swander will put the stories in a context of the larger food movement, and in particular, the umbrella of AgArts, a non-profit that she founded:

For costs and more information, please contact:

Janine Calsbeek, Touring Director