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The Queer Farmer Convergence Creates New Realities

Published: Jul 2023
By: Bailey Lutz (they/them)

I am a queer farmer – or silvopastoralist, goatherd, or simple goat lad depending on the day – who is coming into their calling to challenge relational paradigms. I am white, have claimed the pronouns “they/them” for nearly a decade now, and write in “anti-binary” when my gender is requested on various forms. I currently tend a herd of Kiko goats just outside of Decorah, Iowa. When describing our work I typically keep it simple and call it “brush management” or choose to hint at something much greater with “ecological resilience.” I don’t believe in pursuing “restoration” knowing that conditions are rapidly transforming amidst climate chaos; what was can no longer be, and we have to pursue alternative, imaginative futures.

As a wee one I had big dreams. I first wanted to be Steve Irwin, then an “exotics” veterinarian, an investigative journalist impassioned by so-called post-colonial history, and then a conservation ecologist restoring the population of the endangered Amur tiger. The most important through line of all those potential careers is a focus on imagination and acting outside convention. I never dreamed of pursuing a career in agriculture, though, and mostly stumbled into it after being crushed by academia, and I’ve certainly deviated from more traditional agricultural paths as I’ve journeyed on.

The first few years of my farming career I deeply struggled to find community amongst the various agricultural circles I participated in. I increasingly felt a debilitating pressure to assimilate to the domineering cis-heteronormative, patriarchal hegemony if I were going to continue farming. My assimilation was embodied in aesthetics, one is taken more seriously if they present in certain ways; language, learning how to talk about making hay, for example, got me further than I could believe; and how I carried myself in many spaces. I abandoned a lot of myself so I could keep doing work I loved. My attempts to be accepted into communities felt incredibly isolating and alienating.

At a relatively critical moment, late into my first season operating my own farm business, I attended the second ever Queer Farmer Convergence at Humble Hands Harvest in Decorah, Iowa. It was a culture shock. I had never really, formally come out and didn’t really have queer community even when I lived in Minneapolis before I started farming, and my queerness was a known thing, but I didn’t know what it was like to be amongst so many truly incredible people doing things I’d never even imagined and they were boisterously queer. I felt like an outsider looking in on those who walked through their lives with joy, wonder, and the comforting support of community here and wherever home was for them. I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the euphoria everyone else seemed to feel and left early feeling lonelier than I had coming into the weekend. I kept attending, though, and have been an organizer for years now and each Convergence has felt more important than the last.

In retrospect, I was grieving something I had never known, and even more so was grieving something I might never know if I maintained the life I had formulated to, seemingly, more easily navigate the status quo. I also realized that the few days that make up the Convergence each year are not, in fact, representative of the day to day realities that everyone there actually lives.

We craft an alternate reality together, truly. Trying to write a brief but representative list of all the identities, experiences, skills, beliefs, and more does not do justice to the beautifully incomprehensible vastness of people who create this ephemeral yet eternal world. Whether it be individually or collectively, we come into the weekend from across the country with all sorts of expectations and dreams, and we grow a place and time filled with workshops that enrich and are co-created, challenging conversations, unabashed glee, sharing talents that make us laugh and cry, visions of economies that are generative, food that nourishes soul as well as body, troubleshooting and commiseration. Existing relationships are strengthened, new bonds are formed, and genuine community is fostered.

My path – professional and personal, entwined – has been radically changed by my experiences at the Queer Farmer Convergence and the relationships that have come out of them. I can envision abundance, diversity, depth, reliance that was not included in past ideas limited by dominant narratives and notions. By no means is a few days each year enough to grin and bear the status quo as we know it, but I part feeling renewed, curious, and inspired to keep working to make a dreamy weekend and all the imagination that comes with it a permanent, actualized reality.