Home » Whirling & twirling through a pandemic & a derecho, AgArts has landed on its feet

Whirling & twirling through a pandemic & a derecho, AgArts has landed on its feet

Whirling and twirling through a pandemic and a derecho, AgArts has landed on its feet during 2020. We’ve been able to maintain our central work—the farm-to-artist residencies—and do even more to imagine and promote healthy food systems through the arts.

In February, AgArts moved into its own home, a storefront in downtown Kalona, IA., the heart of the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River. We are very near the busiest corner in town and have lots of street traffic of both tourists and townspeople.  During the first month, many people stopped in to say hello and find out what we were about. We were featured in interviews in local newspapers. The space had been a lawyer’s office who left the place fully furnished with antiques. We blew up frames from Jean Graham’s Farm Art Zine and decorated the walls. (Jean’s Zine is available for download on our website, and images of three of her works are here, above and below.)

In one corner of the office, we fixed up a small sound studio. Through the generous support of the Werner Ellithorp Fund at the Oregon Community Foundation, we launched a podcast series called “AgArts from Horse & Buggy Land.” This bi-monthly program is centered upon the activities of fictitious Freemartin Town. It features stories about the Amish, interviews with farmers, local old-time, bluegrass, jazz and blues music, readings about sustainability from the Amish newspaper Plain Interests, a Call-In Catastrophe show, and recipes from Ruby, the resident grossmomie.  Episode #6, a holiday story from Amishland, is now posted and ready for listening.


This year we adapted our farm residencies to our challenging times. At the end of February, visual artist Buzz Masters set up her easel in the River House at Whiterock Conservancy in western Iowa, isolated and surrounded by restored prairie. Buzz was wildly productive until the pandemic descended, calling her back to Maine. (Images of two of her works are below.) Several residencies had to be cancelled due to travel restrictions and lockdowns, but we were able to reconfigure and rematch other artists to farms. During July, dance artists Emily Climer and Marie Haas arrived at Whiterock from New York City, and later in the month, journalist and playwright Jeff Biggers and his son were able to spend time there learning about the complexities of agriculture.

This year the complexities of reaching our audience were simplified through online teaching. In collaboration with The Land Alliance Folk School, AgArts taught classes in poetry and memoir writing, and cell phone videos, as well as root cellaring and dehydrating food preservation. The Folk School filled out the schedule with botanical drawing, making dyes from plants, canning and a host of other skill-based courses. These classes were quite popular and this winter we will be planning an array of courses for 2021. We also had two interns from Central College in Pella, IA who helped with technical writing and staffing our booth at conferences.

“AgArts needs your help to continue to bridge the urban/rural divide by bringing artists and farmers together, allowing each to better understand the landscape of the other.”

Our artists have gotten to know the farmers and have been able to reflect their agricultural issues in their writing, painting, theatre, and dance. Our podcasts have added entertaining comic relief to a difficult year, all the while educating our audiences about agriculture and the rural environment.

This year we are offering premiums to thank you for your tax-deductible donations to AgArts.

  • $100      A set of postcards made from visual artist Jean Graham’s Farm Art Zine.
  • $250      A free signed book by Mary Swander
  • $500      A set of postcards, free book, and your name announced as a supporter on the “AgArts from Horse & Buggy Land” podcast.
  • $3000    A set of postcards, free book, and your name on all publicity materials as a contributor who endowed an AgArts Farm-to-Artist residency.

Here are ways you can help:

  • Click the DONATE button on the AgArts website and make a donation on your credit card. http://www.agarts.org
  • Or improve both your budget and ours by becoming a regular contributor through our website on Patreon.com. https://www.patreon.com/AgArts
  • Send a check through snail mail to: AgArts, P.O. Box 516, Kalona, IA  52247.
  • Tune in and subscribe to “AgArts from Horse & Buggy Land.” Like and follow AgArts on Facebook and Instagram.

I hope you will continue your commitment to agriculture and the arts with a generous gift to AgArts today. We are grateful for your support!


Mary Swander, AgArts Executive Director

319-683-2613, swandermary@gmail.com