When it comes to queerness and farming in the U.S., they are frequently seen as not only opposites but oppositional to each other. This zine shows that farming doesn’t have to be the work of the strong, solo, man’s man homesteader, and can instead be incredibly communal, fun, creative, and most importantly, queer.
Farm News from First Root Farm (also called the First Root zine, First Root Farm Zine, CSA Zine and other variations) began with the farm back in 2010 and ended with it in 2017. The farm itself was a 4.5 acre vegetable and flower farm located in Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts. The mini-zines were produced weekly to be given out with food shares to farm community members. Currently we have eight issues from the first year in our digital archive. They were created by the two farmers Ariel Berman (he/him) and Laura Sackton (she/her), who approached prolific zine creator Alana Kumbier (they/she) (of Because the Boss Belongs to Us and Making History) to help them with the parts of zinemaking they were unsure about. We were lucky enough to be able to get into contact with all of them and interview them about the zine, the community around First Root Farm in the early years, and farming and queerness!
“I had a lot of knowledge of zines and felt not cool enough to do a zine,” Ariel told us. “Alana… has this incredible knowledge around zines and I think almost definitely was the person who showed us how to, like , put the zine together, literally, and how to photocopy it and all those things.”
“In a lot of ways, the First Root Farm zine was such like, an amazing and ideal, for me at least, circumstance for making a zine” Alana told us. This was mostly in part to the short, consistent structure of the zine and its audience of community members.
The contents of the zine partially consist of interactive elements, like word searches, coloring pages, crossword puzzles, but also little art guides (like How to Make a Radish Mouse in #1.5) and other fun, lighthearted activities. The other important portion of the zine were the recipes based on what was in the foodshare that week, and other, as the title would suggest, Farm News.
“There were very few changes in structure. It was… repetitive every week. It was the same size, the same number of pages, usually very predictable kinds of things like farm news, recipes, games, cover. And it was something that because we had that sort of repetition over each week all of us could make pages and contribute, you know, there wasn’t like a difficulty in thinking about how about “what am I,” you know, “how am I gonna fit this in?”” Alana said.
This structure and content was decided based on the zine’s audience, which was the community that grew around the farm. First Root used a community supported agriculture (or CSA) model, and the focus on community in their practice was based on the backgrounds of Laura and Ariel in queer and Jewish communities respectively. Laura describes her experience farming as “exceedingly queer”, farming within a “community of friends and or mentors, mostly queer women who were running farms or working on farms in Eastern Mass[achusetts].” Ariel told us about his understanding of Jewish kibbutz culture, and as he described to us, “kibbutzim in Israel are basically farm communes that are like, supposed to be very egalitarian, supposed to be like everyone raises their kids together. Basically, like the ideal of your– what I would consider my like queer farm utopian commune community situation”. They also described to us how they would stay awake at night in farm school together, where they became friends, discussing how to make their farm as community-centric and accessible as they could in their wildest farm dreams.
As you’re reading the zine you can feel how it has been steeped in community, especially considering that the cover of #1.4 is just a thank you note to all of First Root’s community members. They would come to the farm for their food shares or on volunteer days, and, as Ariel told us, “There are still people and it’s been what, thirteen years since we started or since our first season who like will be like, “oh my gosh, I loved coming out. It was my favorite thing. It was my favorite place to be with other people. I still hang out with people who I hung out with there and met for the first time there.” People who will say like “I’m so sad that First Root is gone because it was my favorite CSA.””
This community did not just consist of adults, as there would frequently be children (or as Ariel called them, queer spawn) interacting with the zine or coming for volunteer days. It is this range of ages that led to the earnestness and fun of the zine’s content.
“It’s also so unusual to have a zine project where there’s a community that you’re writing to and writing with, and also to have an all ages community.” Alana said. “But I have… to be thinking about writing for kids as well as adults. And that helped me be more creative and think about… what goes in a zine and who’s in a zine audience.” The puzzles and coloring pages were made to capture the minds of the children within the community, and the recipes were to help those in the community who may have never cooked with or seen a certain vegetable before find uses for the food in the share.
“We wanted to make it accessible and interesting and fun, but also… the people who are coming to be part of that community… and paid ahead of time for all these vegetables was like, “what do I do with a hakurei turnip? Like what even is this?” Ariel said. “And we’re like, “we’ll tell you. But you also won’t have to remember what we’re saying when you come and pick up. Here is the zine that has the recipe in it also.””
Overall the beauty of the First Root Farm zine lies in the hearts of its creators and readers. While speaking with Ariel, Laura, and Alana, we were transported to the farm in its first couple of seasons as they reminisced, feeling the warmth of the sun and the people through the happy memories they shared. This earnestness is clear in reading the zine as you get to feel the joy of life at First Root Farms. Though it changed over time as the farm grew and Ariel and Alana got too busy for life there, the zine stayed.
“The farm changed so, so much from the first year or two to last year…” Laura told us. “It was me and Ariel and then it was me with two co-farmers and a crew of four people and I think what’s really, really cool is that the zine was non-negotiable, like the zine was just like the heart of so much…”
There’s like cultural shifts that happened in the farm, but the zine… kept that heart of like we’re kind of weird, we’re very queer we’re doing this fun thing that like has nothing to do with money, takes time out of our day… it’s just this thing we were doing out of love.
And in this zine you can really feel the love.
Kit Gorton is a current intern at QZAP and graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in library science and English, with focuses in archives and media studies. A rather queer Hobbit, Kit is most often seen collecting things (such as leaves, rocks, books and the like) or doting on their cat, Good Omens Written in Collaboration by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett.