In February, I joined the band Hoots and Hellmouth at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s (PASA) annual conference. More than once, I was asked if I was the group’s new bass player, or maybe their roadie. In fact, I’m the band’s farmer. It’s not a common title, but, when you work with a band that supports local, sustainable agriculture, things can get a bit unconventional.
The West Philly-based band opened PASA’s festivities with a concert, but their main goal for the conference was to recruit farmers interested in hosting them on their second “Harvest Tour,” launching this fall. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Bands that play shows at conferences usually end up spending most of their time in the hotel bar, if they bother hanging around at all. But, after sitting with the band members through three days of workshops, I knew their energy and intentions were in the right place.
The Harvest Tour is really just an extension of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. CSAs rely on an intimate relationship between farmers and consumers, building trust and community. And, as the band can attest to after traversing this country, a thriving community craves music. So, rather than CSA members in remote rural areas having to drive a few hours into the city, Hoots and Hellmouth bring the show to them.
Among the gracious hosts was the Dickinson College Farm in Boiling Springs, PA, run by Jenn Halpin and Matt Steiman. After a potluck dinner, opener Birdie Busch started the evening with her sweet serenading, the Savage Detectives told tall tales of the band’s origins, and then Hoots and Hellmouth got the crowd dancing, stomping their feet on the impromptu stage set up in the barn. It was an intimate experience in the style of a traveling road show.
But the night’s finest moment came when Farmer Matt took the stage for a final word. It may have been the long night of dancing—or the couple cases of beer that were drank—but the only words he could muster were, “How many farmers do we have tonight?” A few people raised their hands. Then he asked, “How many eaters?” A few more people raised their hands. Finally, Farmer Jenn interrupted, “What are you trying to say?” Farmer Matt replied, “You all should get together and talk.”
At that point, Sean Hoots turned to me and said, “It doesn’t get much simpler than that.”
Hoots and Hellmouth hope to continue this tradition of bringing farmers and eaters together next year, with more musicians and more farms. Keep an eye out for them next fall when the tour might just roll through your neighborhood.
Nic Esposito is an urban farmer, activist and co-founder of Philly Rooted; his advocacy for urban agriculture was profiled in April’s grid. For more on the band and the tour, visit hootsandhellmouth.com.