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#Fridaysonthefarm: Farm to Ballet Project Supports Working Lands through Art

#Fridaysonthfarm: Vermont's Farm to Ballet Project Web HeaderStory by Amy Overstreet, NRCS Vermont; photos by NRCS Vermont, Timothy Peters, and Farm to Ballet

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

This week, we have a backstage pass to this year's Farm to Ballet performance at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, a beautiful backdrop supported by voluntary conservation practices. Meet lead ballerina Avi Waring who, as a native Vermont farmer, brings the daily rhythm of farm life to her dance. 

#Fridaysonthfarm: Vermont's Farm to Ballet Project Web Map


Nature as Art

Farms and food, community, live classical music and the graceful art of ballet. Add in a lush backdrop of soil and water conservation practices, and you have the magic of Vermont’s Farm to Ballet project. 

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Now in its third summer season, the groundbreaking project fuses agriculture and performance art into a truly unique aesthetic experience. The ballet, set to a diverse score with music from Vivaldi and Swan Lake, follows life on a New England farm.

Since its inception in 2015, it has garnered media coverage in the Boston Globe, on National Public Radio, Modern Farmer and Civil Eats. And just last month, Vermont PBS produced a documentary about the making of the project, and aired last year’s performance filmed at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont.

Raising over $23,000 last year, the performances serve as fundraisers to support and honor the work of local farmers and conservation organizations.

The Rhythm of Farm Life

This year, the dancer taking on the lead role of the farmer is Avi Waring. A Vermont native and homesteader, she manages seventeen acres in Wolcott and raises goats, chickens and a garden with her partner Kee and son Jas.

“I love performing with the sky as the ceiling and the earth as the floor. There is no better place to be in the summer than Vermont, and to dance outside to beautiful live music is an amazing gift,” she says. 

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Avi has danced in the production since it began in 2015 and is excited to take on a new artistic role of farmer. 

“I feel like there is a set of rhythms that farming presents which is a lot like Farm to Ballet,” she explains. “I find the farm cycle of spring planting, summer tending and fall harvesting so fulfilling, and I am excited to express that through dance.” 

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For Avi, the art she creates through dance reflects the life which she lives each day on her Vermont farm.

“As a farmer, I know that there are lots of struggles, but there is also an essential joy in the taking care of animals and having a relationship with plants and animals that is reflected when I perform.”

Setting the Stage

One of the eight venues where Farm to Ballet will be performed this year is Shelburne Farms, a regular backdrop for the company's performances. 

The NRCS has worked closely with the land managers at the farm to protect and improve natural resources through several Farm Bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program

Shelburne Farms’ conservation plan includes a rotational grazing system, riparian buffers, fencing, cover crops on vegetable gardens, wildlife habitat improvement, nutrient management planning and more. 

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Shown here, NRCS Northeast Regional Conservationist Gayle Barry visits Vermont to tour Shelburne Farms with NRCS Vermont Water Quality Specialist Kip Potter. They view an edge-of-field water quality monitoring station that is helping evaluate which conservation practices work best at preventing sediment and nutrient runoff. 

At the three acre market garden at Shelburne Farms, EQIP assistance was used to construct this high tunnel which the farm uses to produce peppers, tomatoes and eggplant late into the fall. The structure helps protect the crops and reduce or eliminate disease issues by reducing moisture.

The educational nonprofit farm is set on a 1,400-acre working farm and campus that hosts over 150,000 visitors a year. Originally created in 1886 as a model agricultural estate, today Shelburne Farms is dedicated to education for sustainability programs for educators and youth.  

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Because each performance of the ballet is farm-based and danced on grass, there are no traditional staging, lights or backdrops. The fertile soils of Vermont’s pastoral farmland provide the ‘stage’ for the dancers. 

Audiences enjoy the pastoral setting of the farm, animals, equipment, live music and interaction with farmers, and they learn more about the work and planning behind operating a sustainable farm. 

Encore Performance

Now becoming a summer tradition in Vermont, Farm to Ballet educates the public about the importance of conservation and sustainable agriculture.

Vermont NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew says, “Farm to Ballet is a unique method of using artistic impression for outreach, and helps spread awareness of the importance of farms, farmers and conservation of natural resources throughout our communities.” 

Learn more at the Farm to Ballet project through the following link:  Visit the NRCS website to find an NRCS office near you.


Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook.

View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.