Words by Bo Dennis
in Rural Maine
Photography by Kelsey Kobik
A queer farmer tells his story of unified identity
It was one of those spring days when you question whether the sap is going to run or not but are grateful to have the taps in the maple trees anyway. It was warm in the sun in Monroe, but winter was holding on for a bit longer. Fellow farmers Angela and Lisa, my boyfriend and local baker, Shawn, and I met up to burn the mountain of scrap wood Angela and Lisa inherited when they bought this farm three years ago. After an initial whoosh of fire, the pile burned steadily while we inoculated shiitake logs. With tulips emerging through hoop house soil, goats ready to kid, crop plans in place, and seeds germinating inside, we were eager for a summer of growing food and flowers. This past year highlighted the importance of community, and I am grateful for this close crew of queer farmers and food workers.
I met Lisa on a goat creamery in Vermont when I was 18. We belted out lyrics from indie pop band Tegan and Sara while line-drying our clothes in a very homesteading-is-so-romantic kind of way. We wandered our way through our twenties, working on various farms throughout New England and daydreaming about starting our own. Twelve years later, Lisa (she/her) and her partner, Angela (they/them), own and operate Seek-No-Further Farmstead, a diversified farm located on 15 acres of unceded Penobscot territory, and I lease growing space from them for my flower farm, Dandy Ram Farm.
I am a transgender gay man and have farmed all over the state: on a few islands Downeast, in central and southern Maine, and now, here in the Midcoast. Commercial farming too often glorifies hard work and long days at the sacrifice of personal sustainability, underrepresenting farmers as whole people. I also found myself sacrificing my needs for queer community and segmenting off my trans identity from my work, trying hard to blend in while experiencing grief in this separation. I was convinced I just needed grit and a strong stomach for homophobia and transphobia to succeed as a farmer in rural Maine. For safety’s sake, I tried to hide parts of myself, not an easy task as I am someone who does not fit society's limited scope of what “masculine” looks like.
In starting Dandy Ram Farm in 2019, I claimed my unified identity as a queer farmer. After years of growing diversified vegetable crops and working with pasture-based livestock, I shifted to flowers. I initially fell in love with farming because I found myself in a constant state of learning. Flower farming is no different: learning how plump ranunculus corms get after a good soak, how to set up the right conditions for a long vase life, and how many hues of snapdragons exist. I grow fresh flowers and commercial seed crops, and create dried flower arrangements and evergreen wreaths, moving through the seasons in full color. Everyone deserves to be supported and celebrated in their intersectional identity exactly where they are, and I want to bring this feeling of joy and acceptance to everything I grow on my farm.
Lisa and Angela thrive in their farm’s diversity. Their enterprises include a micro goat dairy, an early-season tulip operation, year-round vegetable production, and pick-your-own strawberries. They are expanding their farm stand offerings to include frozen goat yogurt soft serve. Both our businesses operate on sliding scale and mutual aid models because we believe local food and flowers should be accessible to all. Yet even as we are connected by the land, our farming techniques, and our equity principles, our experiences of rural queer life vary based on our identities, presentations, and work environments.
My experiences of microaggressions, including the stares I get at rural hardware stores and gas stations; the painful comments I hear from fellow farmers; and the traditional talk of “family farming” at workshops filled with cisgender, heterosexual farming couples, lead to exhaustion. I struggle to find personal connections with other farmers and community members because of these experiences.
As a nonbinary person and the representative of the Seek-No-Further operation at farmers markets, Angela finds sexism, homophobia, and transphobia overlapping in messy ways. Customers often question if Angela is the “real” farmer, whether they have a husband who is in charge, and how they have the knowledge or physical strength to operate the farm themselves. When making their queerness central to how they express themselves and market their business publicly, Angela and Lisa sometimes see disinterest, confusion, and even disgust at their openness. Lisa’s experience is one of feeling invisible despite being out as a queer person, and more targeted for other parts of her identity. She describes witnessing antisemitism unlike any she has found elsewhere—jokes about harmful Jewish stereotypes and disbelief that Jewish people like her live in rural Maine.
There is a legacy of queer folks leaving rural isolation, homophobia, and transphobia behind and heading to cities to find community. It sometimes feels like our queer bodies aren’t safe or welcomed here. Being in a queer body is to experience violence: We exist in an external world that wasn’t designed for us to succeed, and internally we might navigate experiences of body dysphoria. I also work for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to support beginning farmers who face barriers in accessing capital, land, and education. These issues are exacerbated for both BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ farmers because rural farming is often based on neighborly relationships. If you are visibly queer and/or a person of color, finding a good hay connection, borrowing a tractor implement, or asking for help at a USDA office can become risky. Even if it goes well, the fear we carry about not being respected can impede our ability to build these relationships.
The queer community, though, is resilient. We are adaptive and fight for survival in the most inhospitable situations. We are stubborn and creative, constantly seeking new solutions (such as hacking internet dating apps in rural areas to make friends) to keep growing. I believe this perspective makes us good farmers. I have had supportive farm mentors who shared their years of experience without asking invasive questions about my gender and body. I am grateful for these relationships as I am for the growing community of rural queers. Being out as a queer farmer here is healing my relationship with my body. Fostering growth on land in an active body is a way to reclaim and revel in my own surviving and thriving one.
Things are changing—nationally, 1 in 6 Gen Z’ers identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. More beginning farmers, including many here in Maine, identify as trans or queer. Taking care of our bodies and whole selves is a radical act, and I want to work toward a local food and farming system that strives for farmers to be seen as whole, dynamic beings. I no longer sacrifice parts of my identity to feel at home in our state’s farming landscape. Standing with my crew of farmers and food workers, I am proud to be one of the role models I wish I had when I was 18. This is our life now: We slaughter chickens while Angela and Lisa tolerate my unapologetic love for Taylor Swift; Shawn feeds us too many bagels; I harvest flowers in crop tops; and we get the hay in on time.
Author's note: This is a story about representation and navigating vulnerability, safety, and celebration in being out as queer farmers. I can’t speak for every queer or LGBTQIA+ farmer in Maine. This article is informed by my experience as a white farmer who has the privilege and family support to choose to be a farmer. Please respect those who choose not to be, or can’t safely be out, and commit to making an inclusive space so they can feel safe and supported if they choose to be out in the future.