BECKET -- Born and bred a New Yorker, Susan Dworkin of Becket is a self-taught woman on the politics and plight of farming in America and around the globe.
An accomplished author, journalist and playwright, she has written about celebrities, women’s health and a variety of other topics during her nearly 50-year career. But Dworkin’s passion is agriculture -- writing and lecturing about the importance of protecting the world’s food supply.
"I try to close the gap for an urban audience that knows nothing about farming --and real farming," Dworkin said.
On Sunday, she hopes to enlighten both locals and visiting city folk about the food they eat with a staged reading of her four-character, one-act play, "The Farm Bill," at the Becket Arts Center. The 35-minute, free performance at 4 p.m. will be followed by an audience discussion expected to involve several area farmers invited to attend the event.
"I’m happy to have people like Susan promoting where food comes from," said Adrienne Metcalf of Becket. Two years ago, Metcalf and her husband, Josh Schwartzbach, established a 2-acre farm with a year-round farm stand on Quarry Road that quickly developed a growing customer base.
"The demand last year outstripped what we produced, so we brought in a limited amount of organic food to meet the need," she said. "I’m seeing a need for more food security in the community."
Dworkin wrote "The Farm Bill" seven years ago based on a dramatic shift of U.S farming policy in the 1970s away from small farms. The play is set in the early 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, led by Secretary Earl Butz, began focusing on big, corporate farms to feed America and help supply other countries with surplus crops. Dworkin says that shift toward mega-farms began the four decades-long demise of family farms.
The fictional heroine, Luana Barnes, is an entry-level clerk at the USDA who one day realizes the documents she’s handling reflect farming policy that isn’t in the best interest of the country. Barnes manages to convince -- briefly -- her immediate superior that people will be hurt by the federal government’s new approach to agriculture.
"For a few fabulous moments, she brings a mammoth bureaucracy to a halt," she said.
The USDA manages to avoid Barnes’ sling shot and wins this tale of "David vs. Goliath."
The main character somewhat represents Dworkin during her year-long stint as a USDA clerk in the early 1960s, where she developed her passion for the politics and plight of farming.
"I am all the characters in the play as I put my soul in the play," she said. "All points of view are filtered through my psyche."
While based on 1970s events, Dworkin says The Farm Bill has "come back into focus" given the current battle on Capitol Hill to re-authorize the country’s farm bill legislation, which is set to expire in September.
The U.S. House and Senate are divided on how to fund the nearly $1 trillion in agricultural and nutritional programs -- primarily food stamps -- over the next 10 years. The Democrat-led Senate has approved a bipartisan farm bill to govern farm programs and food stamps. But the Republican-controlled House has passed a bill for farm programs only, splitting off nutrition programs into a separate measure in order to seek deeper cuts to food stamps.
"My play is about huge issues that touch people in believable ways," Dworkin said. "It is startling relevant to today."
The Farm Bill is the latest event to fit the bill at the Becket Arts Center, according Executive Director Paul Campbell. Campbell says the play fulfills the center’s mission to provide inspiring creative work that engages the public.
"We look for ... what is provocative, someone or something which may not have access to other venues and does it expose new artists and ideas to the area," he said.
Established more than 40 years ago, the center small visual and performing arts venue tucked away in Becket’s north village reaches out to the wealth of talent throughout Western Massachusetts.
"We purposely do not concentrate on a single form, i.e. painting, sculpture, dance, music, writing, but rather actively try to explore all areas," Campbell said.
The center also works closely with the Becket-Washington School, giving the kindergarten through fifth grade students an opportunity to exhibit their visual art like a professional.
"There is nothing like seeing a child recognize their own creative work hanging in a public space as a special event," Campbell said.
If you go ...
What: ’Farm Bill’ staged reading
When: Sunday at 4 p.m.
Where: Becket Arts Center, Route 8, Becket
Information: (413) 623-6635, www.becketartscenter.com