Press-Citizen: Choir Celebrating Spring by Singing for our Food

Press-CitizenHere’s an article Jean Littlejohn just posted yesterday about our upcoming concerts – tomorrow and next Sunday!

The Family Folk Machine will present its spring program, “Blooming Where You’re Planted: Songs from Farm to Table,” at two upcoming concerts. At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, we will perform at the Old Capitol Senate Chamber as part of the University’s “Food for Thought” theme semester and in conjunction with the excellent exhibit at the Old Capitol Museum called “The Land Provides: Iowa’s Culinary Heritage.” At 3 p.m. April 19, we will perform on our home turf at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in downtown Iowa City with special guests from Table to Table and Local Foods Connection. At this concert, we’ll be collecting canned food donations for the Crisis Center.

You might be surprised to discover how many great songs there are about vegetables. Some gardeners sing “Inch by inch, row by row…” to themselves every spring (but do they know the Anti-Garden Song?), and they might relate to the obsessive vegetablephilia of the songs “Greens” and “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Once you know the Metamora song “Little Potato,” it will come to mind every time you are planting or digging spuds. Greg Brown’s “Canned Goods” brings out the poetry in food preservation: “Taste a little of the summer: Grandma’s put it all in jars.”

The stage for these songs about vegetables is set with others about spring and farming, including the Dreyer Family’s “How to be happy”: “Can you believe the grass just grows? Sun and rain, the earth it just knows … Never stop being amazed.” One of the Folk Machine kids informed me that he doesn’t need instructions on how to be happy — he’s always happy. We sing, “Can you believe that this child of mine has brightened the colors of my life?”

Farming is being reborn in Iowa and across our country, and the classic Buffy Sainte-Marie song “Men of the Fields” is an homage to farming as sacred work that rings as true today as it did in the 1960s. The Rebecca Riots song “Gardener” speaks to the cultivation of our inner gardens, and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee” addresses issues of migrant farm work and industrial agriculture, reverberating with current concerns about the separation of families through deportation policies and the lack of dignity afforded to people facing deportation.

The young people of the Family Folk Machine have re-written the traditional song “When I first came to this land” from a kid’s perspective. It has become “When I first dropped off the grid, I was not a happy kid,” and they go on to sing about the various problems they encounter trying to set up their new life in the wilderness. The kids have also enjoyed learning the classic Sesame Street song “Captain Vegetable,” in which “Andy” and “Betty” are encouraged to improve their eating habits by a strange new superhero.

After all these food-related songs, we remind ourselves that “Everything that comes from plants deserves to have a second chance” and sing about composting in the Tom Chapin song “Brown Gold.” Please join us for one of these two free concerts!

For more information about the Family Folk Machine, visit

Jean Littlejohn lives with her family in Iowa City and directs the Family Folk Machine. She can be reached at