Practical Farmers of Iowa play tackles tricky farmland transfers

'This is designed to get people in the conversation about land transfer issues'

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette

The play #x201c;Map of My Kingdom#x201d; will be performed Saturday in the Hickory Grove Meet
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette The play “Map of My Kingdom” will be performed Saturday in the Hickory Grove Meeting House at the Scattergood Friends School in West Branch. The play was commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa and written by Iowa’s Poet Laureate Mary Swander and tackles the critical issue of land transition.

Practical Farmers of Iowa has teamed up with Iowa’s poet laureate to debut a play that will focus on the issue of farmland transfer in Iowa.

“I immediately recognized it as a very gripping topic,” said Mary Swander, author of the play. “I was involved in farmland transfer in my own family. I’ve seen how that played out for different generations.”

Swander chose the title “Map of My Kingdom” for the play, which she spent a year researching and writing, because of the similarities of the topic with Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” where the king tries to split his kingdom between his three daughters.

“It’s hard to give thought to it because you have to face your own mortality,” said Swander, who has been Iowa’s poet laureate since 2009 and is an English professor at Iowa State University. “This is designed to get people in the conversation about land transfer issues.”

Teresa Opheim, executive director of Practical Farmers of Iowa, said 56 percent of Iowa farmland is owned by individuals over age 65 and 30 percent is owned by those who are over age 75. That land will have to pass to someone eventually in the not-too-distant future, Swander said.

“It’s one of the most significant trends facing us to date,” said Opheim, who noted that the amount of owner-operated farmland in the state is down to 40 percent as of 2012. She said that more individuals are renting the land they farm.

“I have been at Practical Farmers for eight years, and I’m just seeing more and more situations where wonderful farmers will be facing pretty significant challenges to keep their farms going in the future. Some of them already are,” she said.

Opheim said there can be financial problems, as well as issues within a family of who gets the land. In some cases, only one of a farmer’s children plans to continue farming, but the land still is split between all the children. The one who wants to farm may then have to purchase the rest of the farmland from the other siblings, which can make getting started difficult.

“I’m hoping that people will look at this issue and take some action on it in their own families and in their wills,” Swander said.

“It’s just a huge topic. You don’t even have to have farmland to relate to it.”

Opheim said that Practical Farmers of Iowa chose to address the topic in the form of a play as a way to merge agriculture and the arts. The one-woman play starring Elizabeth Thompson will be performed Saturday at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch.

“I’m looking forward to the performance to see it all come together,” said Opheim.

A dinner will be held before the play at 6 p.m. and the play will begin at 7 p.m.

“I’m very much looking forward to the discussion afterward and hearing the thoughts of the people after they’ve seen the play.”

Swander and Opheim said they hope to see the play performed many more times after its July debut.

Swander said that anyone interested in booking the show may email her at

Opheim is expecting a large audience and said that those interested in attending the play should RSVP to

If you go

What: “Map of My Kingdom”

Where: Scattergood Friends School, West Branch

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $10


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