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Is There Drama in Farm/Ranch Land Transfer?

When Mary Swander, poet laureate of Iowa, was asked to write a play about farmland transfer, that’s the question she asked. But then she realized that there’s a lot of potential drama in the questions: “Who’s going to get the farm? And what are they going to do with it? And what’s going to happen to your piece of land that you’ve invested your whole life in?

Planning for the transfer of a farm or ranch can be fraught with drama, as Swander knows from going through it twice – once when she was 23 and unexpectedly inherited the family farm, and more recently as she plans the transition of her own farm. Her play, “Map of My Kingdom,” highlights the different paths it can take. Teresa Opheim, of Practical Farmers of Iowa, commissioned Swander to write the play. She says, “The play is really successful at conveying just how important farm land is to people… Families are torn apart about it or they come together because of it.

Swander has experienced this drama firsthand, going through farm transfer twice. The first time was when she was 23 and unexpectedly inherited the family farm. The second time was more recently, when she’s had to plan for the transition of her current land.

The farm transfer drama Swander laid out in Map of My Land focuses on Angela Martin, a lawyer and mediator in land transition disputes who describes how her farmer and landowner clients approached farm transfer. “Some people literally killed each other over this issue,” Martin says. Some struggled, even dissolving relationships. Others found solutions that benefited the family and the land.

Practical Farmers of Iowa scheduled 4 performances of “Map of My Kingdom” in 2014, one in each of the 4 quarters of the state. The play struck a chord with farmers and since those first 4 performances it has been performed 82 times, all over Iowa, the Midwest, and next fall touring to Idaho, Washington and Colorado.

The play’s 5 minute trailer might inspire you to take the first planning steps. After all, that’s one of the things Mary tries to do with her art – to inspire us to see the beauty around us, to look at our world in a new light and to think about how we’d really like things to be.


If you’d like to see the whole play, it’s available for sale as a DVD. If you’re a conference organizer you can even have the play performed at your event. Just click over to this page on Mary Swander’s website for her contact information, and scroll down to “Performance Information and Needs.”

And if you’d just like to see some of On Pasture’s previous articles on ways to plan your own farm/ranch transfer, check out these articles in our Special Collections section.

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