Contempo Physical Dance, directed by Marciano Silva dos Santos, performs in the barn at DreamAcres. (Photo by Jeff Brechlin)
DreamAcres — where performing art meets agriculture
WYKOFF — Eva Barr and partner Todd Juzwiak met in Guatemala, where they were training to be Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Equatorial Guinea. Midwesterners, Eva grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota; Todd in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They left West Africa as a couple looking to put down roots, live off the land, and maintain an intentional lifestyle. They shared a common ethos – to live simply, be self-sufficient, and do as little harm as possible.
After the Peace Corps, they worked on alternative farms for a couple of years and began studying appropriate technology. They also aligned themselves with the Fourth World movement, an organization that gathers people from all backgrounds around the world to think, act, and live together differently. One of the organization’s goals is to fight poverty, work for social justice, and treat the poor with respect. Todd and Eva volunteered with Fourth World for a number of months.
“At Fourth World, volunteers work along side the people they are serving,” Eva explained about the organization that was started in France in the 1960s. “It combines physical labor with helping people voice their needs and find agency in their lives.”
Looking for land to settle on in Minnesota, they found 60 acres near the town of Fillmore, not far from Good Earth Village. Nestled in a valley along Deer Creek, they took inspiration from the fact it was once the Smith farm, where a 12-member family managed to live off the land. They thought that perhaps they could do so as well.
Their goal was to form an intentional community with like minded people, who could discover what was possible sharing resources, both financially and with the labor that was available. Once involving four families, the farm is now owned by two families, including Eva and Todd’s.
In 1995, Todd and Eva built their home as part of a timber framing class with Tillers International. Situated on a hillside overlooking the valley, the house is a two-story simple design, with much of the wood harvested nearby. Some might say it is reminiscent of a pioneer home, with a Finnish wood stove centered on the first floor, surrounded by kitchen, living area, study, and pantry. They live off-the-grid, use oil lamps for lighting, haul water, and use an outdoor privy.
They began farming with oxen, and later work horses, while running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business providing area customers with a variety of organically grown vegetables. And over time, they started introducing a range of appropriate technology classes and art-related activities on the farm.
Eva studied theater at Northwestern University and was a founding member of Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago in the late ‘80s. At the time the company’s focus was on creating theatrical works and sharing its ensemble-based acting techniques with Chicago-area students and their teachers. Eva stayed for five years, but has remained involved with Lookingglass over the years. This same mix of art and education offered on a farmstead is what has made DreamAcres so successful over the years: it’s where performing art meets agriculture.
The farm is home to Dreamery Rural Arts Initiative, a nonprofit that hosts Flourish Summer Camp, a one-week (July 30 – August 6, 2023) residential camp for 11 to 15 year-olds. Camp size varies from 15 to 20 students, keeping classes intimate. Professional instructors in the various art forms, including dance, storytelling, puppetry, and music are brought in for the week. The kids also get their hands dirty learning about agriculture on the farm and exploring the woodland and prairies. The off-the-grid facilities, including the performance barn and residences, use solar to power for energy.
“We’ve built everything here. When we designed the barn, we always had performance in mind,” Eva said. “So it functions as a performance space in the summer and in the winter it’s a barn.”
In addition to Flourish Summer Camp, DreamAcres also hosts private retreats and workshops. During the summer months, they serve Pizza on the Farm every Friday evening from 5:00 to 8:00 pm from June through September. Many pizza nights are followed by artistic performances. On June 23, Bob Bovey and Company will host a Solstice Barn Dance. And on August 18, DreamAcres will bring in Mixed Precipitation, a Minneapolis based theatre company, to perform Pick Up Truck Opera, based on the play Romeo and Juliet.
Todd and Eva, who have two grown children, may not have envisioned how their homestead would evolve over the years, motivated by their joint interest in being on the land, living simply, mixing physical labor with a desire to be active community members. They no longer farm with animals, nor do they run a CSA. They maintain a sizeable garden that provides a good portion of their food. The hay fields that once fed their oxen and horses are now restored prairie.
But their life experiences, education, and interests, have taken them on a journey in their life’s work.
Todd’s curiosity and interest in old time farming skills – working with animals, timber frame building, stone masonry, bee keeping – led to a relationship with Tillers International offering back-to-the-land classes on the farm.
Eva’s experience in the performing arts has culminated in a medley of art related programs that brings both adults and children to the farm. She still is excited about teaching young people and is interested in how they will navigate this world that we will leave them. In fact, Eva is still learning herself, as a PhD candidate in the school of Culture and Teaching at the University of Minnesota. She is now working on her dissertation.
The couple share a commitment to reducing their foot print on the earth, offering the gifts that they possess with others, and doing what they can to make their world a better place. DreamAcres is the product of that effort.
For more information about its events, performances, and programs, visit DreamAcres.
John Torgrimson is the editor and co-publisher of Root River Current.