(HOST)According to commentator Tom Slayton, recent community efforts to help save a local farm inspired a creative effort – quite literally worthy of the Bard himself.
(SLAYTON) This is a story about how William Shakespeare came to the aid of a Worcester farmer who needed a new manure pit. That’s right: Shakespeare and the manure pit!
Robert Compagna, a Worcester dairy farmer, knew he needed some help in containing the manure from his 40-cow farm, and he knew his neighbors would be there for him. But he never expected to get a hand from an English playwright who’s been dead for more than 350 years.
William Shakespeare? Heck, Bob Compagna doesn’t even like Shakespeare! But this is Vermont, after all, where almost anything is possible. And, in this case, a problem that had all the earmarks of being impossible suddenly became, not only possible, but amazing.
Compagna’s farm is located right on the banks of the North Branch of the Winooski River, and over the course of a winter, 40 cows can create a lot of manure. Manure from the barn was seeping into the North Branch, which twists and turns through his farm fields. Compagna, a proud and friendly man, had no desire to pollute the river, and he didn’t want a handout. But the limited income from his small farm wasn’t enough to provide the $70,000 or so that a new manure pit would cost. So things seemed at an impasse. Would the last dairy farm in Worcester be lost?
That’s when Bill Haines, a retired teacher and one of Compagna’s neighbors, got involved. Haines looks out at the farm every day from his house just up the road. He wanted to help Compagna stay in farming. So Haines organized a group of local residents and some members of the Friends of the Winooski to start a fund-raising campaign. They had an “adopt-a-cow” donation program, a benefit concert, even a “cow-flop Bingo” game!
And that’s where Shakespeare made his appearance. Sam Lloyd of Weston, a former state representative and a well-known actor, heard about the fund-raising campaign and wanted to help out. So Sam called the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a Montpelier-based environmental organization, and offered to put on a benefit performance of his two-hour show, “The Magic of Shakespeare”. The Natural Resources Council is interested in both clean rivers and saving farms, and they immediately pitched in.
So, on a cold January night, the show was on! Sam Lloyd became Richard III, and Hamlet, Brutus and Marc Antony and more. He recited sonnets and some of the great flights of imagination that Shakespeare wrote into his plays. And when he was done, Shakespeare – and Sam Lloyd – had raised another $1,000 for Bob Compagna’s manure pit.
It now looks as though the manure pit will be built, the river will be cleaned up and the farm will be saved. That’s what can happen in a small place like Vermont, where people as different as farmers and environmentalists, river lovers and Shakespeare lovers – all members of a community – can set aside their differences and work toward a common goal.
That’s the Magic of Shakespeare, all right. And it’s also the Magic of Vermont!
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.