There isn’t a set theme or regular format to Farming God—it is a podcast for listeners who are looking for something different. Narrated by local author Steve Ray, Farming God attempts to make its audience ponder philosophical questions about the society we live in. While the show is monotonous at times, faithful listeners will encounter an assortment of historical information and good old-fashioned biographical tales. Using a deep, literary voice to narrate each episode, Ray’s vocal quality stands out as one of the consistent aspects threaded throughout the show. The topic, structure, and length of each episode vary, which begs the question: what exactly can listeners expect to get out of Farming God?
The answer depends on how much of an adventurer you are. For some, listening to a woven biography of the narrator one week and blunt audio of two protesters fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline the next might be a fun surprise to look forward to. For others, never knowing what they’re going to be served on this overcrowded audio-plate that is podcasting might feel less surprising, and more like one of the many under-scripted podcasts out there (I mean, everyone knows somebody with one or two half-finished podcasts). However, Ray holds no qualms about breaking from traditional podcasting. “Farming God listeners are creative people,” he responds when asked about the show’s configuration. “Boxing them into the rigid format that dominates the podcast world would be insulting.” For those who find the structure charming, listening to Ray narrate passages out of The Russian Revolution (a historic collection of early 20th century events and stories out of Russia) is a breath of fresh air. Unlike the in-your-face news reports of an NPR podcast or the overproduced drama found in podcasts like RadioLab, Farming God lets you take a break from the drama; it is the “settling-in-for-the-night-with-a-good-book” of podcasts.
To give a better idea of the variety of topics Farming God covers, early episodes focus on historical Christianity and its development in China, there is an episode titled “Millennials and Climate Change,” and a later episode centers around the Minnesota State Fair. Going through Farming God’s timeline is essentially like playing spiritual-hot potato—you never know what the next episode will entail but you’re sure it will make you question yourself. There is a consistent theme though: openness and learning. One of Farming God’s more interesting episodes, “Undesirables of Minneapolis,” involves Ray venturing out into the city of Minneapolis and interviewing several protesters on the spot. We first hear from a local nun named Bridget who’s been protesting since the Vietnam War, and she gives young listeners a tiny piece of what fighting injustice looked like in the ’60s. The following interview is with a male protester who goes off on a tangent about religions, monarchies, and monetary systems. The randomness of these two back-to-back interviews leaves the listener feeling grateful, as these are people who would arguably never be given a voice on any other platform or anywhere else.
Podcast listeners who give brownie points to soundtrack-heavy programs will adore Ray’s musical editing. Each episode is packed full of beautifully arranged guitar numbers, well-thought-out songs that match the mood of the episode, and perfectly placed (then faded) audio clips. According to Ray, Farming God gets its musical inspiration from two main sources: singer-songwriter Paul Spring, and experimental pop-extraordinaire Enjoy, The Cat. As for everything else, Ray says, “If I need something wildly specific, I record it myself, add a lot of reverb, and hope no one notices my musical shortcomings.” Although he doesn’t list off each composer during the show, all of the music heard can be found on Ray’s blog on farminggod.org.
The most inspiring thing about Farming God is hearing the passion in Ray’s voice and feeling the confidence of a young entrepreneur exploring the airwaves. “We are all wrapped in narrative, constantly colliding with others and their stories,” Ray explains when asked about the podcast. “This fascinates me. So I carry a microphone and try to make sense of the ordinary.” Farming God is the exact opposite of ordinary. Take Ray’s description of his favorite interview, conducted during an episode titled “Middle America Etc.”:
I meet a fisherman named Normal, but he’s not normal at all. Literally. The hospital screwed up Norman‘s birth certificate. When he went to change it, the legal office said it would be $60 to put the “n” back on. The office refused to comp the 60 bucks so he decided, “I’m gonna be Normal for the rest of my life.”
Inevitably, Farming God’s audience is learning, but exactly from who or what authority remains a curiosity. “I don’t have much interest in interviewing the latest author, politician, or celebrity,” Ray states. Googling most of the people heard on Farming God produces few results.
The content of the show—sometimes mundane, other times compelling—is secondary to the style. Farming God was created by somebody who spends time “branding quotes on reclaimed wood,” and is a hipster podcast at first glance, but look more closely and you’ll find a gem of collected interviews and spiritual ponderings. You don’t have to concentrate super hard; it’s like a television show that you can just pick back up again, even if you’ve missed some episodes. When asked about what’s next for Farming God, Ray optimistically responds, “In the immediate future, I’m excited for Season 3 [a collection of sound-rich stories on food and humanity] coming next month. Using food as the Trojan horse, we can talk about so much: culture, environment, community, and place.”
Farming God favors those who are curious-minded seekers as opposed to those looking for pure entertainment. After listening to one episode, you may feel a little lost. After listening to more episodes, you start to get the feeling that that is exactly Ray’s intention: to make us all feel a little less numb and a little more curious.