story and photos by Chellie Bowman
If you’ve ever woken up early Saturday morning, grabbed your reusable tote bag and headed to the Cooper Young Farmer’s Market then you’ve no doubt run into Brandon Pugh or his Delta Sol Farm crew and their radiant assortment of seasonal flowers and unique bouquets. A cherished and vital staple at the local market, Delta Sol is a visibly and openly queer-run business whose presence in the community reminds us that there’s not just one way to be gay. With mud-caked boots and Miranda Lambert on blast, Pugh brings a bit of fun, country campiness to the city.
Located 20 miles west of Memphis, Delta Sol is a small certified-organic operation surrounded by a sea of conventional soybean fields in northeast Arkansas. It was founded 10 years ago when Brandon moved back from California where he had been studying and practicing sustainable agriculture for a number of years. When the opportunity arose for him to come back to his hometown of Proctor, Ark., he jumped at the prospect, and the farm was born. Coming from a farming family—Pugh’s grandfather was a cotton farmer and his brother and father have both practiced large commodity farming— growing things has always been a passion for him. Starting a sustainable flower farm was thus a way to celebrate and get back to his roots, while simultaneously creating something new and unique that spoke to who he was as a queer, environmentally-minded individual.
Brandon’s experience as a gay farmer in Memphis and Arkansas has been overwhelmingly positive: “It’s been really welcoming. Memphis is a super supportive community; it rises to the occasion. There are all kinds of gay folks out there, and sometimes in the gay community we isolate ourselves until we all start acting the same or talking the same, liking the same music. Or we all have to go to the same bar. Which is fine too. But you don’t have to do that. We’re everywhere. There’s not one way to celebrate being gay.”
In the fall Delta Sol is putting on its annual Queer Dineer at the farm, a big out-and-proud party that Pugh distinguishes from his other more formal farm dinners.
“It’s a way to get queer folks and straight folks and everybody out to the farm to celebrate a field day. Who doesn’t love a farm field day? A lot of us queers have farming backgrounds—this is one way to reclaim it and be like ‘Oh yeah, I know this. This is what I did growing up, I’m comfortable out here’.
“Often in the gay community it feels like we’re having the same event over and over. Events like Queer Dineer are safe spaces that offer us alternative ways to express our identity. A large part of our community who are from this region have similar backgrounds to Pugh or come from many of the rural areas and smaller towns that surround Memphis. Delta Sol is a reminder that as queer people we don’t always have to choose between who we are now and where we came from; we don’t necessarily have to lose that part of us. And still even for us born-and-bred city girls, it offers us a chance to break free and get back to nature.
It was actually at a Queer Dineer that gay country camp act Dixie Dicks performed for the first time. Banjo player Brandon Ticer, front man/ percussionist Joel Parsons, and drummer Charlotte Watson make up the band with guitarist Pugh. Songs like “Pickin’ Beans” and “Feminine Top”—both from their EP, Vers—combine loose, folksy hootin’ and hollerin’ with an unapologetically raunchy queer agenda.
Watson is also the dedicated farm manager at Delta Sol, where working alongside each other out in Proctor, Pugh was able to learn a lot about musicianship. On developing close relationships with the farm crew, Pugh states “You really get to know your people. You’re out in the middle of nowhere— and we talk about everything.” Apart from creating a larger community in Memphis, Delta Sol has definitely created its own family.
Interestingly, Brandon moves within two subcultures, country music and farming, that seem like quintessentially heteronormative spaces with very conventional notions of masculinity and sexuality. But as an out queer farmer and country musician, he intrinsically challenges those traditional spaces while also calling attention to their innate performativity—and most importantly, has fun doing it.
“You have to go at it with a sense of humor. I find farmers really attractive so it’s fun to talk about them and wish I was one of them. Farmers are hot! And country music is part of a lot of our backgrounds, what we grew up listening to. The harmonies are great; it always has a message. Simple, easy, relatable. You can change the words and have fun with it. And country is already drag—I bet those boys can’t even drive a tractor like us gay boys can.”
While reclaiming country music and farming is inherently a political act, for Pugh the emphasis is on joyful celebration. At a Dixie Dicks show people are empowered, but also entertained. At the farm queer sexiness is intertwined with sustainability, beautiful flowers, and coming together to party out in the country.
You wanna go? You’re all invited. Follow Delta Sol (@ deltasolfarm) on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on events happening in their future including Queer Dineer and seasonal flower pop-ups. And if you haven’t already checked out Dixie Dicks— they’ll be playing at Goner Fest Pride weekend!