Backstory: A farmer who tills the airwaves
FORT MYERS, FLA.
For more than a decade, the humorist known to radio listeners in Maine as "The humble Farmer" threw a summer picnic in his backyard, with free lobster for all comers.
Word got out, and after a few years people "from away" – Bostonians, New Yorkers – were rolling up to his farmhouse in St. George, Maine, in overflowing charter buses. Robert Skoglund – aka The humble Farmer, neighbor humble, or your buddy humble – reveled in it. These were his fans. Or they would be, once they heard his radio show or read his newspaper column or saw his stand-up act at some local banquet hall.
To his wife Marsha, though, they were mostly just people who wanted free lobster. And in 1994, skeptical of its value and alarmed at the expense, she insisted he stop.
"It was the greatest marketing tool," says a still touchy Mr. Skoglund, who is 71 now and has striking blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a slightly unpredictable, manic energy. "Marsha couldn't see that you have to fertilize the field before the crops will grow."
After 28 years on Maine public radio, and at an age when many neighbors in a mobile home park here in Florida are swinging golf clubs or gliding past the swaying palms on three-wheeler bikes, The humble Farmer is still tilling those fields. He spends so many hours making his radio show that he rarely steps out into the glorious sunshine. He is so short on cash – he gets $30 a show – that he still fishes for stand-up gigs at local trailer parks while wintering here, accepting fees that are often as old-fashioned as the jazz records on his show.
Even before the era of lobster giveaways, the love of fans – the sense that he was enriching their lives in some way – always mattered more than money. But these days, as he looks back over his life, he has begun to wonder whether that has been enough.
Skoglund never looked for a life in radio. After aborted careers as a jazz musician and schoolteacher, he returned to his rural roots, digging gardens and mowing fields in the same Maine county his ancestors settled in 1734.
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