Willow has been farming since she was 15 – going on 20 + years, with occasional breaks.
Willow works for a farm located in northern British Columbia. During the off season, she used to work for an animal welfare agency to maintain her income, but her partner now makes enough money to support them both in the winter months: “My ability to pursue my passion for farming is subsidized by my support network”.
She used to have her own farm, but had to close it down because she couldn’t make ends meet.
In my early years in farming I’d had some morale crushing experiences as a farm employee. I found it particularly difficult in certain jobs working for white cis men who really knew how to take up space and assert themselves as authoritative leader. Those kinds of power dynamics didn’t sit well with me.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by a strong, independent, single mom who taught me to defy the patriarchal system that still permeates every aspect of society – including agriculture.
My mom was the one who helped me find land to lease and gave me the push I needed to start a farm project of my own. During those two years it was difficult to envision it being sustainable, especially without owning the land. My partner and I were having a hard time making ends meet. I was working two part-time jobs and my partner’s work was unstable.
Ultimately we had to close it down because we needed to move for a job opportunity we couldn’t pass up.
It felt like a big failure.
But I’m glad I tried, and I’m grateful to the family, friends, and community members who supported me during that adventure. The land I had been leasing ended up being sold about a year after we left for a price we couldn’t afford.
I spent a few years doing non-profit work, but I realized I’m happiest when I’m playing in the dirt, so I went back to farming for other people.
I don’t have intentions of owning my own farm business again.
I love being a part of the heart of the operation. Planning, growing, transplanting, harvesting, processing, markets. It’s all the other aspects of managing employees and marketing – all that other stuff – it’s a lot. Plus at this point, I’m 35 – the idea of starting over from scratch overwhelms me.
I want to inspire other people to get into farming. I don’t know how to do it. There are so many barriers. Everything is so based on resource extraction where I live now – pipelines and forestry or port jobs that pay $40/hour – young people don’t see a future in farming. I’m worried about where things are going. The climate is not in good shape. We need local food systems and we need people to work together.
The people I work for now have had similar experiences as me, they’ve been in my shoes as a worker – they wanted to do it differently. They could see it from both sides – being an employer and being a worker. Every other farmer I’ve worked for has either worked for their parents (born into it), or they had a lot of money to get started. That’s been a big difference – working for people who get it – they’ve been on the end of learning as they go.
Since moving up to Northern BC – the food costs are insane. Everything is trucked in from thousands of miles away. We went from spending less than $100/month on groceries (in Washington State)- with a market garden and working on farms, to spending $500/month, not eating out or anything. That was a huge slap in the face. I helped start a community garden.
There are so many issues around food insecurity and poverty here in the North. I used to think about food deserts in the context of urban areas, but now I see they exist in rural areas as well.
Some lack sufficient access to fresh foods of ANY kind on a regular basis, let alone organic produce. There are communities that are over 75 miles from the nearest grocery store. That’s 150 miles round trip, and gas is not cheap. Getting to food sources can be particularly challenging without a vehicle or reliable public transportation. The growing season is short up here and many don’t have access to land for growing or gathering. The winter can feel pretty long. There can be road closures from unpredictable events like avalanches and washouts that can take time to repair. Power outages aren’t uncommon and people have lost food stored in their freezers.
Thinking about all of these concerns makes me want to be a part of efforts that strengthen local food systems and ensure that healthy food is more affordable and accessible for everyone.
Over the years I’ve had the great pleasure of working with and learning from so many amazing farmers, by which I mean to include workers, volunteers, apprentices, teachers, and owners.
The farm I work with now wants partners – not employees. We want to work collectively to grow food for our community – no bosses. Being in a work environment where everyone’s experience and skill set is valued and utilized is empowering! We’re in the process of forming a worker’s cooperative and I’m so excited to see how it unfolds.
What keeps you coming back?
FOR THE LOVE OF IT.
I LOVE THE LIFESTYLE. The physical work focuses my mind and relieves my anxiety. I love working outside. Swooshing around in my rain gear. Running around the farm at the end of the work day picking dinner. Sharing meals with my fellow farmers. Preserving food for winter.
I LOVE THE PEOPLE. The people I work with, including the amazing WWOOFers and Apprentices I have the privilege to learn from and share knowledge with. The neighbors, CSA members, and farmer’s market customers whose support makes it all possible. The greater community of local food producers in our area.
I LOVE THE SOUNDTRACK. The sounds of all the creatures moving around and nearby the farm – sheep, chickens, cows, wildlife, the cat, the dog, the people too. The sound a collinear hoe makes as it glides through the soil disrupting weeds in its path. The squeaky wheel sound the greenhouse door makes when you open and close it. The play lists blaring in the packing shed that keep our energy up on harvest days.
I LOVE THE PLANTS. Pouring over seed catalogs and getting excited about varieties I haven’t tried before. Planting seeds and watching them grow. The peppery taste of arugula. The heady smell of basil (my favorite plant to harvest). KALE! It’s just the best. The plants are great teachers: