Anita has been farming on farms not her own for about 10 years. She currently lives in New Mexico and took a farming gap year in 2020 working at a cooperative food hub and on her own small okra operation.
I was working in social work and public housing in Brooklyn back in 2008, feeling in over my head. My coworker and I decided to start a rooftop garden for the residents of the building where we worked.
We didn’t have any money, but we did have old, used wooden bed frames, which turned out to be perfect raised beds.
I’ve been farming ever since.
I NEVER HAD GOALS OF STARTING MY OWN FARM. I WOULD BE VERY CONTENT TO WORK ON A FARM AND STAY FOR A LONG TIME.
There isn’t much visibility for non-white farmers, and the farms where I have worked have been 95% white:
As a brown woman, I am always the last person that visitors come up to when they have a question or if they are looking for someone in charge.
It’s been especially challenging for me when I’ve managed farms and visitors assume first-time volunteers (always white people, usually men) are the managers and cannot hide the surprise on their face when they are redirected to me.
It’s been tricky for me as I have gained more skills and grown in this field. when you work on other people’s farms, even “management” positions can feel like a lateral move, not just with pay, but with respect and autonomy.
It’s really problematic when owners do not recognize your skills or experiences, let alone utilize them. I’ve had farming experiences where the owner refused to acknowledge that I had been farming for nearly as long as them, and would repeatedly try to teach me about basic things that you learn your first season.
I’ve also had experiences where I worked as a manager and the owner was presumably threatened by my skills and rapport with the crew and would undermine me by speaking over me, asking the crew to do another task after I had started the crew on something else, ridiculing me.
I’ve worked for a female farm owner who reprimanded me for asking for assistance in a task that i was physically incapable of doing myself, saying that we can’t show signs of weakness to anyone. She clearly had spent years proving herself to male farmers in the industry, and felt as women we had to avoid any perception of weakness. it’s tough.
I’ve had to work on too many farms that were openly racist: farm owners expecting me to live in a trailer park that was splattered with confederate flags and claiming not to understand why I was uncomfortable, being gaslighted by owners when I talked about coworkers using racial slurs, urban farms that would take token photos of BIPOC neighbors for grants and turn around and charge the same community members $100 to attend a fundraiser.
Plants are such a thrill to me. Squash seedlings bursting out of the soil like an earthquake never cease to amaze me. I like that every season is another opportunity to try again. I love working as a team and having such a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. the grit, beast mode, muscle memory, it’s all great.
If I’m not on a farm, I’m trying to get back on a farm. My identity is so intertwined with farming. I’m not sure if that’s healthy or not, but I don’t really know who I am if I’m not farming.
I feel like I have spent multiple lifetimes farming, like each farm is a different life. I have worked through tough stuff in the fields and left pieces of myself everywhere I’ve worked.