Jesse Schaffer (he/him)

Jesse has been farming on farms not his own for about 10 years. He currently manages a series of 14 (!) rooftop farms in Chicago, and recently had been managing a farm in Alabama for 4 years. 

I’m white cis masculine presenting dude. The world was built for me in a real way.

I’m not the person who people notice, I blend in. The struggles I experience are very different from what my coworkers experience.

What I’ve experienced is a lack of trust. People who own the shit – it takes years for them to believe that you’re not just an idiot who is working for them. It’s shocking to think in the farming world, the amount of people who believe farmers are idiots, literal stupid people. It can’t be undersold – it’s profound and super real. From people in society all the way to the micro level of the farm owners themselves, people devalue the brains of farmers. That has been a huge element for me.

I have intentionally sought out places that I knew I would feel safe or safe enough to make it through the season there.
As a Jewish person and a queer person who has lived in a rural places, I’ve learned not to lead with certain things. The life that I’ve led has taught me to not give too much of who I am unless I think it’s to my benefit, and unless I feel safe enough to do so.
My boss in 2014, one of the things I could trust with their identity as a transperson…they were having to deal with so much by being there. The network that I knew they were connected to gave me a sense of trust. If they didn’t feel good going to that place, they probably wouldn’t let me fall into that situation. 
My network is much bigger now. I am part of the Jewish farmer network and the queer contigency of that network.

The last four years in Birmingham, took a big chunk out of me, and I’m processing it now. 

In retrospect it was the hardest four years of my life. I was everyone’s first Jew. I didn’t let on to other aspects of my identity, and I accepted that for a very long time I would be a mostly partial version of myself.

As a farmer, you are literally providing love by the thing you do for work. Giving people love through food.  It’s easy to talk all day about why it’s worth it.

The longer I’ve done this stuff, the more it doesn’t feel that at odds with the history of my people and the spiritual connection I have to the land – the element to knowing a place and feeling deeply connected to it, but knowing it will never be mine. And even if it was mine in the American capitalist way – it’s still stolen land.

I sit with it a lot – what it is to know that 2000 years of people who came before me were mainly agriculturalists and they never owned a piece of that shit.

Obviously farming has a lot of spiritual layers to it – the longer I’ve done it with the Jewish agrarian knowledge that I do have – it’s something I’ve come more to terms with and feel more comfortable with, that I’ll never see the last harvest of a place.

I think there is a lot of humility to know that it isn’t yours and that you are just a steward. The more time you spend working on other people’s ideas, dreams and land, the more you know what it is to be a steward. There can be a sense of entitlement tied with ownership, but when you are literally working for someone else, it teaches a lot of humility, and I’m grateful and gracious for that humility.