Michelle has been farming for 4 or 5 years on farms not her own, while also doubling down on her own farm at the same time. She currently has her own operation, Good Rain Farm, in Portland, Oregon. She also works as a field instructor at REI, and has a work trade at another local farm.
Right after the last presidential election in 2016, I wanted to make a greater impact. I had always been involved in the environmental movement and sustainability. I wanted to make a bigger impact.
I spent a lot of time doing lobbying and policy work, sat on a board of directors – I still felt bogged down in bureaucratic bullshit.
We thought farming and feeding people could be a really immediate way to make an impact. To steward the land in a sustainable and transparent way, allow me to connect more deeply where my food comes from, seed to food, dehydrating it and the process of it, and sharing that with community.
We started a large garden in 2016 – it became clear that a garden wasn’t going to be efficient to support the demand. We can define agriculture in a lot of different ways. As we envision market farms now, that is kind of what we do now. It’s more uniform and larger production and efficiency. I wanted to be able to feed more people for the same two hours I spent out in the garden.
Why do you work for other farmers? Learning from someone who has done it for so long, learning the system. Learning the weird little nuance of how they define a bad kale leaf from a good kale leaf. What is quality produce versus what is not. I pick up on the teeny tiny nuances. I also get to connect with a large farm crew that are all work traders – it’s a good networking experience for me that I haven’t seen other farms offer. It’s actually an invaluable piece of it- I’ve met tons of other farmers who work the off season.
One of the bigger issues that stick out to me on the mid-size farms that I tend to work on – basically the immediate boss is the immediate owner of the farm.
Any complaints or Human Resource issue is very hard to communicate because you are literally communicating to the offender.
There is no mediator or a little bit of buffer there, so you kind of have to think – is this worth losing this opportunity over or calling them out over or not? Is this something they are open to hearing and working through or will this cause tension. You’re always evaluating experience, deciding if it’s worth it or not. They, of course, would all be worth it or things to talk about.
I decided to start my own farm mostly because I realized that working for other people wasn’t going to achieve the level of social justice and community impact I wanted.
I definitely didn’t want to work for white male farmers and continue to build wealth for them.
Even the nicest ones still tokenize me as a young Indigenous female farmer (I am Native and French). I get some weird comments still sometimes. Their intent is to make compliments and be nice and honor me or something, but the reality is that it’s sexist, racist weird shit. It’s so hard to explain to someone, that was a nice gesture, but really bad implementation. That is one of those – run your options and go ‘okay thanks, bye now’.
I wanted to take more control and make more of an impact. We are doing our first ever annual report on our farm – we do a lot. I was feeling like we don’t do enough, now I’m trying to think that we do a lot.
15% of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program) was free of charge to our community, a scholarship program. We donate food and we donate money.
It was supposed to be a worker coop, but then my original farm business partner and I went different ways. It was a really hard experience. It’s a sole proprietorship right now – always running it with a cooperative mindset.
I’m always happy for the crew to suggest ways of doing things, ideas and programming because I didn’t feel comfortable doing that when I was on other farms.
I didn’t feel like I could do that on someone else’s farm, divert the income. Amongst this shift and awakening, I see so many people make excuses, and not want to do anything. They recognize the problem, and are not really doing anything.
I call myself a farmer. That was the most uncomfortable thing – in my second year. I still felt so new to it, and I was at the time. I was in an apprenticeship program and my mentor told me that I was a farmer. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, I felt unsure, uncomfortable, not confident. Now I do the same thing to my interns and crew! I send out newsletters to CSA members and introduce them as farmers, they probably feel silly about it.
We put in the hard labor, hands in the earth doing work. recognizing that helps us recognize that there aren’t just field workers out there. All the people out in the fields are farmers, they are farming, they know the plants, the produce, recognize pests and disease, when to harvest, it’s as intimate as you can get.
THEY DESERVE THAT TITLE OF RESPECT, IF YOU WOULD. I’M SURE IT’S DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT CULTURES, BUT IN OUR SOCIETY, THERE IS A LEVEL OF RESPECT AND RECOGNITION OF THE SKILLSET.