Brian is currently in a management position at a diversified production vegetable farm in New Mexico. He is going into his 8th season farming on farms not his own.
I started in upstate New York on a production farm. I worked with really skilled people up there, the people who owned the farm were pretty great people and I learned a lot from them.
I really felt that I could pursue farming as a potential career path.
I think initially it was about the ideology for me – the political implications surrounding growing your own food and relationship with changing the food system, the broader ways that farming related to social justice. That’s what got me into it at first.
I’d say that I learned a lot through doing it. the ideas I had before going into it – I didn’t have a really informed opinion about it.
I thought I knew what it was and learned it was something totally different.
I guess I kinda didn’t think about the physicality of it too much and didn’t think a whole lot of what it means to produce food in a larger economic system.
Working on production farms is actually divorced from a lot of the ideology that I went into it believing in.
We’re selling food at a really high price to those who can afford it.
Initially I started working for other people to learn – I had no idea what I was doing, growing up on Long Island, not connected to agriculture and needing to learn from other people. I continue to work for other people because I don’t have the resources to start my own farm.
Ultimately I think that would be really great (to have my own farm), but I don’t know if that is entirely an option for me having access to money to start it and I don’t quite see how that is going to happen.
It’s funny because you’re in this position because you want to learn how to farm:
You get paid a low wage.
You have already learned it after so many years.
—but you don’t have any money to start your own farm.
You really get stuck in a rut. you try to learn, you get the knowledge, but you’re not any closer financially to starting something.
I wish there was a way to make a decent living in farming without starting your own business. I’ve hit the ceiling. i’ve been in management roles for 6 seasons now and i just am not making any more money than when i started.
I wish there was a way to do this going forward – I’d be perfectly content working for someone else if I could make a living doing it.
I think that is what will drive me away from farming if I ever stop.
It’s not the work itself, it’s not seeing a future for myself doing it.
I think we have to address that if we want there to be a next generation of farmers, it’s becoming a less and less viable option for people.
I do love the work. I love all of the tasks of farming. Anything from harvesting, to seeding, packing orders, tractor work.
One of the cool things about farming – there are no real right or wrong ways to approach it. There is always something to improve on, it keeps me really motivated, learning each year how to do something a little better or differently.
I enjoy learning from other farmers how they do it. I really love the day to day tasks, usually not what my gripe is with farming.
Health and safety issues are a big problem in small agriculture. It’s a number of reasons, lack of time for farm owners or resources, or just generally not really caring in some places. Proper training on how to safely do things is oftentimes non existent. Pre Pandemic and during pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of instances of lack of PPE, inexperienced people using machinery and materials in an unsafe way.
In some situations there are short term consequences (immediate danger), but sometimes people using material on an organic farm that are carcinogenic or not doing it safely. Farm owners don’t tell you about those things, I’m not sure if they even know about it.
I’m a workplace safety person so I pay a lot of attention. I do a lot of research of the materials we use and I take photos of the warning labels. I try to spread that information to the crew, but it’s crazy how widespread that is.
I’ve worked through injuries that required time to heal, but you can’t get off time off to keep your job. I’ve seen other people with workplace injuries who have to learn to work through it or live with it.
The clarity of roles and expectations has been pretty vague in my experience when you work on farms. I’ve had it happen to myself a couple times. I was hired for a specific role and end up doing a bunch of different roles and my pay remains the same. Those situations kind of happen without a conversation. Suddenly I’m feeling stressed out and stretched thin and not enjoying it anymore.
Also the transparency about the business end of things on a farm – how the farm is doing as a business. It’s just kind of an odd thing to not know:
Are we doing ok this year or are we not? Sometimes you can think, ‘Am I going to lose my job? Is this thing going under? I have no idea.‘