Marshall is not currently farming right now, but spent the last 9 years working for a non-profit farm in Pittsburgh. He has farmed on farms not his own for 12 years. Right now he is working side jobs like cleaning job sites, tree work and landscaping work.
My dad grew up on a dairy farm. We have farmers in the family, but my dad is not a farmer. It was always in my conscious. I didn’t go to college, and basically in my mid-20s, I needed to do something besides work at dead end jobs for one year at a time. Farming came into my mind. I had a fascination with food and plants.
I was an intern at a gentleman’s farm one season, a small diversified farm. Then I moved to Pittsburgh and I got a job at a fledging urban farm from a non-profit and ended up being there for 9 years.
I’ve since worked on one other farm for a season after that and half a season this year at my buddy’s farm.
Farm employees aren’t entitled to time and a half, that is not acceptable. That just can’t be the way. You can’t have this group of people who you are constantly patting on the head and when someone complains that they are tired and working a lot, you say “that’s just being a farmer.” Farmworkers should get paid a lot better.
That’s the thing – I was in such a privileged place, you have no idea. I was doing very fine for myself. I was the most senior employee out of 20 people. I had a month paid off a year, I had benefits, all this stuff.
It still just broke me down.
I would say it was probably pretty typical issues surrounding non-profits that made me want to leave:
- The grant chasing and money sort of seeming to be wasted.
- The story that comes out in the yearly report seems to be more important than the reality of the situations.
- Having to work with employees on the farm who were never going to be able to get it together but we couldn’t let anyone go because it would look bad, so I was there 7 days a week picking up the slack.
At the non-profit it was financially so cushy. If I had been true to myself, I would have left earlier.
Seeing money go into projects that don’t ultimately succeed just makes me feel like the wealthy people should keep their money rather than give these token grants. Far and wide, they don’t follow up with how things go and you get money from the same people you’re working against.
Ownership really screws it all up.
My family’s farm is almost 300 acres and there’s like 6-7 properties there from various pieces of land that my grandparents bought. They built a few modest places for workers to live – an operation that I never saw because by the time I was born they had switched from dairy to beef.
But I always thought I would want a community and people around. I have no interest in asking my friends to come and be at this place that eventually one day they don’t get any of. I’ve wondered about selling the properties to actually give people equity.
That seems like such a big part of the problem: equity.
When I was at the non-profit, in the back of my mind I would think, ‘My gosh I pour myself into this tiny piece of land, I garden this place intensively with all my time, and one day I’m going to just walk away, and one day they are going to put a fucking target here or something’.
Farmers are important like doctors, but the difference is there.
I felt pissed off and burnt out and silly for choosing such a grueling career path.
I started in my mid 20s and now I’m almost 40, and it hurts a lot more than it used to.
On and on and on, not enough fat in the land.
I’d rather not have much and rely on the excess of society than to work so much to feel the way it made me feel.
It’s a natural thing for me, farming. I can’t help but have a garden in my yard, but it wasn’t working for me anymore.
And now I’m in a place where I didn’t go to college and I didn’t learn a skill that would bring in that much money.