2021 will be Mikayla’s 5th growing season. She has farmed on non-profit and larger scale production farms in the western Michigan area.
She just acquired land (via a quick claim deed) to start her own operation, Still Wind Farm, with greens succession as the focus. She also works full-time as a bartender and assistant brewer at a brewery.
I’ve yet to make $15/hour so accessibility to land has definitely not been an option. It’s just not affordable for most people and I’m pretty young and don’t have savings.
The idea of the land search process was pretty intimidating to me. I was never taught about credit, or basic purchasing of things. That was a barrier up until I was met with the opportunity to own land.
The ability to learn by working at different farms was really helpful. I worked at probably 6 different farms, doubling up to supplement income, learning a different skill from a different space.
I gained a lot from the farm community and learning in the field and conversations that would take place weeding carrots for what seemed like 10 years.
I felt like I needed to have seasons under my belt before ever expanding into my own space.
I learn in a very visual hands on way – being in those different fields was super helpful.
I began farming when I was 19, as a full-time, unpaid intern on a non-profit education farm. Throughout the first few weeks, I was being groomed by the farm manager who was in his late twenties – continuously speaking / interacting with me in a really inappropriate fashion. At the time, I did not conceptualize the power dynamics and manipulation involved, though it’s truly baffling to recall the language utilized in convincing those around that everything was okay. As I’ve continued farming, I’ve noticed that there is typically always a problematic power dynamic involved between farm manager and farm hand. Management regards themselves often as unregulated individuals; and views staff as labor undeserving of a voice, comfortability, professional investment.
After about a month of working there I was shocked to be told we were dating – that he had cleared our relationship with the board of directors, whom he reported to monthly. At this point, he stated that their only concern was that I would someday take legal action against him, i.e. sexual harassment in the workplace, etc. As my voice was uninvolved from this conversation, it is difficult to say whether his recounting of the board’s reaction was accurate.
In his narrative, a false sense of me holding power was fostered. In reality it was a facade to shift away from the lack of both leadership accountability and my presence during a conversation involving a personal / workplace relationship.
there is a Lack of accountability for managers or even a lack of accountability for older white men.
That was kind of my basis for navigating the farm industry in this area. Once I left that, I felt scared to bring up the experience with other people or other farmers.
In general I’m fairly timid moving into other farm jobs being managed by other white men. I wasn’t in a position or felt like I could speak up or bring my ideas to the table. I wasn’t taken super seriously when I did. That has been a huge issue that I have experienced throughout the past the couple of years.
Once I did secure a management position at a non-profit farm, I was met with the same attitude from leadership there. I was not taken seriously.
At my first board meeting that I held there, I was in a room full of older white people, averaging 50 -75 years old. After I laid out my plan for the season, their response was that it sounded okay, but that I would have to prove myself to them before them granting me trust of the space. I didn’t say anything about it and it allowed further communication problems.
As a young woman, it’s been hard to speak up for myself when things are happening and respond to them happening. In that room, I was the only one with any farm experience.
Within that position I brought up a lot of other problems and again I wasn’t taken seriously:
At one point, I had been working 70 hour work weeks for 3- 4 months (I was paid $12.50/hour, only paid for 40 hours/week). Each month I brought it up to the board and executive director. I finally called the labor board for Michigan.
Rather than talking about shifting my responsibilities or market streams or how much the farm was taking on, it was met with – I have an insatiable thirst and desire for money, my experience doesn’t matter, I’m unable to separate my identity as a farmer from reality, it’s my fault – lack of time management skills.
The farm crew this past season was really supportive. we all agreed to stay until the farm staff had either secured other jobs or we couldn’t handle it any longer.
We waited until september when everyone felt like they were financially secure & we left together.