S Policastro (They/Them)

S works on a diversified vegetable farm in Maryland. They have been farming for 5 years, and are going into their 4th season at this particular farm. This is their second season of planning and operating the farm’s winter CSA program, successfully shepherding them into a 4 season operation!

There is a real attempt to not refer to ourselves as managers of people, but more managers of areas of the farm and specific areas of exploration. For me, it’s irrigation and water systems, high tunnel management and winter production as a whole. Even though I take on a role that is a manager and mover of people, I don’t really identify as a farm manager, and that’s not the language we use to describe my role at the farm. 

Most of my adult life I have really struggled with both severe mental illness and chronic illness. There was an inability to function in the world and take care of myself and I was just working desk jobs and restaurant jobs, too.

I felt disconnected from my own existence and having my hands in soil and being connected to the earth – it wasn’t just grounding for me or a breath of fresh air, it is bringing me what’s tangible in a real way.

There was a gentleness and an embrace of the natural world that was really life changing for me. It really changed my functionality in the world and my ability to navigate space with ease and feel rooted in something that was a constant support – that is my relationship with nature.

That drew me to farm spaces. At first it wasn’t in an interest of production farming, more an interest in sharing that space with children and the community in a broader way. 

I’m undeniably drawn to being in relation with land. the very touchable and possible-t0-smell kind of feeling of watching a flower from seed bloom and find its home in the earth and create seeds again.

Part of my interest in starting this winter CSA is that it’s not just about having a livelihood, but it’s in order to survive under conditions this world places on us (having worked 8 out of 12 Months of the year making less than minimum wage).

During the winter when farm owners are working on the incredibly important crop plan, buying supplies to run business, this void is left for workers:

  • we have to find another job
  • we have to find other sources of income. 

I’m looking outside the window at snow right now. It’s a cold time to continue to grow food, it does take extra work. I have heard again and again this kind of verbal memento:

You can’t go hard four seasons of the year. You have to have a season to rest and recover and plan.

I think that is true and also a luxury that as a farm worker I don’t get. 

I love the dreaming and the planning that happens in the winter, but that includes growing for me, because that is how I can support a livelihood in a farm that isn’t mine. And support jobs for other farm workers, too.

There is a pressure around survival that farm workers hold that owners do not.

How do we get through this season of scarcity when the person supported by the business at the end of the day is often the owner and not the workers? 

I have been working really hard on shifting my relationship to winter as a time of scarcity to something that holds a different kind of beauty and abundance. There is a lot of joy for me in that.

The amount of planning work to run a farm enterprise that I have dug into in the past two years – the kind of holding the whole of winter production, both administratively and the field work that has to happen has been really rooted in my need to continue having a connection to farm space and not to lose that for a quarter of the year.

But also to be able to make the money that I need to continue to pay my rent and buy groceries. We aren’t talking about anything extravagant, just to meet my basic expenses. I haven’t been paid enough as a farm worker to save any money to get through the winter.

I do want to say as a nonbinary queer farm person, I often feel a sense of anxiety around feeling fully seen in farm spaces, around if folks are going to use my name right or my pronouns and a worry that my full self can’t exist in the space and be taken seriously or seen as valuable.

The farm spaces that have most felt like home for me are places that other trans and queer people gather and make home and exist in relationship with the land.

I think we put each other at ease and have a space that is filled with enough gentleness and understanding around the nuance of our identities.

We can be together in the experience of riding tractors with lipstick on and passing around the same kind of weird sweater in the farm truck. All of the silly wonderful, beautiful things that queer farms are not really what the larger world probably thinks of as the serious act of growing food.

Creating a space for joy and us to exist in that way is really powerful for me and really important for me

The kind of active change that is always happening on farms is something i hope i never lose my sense of awe or wonder around. For me, there is a constant reminder in there for me that we have everything that we need.

 

There is something deeply personal and spiritual for me in seeing the way that nature reflects that to us and that farm spaces really are in a practice of constant reminder for us. 

I think there is value in naming ourselves as farmers when we have spent the years of time and energy of mastery of growing food.

I think not doing that is a way of devaluing our labor in the same way that the larger world does.

I really want to see a space where farm workers who really help and support and are critical in running operations are being named as farmers and being seen by the community as that.