Hayley Park (She/Any)

Hayley has been farming for 8 years on farms not her own. She has primarily worked on seed or research farms, and currently works on a research farm in Oregon.

Currently I am a graduate student in the horticulture department at Oregon State.

I’m working on a plant breeding graduate program, but it’s a job and also the student part of being a grad student.

I have a formal job with the university – for that I do  everything that field work encompasses. I plan all the field work for a research project of my own or other people. We grow all summer, I work with vegetables.

What’s different is that usually we harvest, take data and donate our food…we can’t sell any of it. 

Before this I worked for a seed company for two seasons. I worked in trials and research. I helped grow some seed, but a lot of what I did was vegetable trialing.

You grow everything, you take notes, you harvest, you donate. 

And before that I did a year as an apprentice on a commercial veg farm in Oregon. Before that I had 3 seasons in Colorado working on a research farm for Colorado State University. And then I’ve volunteered on farms. 
AND My significant other is a farmer. I don’t actually “work on his farm”, but I work on his farm. 

I started my undergraduate program in soil and crop science without ever having considered farming as a career.

I just liked the idea of working with soil.

I liked environmental science in high school and it sounded like I could be outside doing some of that. I immediately ended up with a job working for the university as an assistant to another grad student.

I think 3 weeks into my undergrad program, I had this job where I was working with an oil seed crop and threshing. So then I spent a lot of years working with grains.

It’s funny, I miss working with grains now because I’ve been working with vegetables for so many years.

Not many people know what research farming looks like, it’s not the same connection to the community. The food we grow, we can donate it or work with gleaners. It’s very different from how commercial farming feels… maybe that is part of the gratifying feeling farmers get of people thanking you for growing their food. 

I actually do think starting a seed farm is something that I’m interested in and I’m trying to work towards right now, but if I give up research farming that would potentially make it harder to earn a livelihood. 

The university does not pay well, but it does pay me year round.

It’s something every year that brings me back. I think it’s the arc of the season and it feels like habit now. It’s not just one part. It’s not just the growth at the early part; it’s not just the abundance of harvest.

I love/hate the smell of rotting tomatoes and the cleanup of that.

It’s so tied to a seasonality. I just can’t envision what a summer would be like without that.

It’s a cycle of life and death that is part of my year.

Each experience in the season, smells, sights, tastes, are just part of my living pattern, I think.

There needs to be equal training on equipment for employees regardless of gender.

They only teach the men how to drive tractors and they expect everyone who doesn’t drive a tractor to pull weeds all day!

I learned how to drive a tractor this past year – it was a new season at a new place and I felt like I had the ability to start new, but all of the other places that I’ve farmed before this – there were men on tractors and no one else.

I’ve been told by people, ‘Maybe they have more mechanical skills or they were more excited about doing it’…

The implications of that are – there is more damaging work happening to non-male bodies. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day whether it’s intentional or not.

I think that farm owners get away with not having to consider what the off season looks like and I would like to see more farm owners going out of the way to find resources and connect their farm employees to winter support.

If they want to bring that person back the next year, I think they should be putting in the effort to find something or some place for them to live for the winters.

I know the feeling of terror so many of my friends have had and I have had at the end of the season: “Where am I going in 3 weeks?”

I don’t think that is fair. The farm owner has somewhere to live and they aren’t going through that fear in the off months.

I know with some farms it’s totally out of the question for them financially to pay for health care. But even just starting with changing the dialogue of, “When you’re sick, take your time, we will pay your wages for the day.”

I had an experience during my apprenticeship when I was really sick for four months of it and I had a parasite. I never took the time because I was living rurally 40 minutes from an urgent care. You work all day, are you going to drive at 5 o’clock to get it checked out? I had all this pain, but it didn’t feel like I could go to my managers and say I need at least a day, maybe a couple, to recover. It didn’t feel like there was any support for that. 

Now with a job that I do have sick days, I can’t even imagine if they were to say, “No, you can’t take care of your health.” HR would get involved. 

I struggle to say the word farmer.

I so tie that to ownership even if I don’t agree with that. I’ve worked in grains on conventional farms and there is ‘the farmer’ who is the owner, and then there are ‘the farm workers’.

That divide is so enforced. 

I can tell people that I farm, and I hear my friends who farm – a lot of them say the same thing:

The verb is easier to say than the noun. It kind of escapes having to talk about the ownership.

I think a lot of people don’t see what I do as farming even if we do the same thing. If you’re not selling it, for some reason, that’s not farming, and maybe that is fair. Where I work is on a farm, I work on two farms. 

I could call myself a ‘research farmer’, maybe…to the right person.