Sajo has been farming on farms not their own for almost 5 years, off and on. This past year, they worked at a rooftop farm in Brooklyn & Queens, an educational farm near Harlem, and on a 63-acre organic farm in Rhode Island growing veggies, peaches and apples.
I GREW UP IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS IN THE CONNECTICUT RIVER VALLEY, OCCUPIED NIPMUC AND POCUMTUC LAND AMIDST BIG CORN FIELDS. GROWING UP, SWEET CORN WAS A BIG PART OF MY LANDSCAPE, PART OF THE PLACE THAT I KNEW.
We had a CSA as a family growing up. My parents didn’t talk about it much, but that really impacted me. That CSA was something that I always wanted to do – to go to the farm to pick up veggies even if I didn’t eat them.
That is where I was coming from when I dropped out of school and started farming.
I was very jaded with the college that I was going to and felt pretty disconnected from the land where I was – or actually I was more interested in the land than I was in the school work. I didn’t understand how what I was learning in school connected to the things that are so central to our lives. I think I wanted to know about the earth and prioritize that as a central part of my learning. If I was going to learn stuff not directly related, I wanted it to be grounded in respect and honoring, so it’s spiritual too.
It was also about being a black person in college with a lot of other young folks of color, observing our different experiences with food.
I was in a Black Studies class, learning about slavery, and I hadn’t thought about the relationship of how we are now, as an entire world, our entire hemisphere, and how slavery and exploitation affect the foods that we eat.
Food is so central in our lives.
MORE NOW THAN EVER BEFORE, I DO WANT TO WORK AT A FARM WHERE I HAVE COLLECTIVE OWNERSHIP. NOT OWNING THE LAND BUT HAVING AGENCY IN MY WORK.
I DIDN’T THINK I WANTED TO UNTIL I STARTED FARMING AND GOING TO PLACES THAT I HAD HIGH HOPES ABOUT AND BEING DISAPPOINTED.
I STARTED REALIZING THAT THE THING I WANTED I WOULD HAVE TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO REALIZE, SOMETHING WE WOULD HAVE RESPONSIBILITY OVER.
I haven’t wanted to have my own farm partially because of my lack of interest in making a profit from growing food. I don’t think I know anything about business, and I’m not particularly interested in business. I want to have a living wage and support my community with my work.
I’M NOT TRYING TO LIVE IN OR PARTICIPATE IN A FOOD SYSTEM THAT CONTINUES TO PERPETUATE CAPITALISM AND EXTRACTION.
I WANT TO GROW FOOD IN A WAY THAT CENTERS LIFE AND NOT PROFIT. WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE UNDER CAPITALISM?
I see a lot of structural issues, more than just the farm being fucked up.
I think that what’s been hard for me to accept is that it’s too much work and an expectation of work that is so high that it’s hard for people to meet it and not get burnt out, especially if they don’t have a stake. There aren’t opportunities to really benefit besides getting paid an hourly wage. You’re working ridiculously long hours and not getting overtime and working hard and always being pushed to work harder. I think that is really alarming to me.
I THOUGHT SUSTAINABILITY MEANT FOR PEOPLE, TOO,
AND I HAVEN’T SEEN THAT IN MANY PLACES, EVEN IN FARMS WHERE I REALLY ADMIRE THE WORK THEY ARE DOING.
I’ve been realizing in some ways I’ve bought into this even though I don’t have these values outside of farm work.
MYTHS LIKE RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM, AND MYTHS THAT IF YOU WORK HARDER, IT MEANS YOU CARE MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
These are myths that I don’t believe in, but I found myself having to overdo what I’m capable of doing to prove that I love what I’m doing.
I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT THAT A LOT AFTER LEAVING MY MOST RECENT FARM:
The guy who owns the farm – he doesn’t sleep! He works on the farm all day and gets on the tractor all night and sprays his plants.
If that is the bar, how do you work up to being in a serious role without doing the same thing he does?
That is tough for me as a black person, the line between that kind of work ethic and exploitation of people and their bodies, it’s really thin.
EVEN IN FARMS WITH JUSTICE GOALS AND VALUES, FARMERS ARE EXPECTED TO MARTYR THEMSELVES FOR A CAUSE, AND THAT FEELS NOT RIGHT TO ME. IT’S CONFUSING WHEN I FEEL LIKE I BELIEVE IN FOOD SOVEREIGNTY AND LIBERATION AND RELATIONSHIP WITH LAND.
I’ve felt like I have to be on the farm 7 days a week to get to be appreciated. That is not worth it to me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of managing or co-managing a farm. Maybe I wouldn’t be a good manager on that kind of farm.
Work life balance is so hard to find for everyone who is doing this kind of work.
WHAT KEEPS ME COMING BACK IS ALL OF THE INCREDIBLE CONVERSATIONS I’VE HAD WITH CREW MATES IN THE FIELD. I LOVE HAVING MY HANDS IN THE SOIL, I LOVE WATCHING THE PLANTS GROW. I LIKE WORKING HARD AND FEELING TIRED AND ALSO ENERGIZED BY THE WORK THAT I’M DOING.
I like being outside all day and doing it with creative strategy to get food into the communities where the farms are. Where people can access it financially and physically and they feel a part of the farm.
The dream feels far away at times, but definitely keeps me coming back.
I have an ancestral connection with my great grandparents working as sharecroppers on the land. I want to honor them and also grow food in a better world than the one they lived in. I’m a descendant of enslaved people in this country. I remember that through my actions, doing that when I’m farming. It’s a practice of memory that has been really important to me.
I grew up in the forest – as a kid, I was constantly outside. Coupling the fact that I can continue to be outside all day with restoring the soil and the land and feeding people makes this the most beautiful work, so I don’t think that I’ll ever stop growing food.
It’s never been a question even though I’ve run into some serious challenges and disappointments.
It’s more about:
what do we need to change?
what do we need to be creative about?
what do we need to admit to ourselves that’s not working?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about ways to grow large amounts of food that won’t require me to make a living doing that.
Just trying to decenter ownership, business and money-making from the food growing I want to do.
Been thinking how can I have agency as a farmer and collaborator and steward of land without being the formal owner.