Katy has been farming for 7 years, “give or take.” She is working at a preschool full-time for the off season, but will be going back to farming full-time in May.
I’m currently working at a preschool for the 4 months that I’m not farming.
It’s kind of my groove over the past years of farming – I’ve been a substitute teacher in the winters. This time, I got a full time job at a preschool. During my interview, I told them that I was going back to the farm in April.
Maybe this will become a regular cycle.
Growing up we had a pretty big vegetable garden and I have always loved being outdoors and working with my hands.
I know about myself that I’m not a screen person and need to be physically active. I was doing some of that work when I lived in Seattle and really felt like I was going to have to take the plunge to sign up to be a full time farmer.
The first thing I did was a 3 month commitment at a sheep farm, which wasn’t the best experience for the animals or me, but I knew after that I was going to keep going and maybe dairy wasn’t my chosen farming profession.
I knew I had it in me to do this and I finally took the plunge and didn’t want to go back after that.
I kept moving around the country and kept going from one farm to the next. Two years at a farm in Maine and every other farm has been one year. Except this farm will be the second year at one farm.
I’ve farmed in Vermont, Washington state, Massachusetts, Maine.
I was at 4 different farms in Washington state.
In the past it has seemed like the easier route to farm for someone else.
At first when I was starting to farm I was interested in working for other people to learn and gain experience.
I kept moving so I wasn’t really putting down really strong roots in many places, so kind of just knowing I’ll be here for a year or two so working for someone else seemed easier.
In a lot of the farms I’ve worked at – I’ve lived on the farm, as well. That kind of community was really appealing to me. And the reality of it is maybe a little different – they were mostly good experiences, but that was definitely another piece that was exciting to me initially when I was working for other folks.
Earlier in my farming life I definitely dreamt of starting my own farm:
The more I’ve gotten into it the less I feel inclined to do that. I just know the realities of running a farm business. I still don’t fully have to do that which I also find appealing. It’s a lot of computer work and social media outreaching – that’s not why I’m farming. I want to farm to grow food and have communities be fed. The business side of farming – if someone else is gonna do that and is already doing it, I’m okay supporting them in any way that I can and not have that lie on my shoulders.
If you’re putting your blood, sweat and soul into being in a place and really trying to develop connection with the land and the people you’re working with, then to not have the ability to voice what you think is important or concerns you might have is hard.
- On one farm the owner started dating a new person and that person didn’t like the way things were going and this whole new energy came on the farm that was pretty toxic. After I’d been there for a year and a half, I left that farm. It always felt like it was his farm and he had the ultimate say in everything – their way or the highway. I was not feeling valued as a person.
- Even basic things like housing on farms – one of the farms I was at, I was living in an old farm house that was being renovated. I was living and working there, and was asked to relocate. One person lived in his van, one person was still in the house even though there were barely any walls in the house, we had to move our kitchen outdoors. Being asked to do things didn’t feel good while the farmer was still in his comfortable spot. None of our work demands were lessened at all.
- The living and working stipend has been varied. I definitely don’t feel I’ve made enough money on any farm that I’ve worked on (besides this farm I’m committing to working on again). I worked for a friend who had just started his own farm and I knew he couldn’t afford to pay me anymore and I loved being on that farm and loved working with him, so that felt fine. But when you know the bottom line, you know the farm is making a decent amount of money and they can afford to put an all slate roof on the brand new house that they are building, it starts to feel sad. If I start breaking down what I made, it’s $5/hour or less with housing.
- On a farm in Washington, I was working with one family of Filipinos in their 60s and 70s. They had been working on the farm for 15 years and they were making less than me, $1 less than me. That was my one non-organic, not groovy farm. I wanted to get a glimpse of the way some farms work. The owner was blatant that my ability to speak English was one of the reasons I got paid more. They busted their asses, it was crazy what these folks could do. Being on the farm was some of the best teamwork I’ve seen.
One day they just asked me how much I was making. I don’t think they were surprised. They knew it wasn’t my decision, and they just kind of made some “it’s a shame” kind of noises.
Some farms I’ve worked on, we’ve been asked to lift heavy heavy things, like 70+ pounds by ourselves. On this farm that was one thing that was going on – everyone pulled weight together.
On most of the farms that I’ve worked on, it was my intention to only work one year. The farm in Maine, I was planning on staying at for a while until things didn’t work out anymore.
All the other farms I signed up for a year, did the commitment and then moved on.
The farm I’m on now I feel really great about.
It’s the first farm I’ve worked with another woman on. That feels meaningful. I’ve only worked for white men prior.
It’s a sweet partnership with this woman on the farm and I feel so heard and so valued which feels so different from other experiences I’ve had on farms.
I think the farm that I’m on now really has a lot of those qualities of a dream farm.
I feel really valued. My experience is heard and my contributions are taken into account and we co-plan the crop plan together, having it be a more collaborative process is really what I want and finally what I’m getting, too.
A dream farm for me would be:
* Just doing it as a group. Just doing it with each other and not just being told ‘this is my knowledge and you’ll listen to me.’ Just being asked and being heard and being a part of.
* I know it’s really hard, but to have a pretty good work life balance. The farmer that I’m working with doesn’t work into the dark hours of the night and is really good at respecting her own time and the time of people working with her. Not overextending your workers or who ever is on the farm – have a structure of time and what we’re doing and follow that schedule.
* Having more access for folks to have food that don’t normally have access to organic food – some sort of conversation around who we are selling food to – who is able to eat our food, having that value be entrenched in the work that we’re doing. Making food accessible is really important in my dream farm.
* Definitely a commune…More than a couple people working the land together and growing together – having different specialities that folks speak on, different responsibilities, having a shared understanding and a point on the horizon that we’re all working toward.
I just love farming. I love working outside everyday. I love being in soil. I love experiencing all of the seasons that I’m able to. I love growing food for other people, too. It’s really amazing to have such abundance that you’re able to share with other people.