I’ve been at the same farm for 3 years. It’s a small-ish organic farm.
It’s about 70 acres, which is a little bit bigger than other farms in the area.
We do a lot of value added products and we are also wholesale so we don’t have a farmers market or any direct interaction with customers necessarily who are the final customers of our products. We sell to distributors and local restaurants and grocery stores.
This year we’ve had the biggest crew that we’ve had since I started at the farm. We have about 40 people, although right now it’s about 16-20, but then some of those people work just in our commercial kitchen, some are production, some are harvest.
We also have a farm collaborative, direct grocery thing that our bosses started during Covid. It’s with other farms and us – we all sell things together through this marketplace and we pack boxes together to deliver to people.
It feels pretty interesting to have more of a direct look at the people who buy our produce and products. It’s definitely wealthier people, and I delivered for the collaborative once. I really hated it so I never did it again. Every single house was very nice looking and they all had Priuses and Black Lives Matter, Love is Love, Science is Real signs – it’s a specific demographic, wealthy waspy liberals.
It was interesting…I’m glad we’re making money…
I have technically been on the Harvest Crew since I started.
I did a little bit of the pack Line, and I’ve done bits of everything with all the different crews at one point or another. I just got promoted to being one of the Harvest Co-Managers, but it was definitely stuff that I was kind of starting to do this summer. I was starting to take on more of a leadership role without any formal role change up until the end of the season when we sat down and had the conversation about my new role.
I’ve been farming for 4 years.
I worked on a different farm for one season and it was a really intense and challenging place to work, so at the end of the season I didn’t think I could continue farming, so I got a retail job. The next summer I really wanted to farm again and I found this farm and have been here for 3 years.
I studied sustainable ag in college, that’s what I got my bachelors in. I have a lot of regrets about that – I wish that I had done something more rigorous academically because the degree feels not very helpful out in the world and with paying student loans back right now, I think why did I do this?
When I was first out of college, I was applying to a few different places and the one I ended up at was a farm.
It felt like and still feels like something that I have skills in and I feel like it doesn’t kill my soul to do.
I have retail skills, but I don’t like the person I become when I’m working retail for a while. I become misanthropic and nihilistic.
There is a lot that I’m really in love with when it comes to farming.
But I’m starting to feel the sense of burnout.
This is a job that doesn’t love me back.
I am lucky enough that it’s not something that I’m going to be stuck in forever. I don’t know what it is that I would do other than farming. I have “careers” that I dream about, but they feel very daunting whereas farming is the thing that I know so I’m going to stick with this for now.
I really am interested in living history and museums and in some sort of educational thing. Part of it for me that feels daunting is that those fields are so intensely upholding white supremacy and upholding these very intense cis sexist patriarchal ideals even in the more progressive area.
Going from the workplace that I have now – pretty much everybody I work with has the same far left politics that I do and I know we can have conversations that push each other to learn more about things, whereas I volunteered at a living history museum for one day this summer this woman made a comment about how it was ‘virgin land’ before European settlers came. No, it wasn’t!
She also referred to someone named Izzy and said, ‘She is a girl who wears boy clothes and that never would have happened back then.’ Yes, it did!
I’m not in Kansas anymore. It’s a very daunting thing.
There is something that I really love about the tangible aspects of farming. I’m outside in the dirt pulling food from the ground, people will eat this food.
Other jobs I’ve had, I’ve gone home at the end of the day and thought I’m actively making the world worse by doing this.
With farming at least I’m getting food to people.
I think it’s not a goal for me to start my own farm because it feels like something that you have to be lucky to be successful at.
Even if you are very skilled, there is a lot left up to chance and that feels very scary.
I’ve also seen the stress and toll it takes on the people who own the farm. Even the farm I’m at right now that is financially secure, we just had a difficult, hard season and I can see how stressed out the owners of the farm are and I feel like sort of resigning myself to that life feels pretty scary and it doesn’t feel like the rewards would be worth it for me.
I want it to be accessible to more people and also the idea of owning land is a very strange idea to me.
I have never found that wanting to own a farm feels like the right path for me. That has a lot to do with my own personality traits of being afraid of making that deep, intense commitment that this has to be the rest of my life.
I think that one of the biggest problems that I’ve noticed with even the most compassionate farm owners is that they want a high turnover rate because that keeps costs down and it’s definitely something that I’ve noticed happening this year.
Our farm compared to a lot of other farms in the area treats its workers very well.
We can earn paid sick time.
We are paid overtime.
The owners are interested in having a lot of conversations and check-ins with us.
Even then, this year there was a lot of anger from the crew because we were working insanely long hours in crazy heat, and it was what we had to do. We felt like we weren’t receiving any acknowledgement about that. We had two people who quit this summer in the height of the summer after working 12 or 13 hour days for multiple days in a row.
If you want to have a life outside of work at all, you just can’t. It felt frustrating.
Them quitting wasn’t enough of a big sign that things had to change.
We had to have a lot of conversations to say that this is not sustainable, we have to have some kind of change, either a scheduling change or priority change.
I was never in direct conversations with the farm owners about this change.
I was talking to our managers and they were having manager meetings with the owners. I know from my discussion with people that it was a pretty intense discussion because everyone is coming to it wanting different things.
What ended up happening in the summer when people quit was that they were like ‘OK, we are going to implement these things so people aren’t working long hours multiple days in a row.’
It got better for a bit and then went back to us working very long hours.
Because we had a lot of weather related crop failures this year and things not going well, a lot of the stress the owners felt from that translated to then being like, ‘Oh, well you know we should go back to expecting people to work 60+ hour weeks. We shouldn’t be having people have part-time work (which is 4 day work weeks). We should have this firm expectation about how many hours/week people should be working.”
We, as crew, have been pushing back against that – that is definitely not going to have people stay on the farm.
The owners in the past, and still now, are very proud of the fact that they have a pretty good retention rate on the farm compared to other farms in the area.
A lot of that is because they are able to have these conversations.
It’s a waiting game.
Right now they are feeling an intense reaction to these crop failures. We have to wait it out until their emotions are less high.
At the start of next year, their feelings will hopefully shift.
It’s been frustrating to have to feel like we have to play this game.
Even the most conscious-to-worker-conditions farm owners at the end of the day are willing to let good workers go in order to then be able to hire people that they don’t have to pay higher wages to because they haven’t been giving them raises.
This has been a discussion I’ve had with so many of my coworkers nearly the entire time I’ve worked here – we are in this position of having insane privilege compared to others, but we still want to demand better treatment.
It’s this strange line – needle to thread- we have it really good and also everyone should have it better than this.
When you’re working on a farm that is owned by somebody else there is always going to be the tension of:
Do you want to sell as much as you can, work as hard as you can,
or do you want to not destroy your body?
Do you want to be able to get home at a reasonable hour to have any energy to cook dinner, or do anything other than shower and go straight to bed?
I have had significant periods of time in the summer where that is all I’m doing.
Why am I doing this job if I’m too tired and can’t do anything else afterward?
That is also the experience of everyone else I talk to who farms.
A big thing for me as I have spent more time on the farm is just being able to have smaller schedules, that means having to hire more people. Having a four day a week schedule is a really good way to not feel so intensely burnt out. Weeks that I’ve worked four days (“part time”), I’ve gotten to the end of the week and thought, I don’t know how people are working 5 and a half days/week. I want to be able to live a life outside of work with other people. As it is right now I work and then I only hang out with my coworkers, which I love, but it’s also very intense to spend 10-11-12 hours a day with all the same people and only ever hang out with them as well.
I have gotten home at the end of a long day of work, taken a shower and gone to bed, and then I’ll be doing the thing where you have a waking dream – for me it’s always something from work:
I’m harvesting radishes.
I had one the other night where I was rearranging all of the bins that we have in our cooler. I’m not being paid right now and I’m still doing work.
There are a lot of aspects about the farm I’m at right now that do feel very dream farm to me. We have a family meal for lunch every day. People who are interested in cooking take turns… It’s just very nice because having one less meal a day to worry about preparing is a huge time saver. It’s also really cool to experience tons of people’s different styles of cooking and experience the vegetables we are growing and we are all eating it together for lunch. It’s an awesome way to socialize and bond by eating the same thing and hanging out together for lunch.
We always have an hour-long lunch, unpaid.
The first farm I worked at, as the days got shorter, our lunch also got shorter which I hated. Even on a shorter day, only having a half hour for lunch doesn’t feel like enough time to rest.
Something that is a little weird that I wish we could change is that at my current farm, it’s unpaid, but we do a lot of work talk during lunch. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have a choice- it’s led by the owners. It’s a weird position because we aren’t being paid for lunch, but we are being provided lunch. The owners provide us with a lot of other stuff – like treats that they will bring us, so it’s weird. I have this scale in my head with two different sides…how much shop talk am I willing to do at lunch, how much feels fair taking into account the other things the farm provides us. Sometimes I just need a mental break from thinking about what we’re harvesting.
Other than that, I love the way we do lunch.
When Covid first started we stopped doing that, and we had to bring our own lunches. Sometimes people would eat in their car. It was so sad. When farm lunch was reinstated all the new people understood what we were so sad about.
At the first farm I worked at, this was so crazy and I look back on it and think it was weird, but at the time it was the only way I would know how to do this: for example, if we had to harvest 48 bunches of green curly kale, we would have to all count out loud when we were harvesting to keep track.
Part of the reason we did that is so we wouldn’t chat in the field.
That is really fucked up.
At the farm I’m at now, we talk a lot and play a lot of word games. It helps to intensely bond with everyone and we don’t feel constantly watched – it’s crazy to have that expectation of not talking.
It’s very dehumanizing.
The sunlight is a big one for me that keeps me farming. Just being able to be outside. Being able to feel the dirt.
Something that I really love about farming is that I don’t need to look presentable.
– I don’t need to wear nice clothes.
– I don’t need to have any sort of gender presentation.
– I don’t care what I look like, I care about my physical comfort.
The people that I work with definitely bring me back to farming.
There is just something about harvesting food that is very magical and very powerful. I wish that I was harvesting food for people that could use it more than the people that we sell to, but I’ll take what I can get.
It’s something that I feel like I’m good at. It’s scary to move into the unknown.
I do think a lot about those terms (farmer and farm worker) because I want to consider myself a farmer, but I wonder if I’m allowed to call myself a farmer.
But if anyone else in my position would have that feeling, I would say:
You’re definitely a farmer. You work on a farm, you farm. You do the verb of farming.
A lot of the times when discussions happen in the public sphere about farms in general, the term farmer tends to mean farm owner. That is really a shame because everyone who farms is a farmer.
I think there is an idea of who a farmer is and then the reality is very different.
I drive and look out in fields and I think every single person out there is a farmer and every single person I’m out in the field with is a farmer.
And we are all very smart, too.
We joke around a lot at work, saying things like, ‘I’m just a simple farmer, I don’t know anything.’
We’re all very smart people.
Everyone who works on a farm is very smart.
It’s pretty strange because even out here – we live in a very progressive bubble and I’ve definitely heard people who don’t work on farms say some ignorant stuff about farmworkers in a way that I think, ‘Oh, you don’t think farm workers are lower class or dumber, but you have this blindspot that you haven’t looked into.’
The farmers I work with are some of the smartest people I know. It’s sad that it’s this kind of common idea that we aren’t smart.
We need the end of capitalism.
Those smaller things help but at the end of the day, we have these systems where the most important thing is the bottom line and you really want to be harvesting stuff as fast as possible.
People get really burnt out all the time.
It’s frustrating that so much food goes to waste.
I definitely have moments where I look back at a field that we’re done with and think, there is still edible food out there.
The me in college 5 years ago would be aghast at the me that works on a farm for 4 years and thinks: We have to move on. We can’t root through the mud and scavenge what we can.
It’s so sad that is the mindset that goes on. Not that gleaning is going to fix all of the systemic food problems that we have.
It is definitely hard to think of ways that farmers can have support within the economic system that we are in right now.
There is always going to be an inherent disposability to certain sectors of workers.
I wish people who didn’t farm had a more understanding of what farm work is and what it looks like and what it feels like because I think a lot of people would be really shocked.
The fact that anyone can say that farming is unskilled labor is hilarious and really sad.
I would hope that if more people understood what working on a farm was like then they would have more respect for it and maybe we could have more changes and better farm labor laws.