Joseph Lee (He/Him)

Joseph just finished up a farm internship in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is actively applying/interviewing for farm positions for next season all over the country.

I just completed my first full season by doing an internship at a small mixed vegetable farm.

Now I’m currently looking for my next position and am definitely interested in continuing to farm, but also looking at farm-adjacent jobs in the non-profit sector. 

At my last farm, I worked in a 6-person crew mostly with other interns and we were primarily growing vegetables – a wide variety of vegetables with organic practices and some cut flowers.

Supposedly it was over 200 varieties of vegetables, but I’m not sure…I didn’t calculate the amount personally, but it was quite a range. 

I would say I’ve been farming for about a year.

I was living out of the country and working in the international non-profit sector basically doing admin work.

it was in 2020 that I decided to move back to the United States.

It was a combination of factors that brought me back:

A big one was the 2020 election and I knew I wanted to be involved in some capacity with that and I also just decided that I wanted to be more involved in doing work in the US rather than being involved in issues abroad.

Farming was potentially an option for me and I think it’s because I had been trying to do work addressing more macro issues and didn’t find it working for me and thought I’d like to pivot toward more micro issues.

I just thought working with the land made sense as a basis for community empowerment. I think also apocalyptic scenarios also factored in and knowing how to grow food seemed like a good skill to have. 

Before coming to Albuquerque, I was also doing volunteer work at a small farm in Tampa, Florida where I’m originally from.

The farm in Tampa is a volunteer run farm on, I want to say, 3 acres – it’s pretty old, the farm, but it’s changed hands quite a bit in the past few years in terms of who is managing it. It’s an organic and mixed vegetable farm.

My experience at the farm in Tampa wasn’t great just because there were some apprentices who were kicked out while I was involved at their farm and I didn’t like how that was handled.

I knew that I wasn’t interested in farming in Florida, for sure.

I just wanted to start getting some experience and at the same time I had started a garden at my parents house to grow vegetables. I was kind of doing my own thing and applying for farm jobs throughout the country. 

I had a very capitalistic take on farming as a profession and that because I hadn’t done any type of farming before I needed to start from the bottom and accept shit pay and develop skills.

I was interested in working with someone who was experienced and ideally had a positive relationship with the land so that I could develop “professional” skills as a farmer. 

At the same time I had complicated feelings about possessing land myself, land that was stolen, and I still have complicated feelings about that.

I’d like to potentially have my own farm, but I don’t know what that looks like again because I take issue with owning land, especially as an individual so I’m trying to imagine more community-oriented or participatory ways of doing that with other people that are also sustainable.

Sustainable in terms of relationships and financing. 

I think it’s very hard to advocate for yourself as a person working on someone else’s farm. 

It’s probably the case in most occupations in the US, but it seems especially bad as a farm worker because of the narrative of farming as hard work where you need to earn your keep and because there don’t seem to be a lot of systems in place to protect farmers. 

With the two farms that I’ve been involved with there was a noticeable pattern of young people who are maybe a bit idealistic or who don’t have a lot of other options who get into farming and don’t have the tools to advocate for themselves so can be easily exploited for their labor. 

Concretely I’ve seen this manifest in people getting fired or disrespected without any type of accountability for the owners.

Also being terribly underpaid. 

Adequate pay for the workers is a big one. I think it’s about sustainability in a comprehensive sense – sustainability for the land being used but also for the people being involved.

For me the ideal farm is taking all of that into account and really trying to be reciprocal in terms of giving back in terms of what is being taken from the land or the people involved or the community. 

Concretely that would be paying at least $15/hour to the lowest paid worker, a long term vision for the farm as a business, but also as a model of land stewardship and accountability to the people who are displaced from the land perhaps with land tax to Indigenous communities and, at the very least, acknowledgement of displaced people.

I actually really like the work itself.

I wasn’t sure I would.

I wasn’t sure if I was just being idealistic and that’s also why I had lowered standards in the beginning because I also wasn’t sure what I was capable of providing in terms of work ethic or energy, but I find the repetition and certainly the ability to be outside for a big part of the day to be really restorative and wonderful.

It’s really challenging, but also really great. 

The other component is the people involved, who I have been involved with in farming, are really wonderful.

For at least my first full season, the crew I was working with really made all the difference. We were a majority Queer and POC crew and for me that is the standard I will continue to look for as I continue to farm. 

If there were more grassroots networks in place to advocate for farm workers at the community level, I think that would be really helpful. It is tricky because it might seem like more governmental oversight would be helpful, but then I think it’s cool that farmers can also have independence from the governing bodies. 

I think at least we need to start with the culture of farming at the community level and how people who work with farms or buy from farms are keeping standards for how those farms treat their workers. 

I definitely think a lot about how to farm in a way that is kind to my body and whether that be keeping up a consistent stretching routine or lifting things in a safe way at work or having the proper apparel.

I’m a really big advocate of really big hats and plenty of sunscreen and I just try to envision how I can continue to farm when I’m no longer in my 20s and my body may have a harder time keeping up.  

I call myself a farmer even though I don’t have a farm of my own.

I think it’s the same thing as calling yourself a gardener or poet or whatever you want as long as it’s work that is meaningful for you.