Flynne has been farming on farms not her own for 4 years. She is currently farming on an incubator farm in Portland, running her own medicinal herb and flower operation and working as a caretaker for the overall farm.
I tend to land on a shared farm that is on the property of the Oregon Food Bank in Northeast Portland.
There is a learning garden along the border of the road and that is where the food bank hosts volunteers.
There is a larger area that has been the site for a 3 year incubator program for farmers of color.
I applied and interviewed at the beginning of 2019, and I’ve been farming there since February of 2019.
The original program timeline was 3 years, but last year, we checked in –
where is everyone at?
what does everyone need?
and we decided to add a two year graduate – very loose term – followup program.
So now I’ll be there for at least another 2 years. (!!!!)
The program has shifted a little bit and there are 4 of us who farm there on site now as well as farmers who have their land off site.
In terms of programmatic support at the incubator farm, we get financial resources to purchase seeds, market supplies, classes, etc. We received financial support to initially register our businesses.
We have land and access to water, which are huge resources!
We also have opportunities for classes together, either skill based classes or business- focused content like taxes, etc.
In August, I became the part-time caretaker of the farm as a whole, which means I take care of the communal spaces and do programmatic stuff like inventory supplies, etc.
A lot of the support that I have found has come from relationships with other farmers.
I think especially in the past two years of the pandemic and that impacting how we build community, it’s been really valuable to keep building trust and relationships with other farmers of color.
I am really grateful for all of the other farmers of color that I’ve been able to build relationships with over the past few years and that I get to continue building and sharing.
It’s not all a big harmonious experience.
A lot of folks experience a lot of trauma that we didn’t even know was there and that can lead to behaviors that feel closed off or hardened. It feels so worthwhile and valuable though, and even in the complications, it feels more right than anything else.
I focus on medicinal herbs and flowers. I grow onions and garlic and cayenne and I use those in immunity tonics like fire cider. I grow herbs, make folk herbal remedies and sell them at markets.
This year I am looking at potentially getting some wholesale contracts with folks who want bulk fresh or dried herbs.
I also do a medicinal bouquet CSA-style share where folks get bouquets of different medicinals and flowers every other week. I have these 5×5 botanical ID cards that I give folks on the medicinals in the bouquets along with recipe sheets.
It’s designed for folks interested in medicine-making.
The idea came from a sweet moment when I gave a sick friend a bouquet of medicinals and included plants to use for tea. He thought it was great, and said, “This should be a thing you do,” and that’s how I started.
2007 was my first experience farming.
I lived on a farm on the big island of Hawaii for 4 months. It was incredible.
I carried that into every experience and garden that I tended.
In 2018 I got the opportunity to work full-time on a farm 45 minutes outside of Portland, in a town called Sandy.
I have been farming full time since then.
In 2019 I moved back to Portland and landed on another farm.
That was my first time farming full time for someone else while also tending to my own farm.
That was a lot and it was hard!!!
After a full season of that juggle, I got a part-time non-profit job and cut down my farm days on the farm that wasn’t mine (which only lasted a few months before I completely left).
I, of course, continued to tend my farm and grow my business.
After almost two years of the farm / non-profit hustle, I suffered from burnout and humbly and gratefully was able to leave the non-profit and pick up the caretaking spot at the incubator farm.
Currently, I’m tending my farm spot,
taking care of the broader farm
and I also have an ongoing teaching gig that I love.
It was sort of this really fuzzy feeling / interest that got me into farming.
I couldn’t put a finger on the feeling.
I had a good friend at the time who had gone to college in Hawaii and missed living there. I was approaching my first winter in Portland and he said, ‘The winters are awful, let’s leave’. I said, ‘Why don’t we live on a farm?’ He laughed at me and said, ‘All you city people who think farms are so romantic!’ We ended up moving to and living on a farm…!!!
It was my first experience in, what I called at the time, a full blown dirtbag lifestyle. All I did was tend land, get dirty and feel good for 4 months.
There was something about that that felt really meaningful, just as meaningful as any politically driven or non-profit role, class or job I’ve had since.
Since I left, I kept gardening and gardening, and building relationships with plants.
I’ve been able to look at my two big, full-season experiences of working on others’ farms and see what I gained and also even more clearly, identify what felt terrible and what didn’t align with my values.
The leadership I worked under in both of those places didn’t leave me with much confidence or inspiration.
Even at times when I did use my voice, my experience was that, my mind and my thinking only seemed valuable at certain times depending on the farm owner’s mood.
It felt really inconsistently valued.
Being in a farm incubator program with other beginning farmers of color made it incredibly easy for me to have this side by side comparison of my farm experiences:
farming in a white-owned and curated space vs farming with folks of color… pretty radically different!
Not to say there aren’t conflicts that come up in a space without white folks, and not to say that those conflicts are always resolved, but for me, there is just a different opportunity for respect and mutual learning.
I’ve worked for farmers who invalidated the knowledge of other experienced farmers, which feels disrespectful and really gate-keepy.
Working for a white farm owner, I pretty quickly noticed too many power dynamics rooted in whiteness and capitalism.
Yes, I think it’s really hard to balance the reality that we do operate in capitalism while also wanting to serve the communities are are a part of.
I also want to highlight that I mean community, not just clientele. I think the word community is really overused, especially in agriculture.
Community isn’t rooted in capitalist exchange (money for product);
community is rooted in
Sure, you can sell things to folks in your community, but just selling things to folks doesn’t make them a community; you have to build and connect beyond that.
Power dynamics are really huge and are often imbalanced in the fields.
For me, there seemed to be a lack of value placed on learning and collaboration. I’m cautious about this critique, however, because I don’t own a farm or business where I’m hiring or managing people; it’s just me. I have managed people before and I know it’s not easy…I’ve just been disappointed in how much learning didn’t seem to be valued as much as efficiency and volume of product. I think there’s a way to honor the work that needs to be done to feel successful, while also ensuring that needs are being met.
The first farm in Sandy, I was called a farm hand, which felt silly; like it was part of an unnecessary hierarchy.
The land was owned by a medicinal herb company started by a white man who had passed away just before I arrived. The farm manager was a brown man in his late 40s who had worked there most of this adult life. My first year working there was his first year managing the farm without the owner and I tried to hold space that it might be a weird year for him, processing grief and / or not processing grief.
I had moved to that farm with my partner and we are a queer couple.
It seemed to throw him off and the way he treated us really depended on his mood, and it overall felt harmful and confusing.
But wow, he and the other farm worker there – they worked so hard. We all worked hard together.
The challenge was in the power dynamics, the control we felt under and the farmer setting the tone and not feeling like I / we had the power to change that tone if it didn’t feel good.
If the farm owner was in a shitty mood that day, then everyone was going to have a shitty day.
It feels very patriarchal.
A dream farm for me includes collaboration, respect, self-analysis and learning, with a huge emphasis on honesty, especially honesty in the sense of self-awareness, addressing harm and what everybody’s capacity is.
A farmer friend recently defined integrity as the combination of intellectual and emotional honesty and that’s really sticking with me.
Sometime in the last month, I watched this video of Rocksteady Farm over in New York. THAT!
I was so excited to see so many queer folks of color tending land!
I want to go there and be there and see that.
I have these visions of what it would feel like to have land with other people- I’ve been dreaming about it for probably a decade. We could collaborate on some things and also have space for our own crops / businesses / etc. I know other herb farmers and we’ve had baby talks about what it would look like to grow this much of this plant here and we all have access to it, and someone grows another plant that we all have access to, and so on. I’m continuously learning to lean in and trust the art of collaborating, which involves a lot of really clear communication.
I’d love to farm in a place where there is co-ownership, co-leading, and as much collaboration as possible that feels safe for everybody.
I think there is a reality of scarcity, as well and the, ‘Let’s share everything’ can feel really scary to people, too.
Farming just feels really right in my bones.
It feels better than most other things I’ve done in my adult life other than teaching, and I’m slowly infusing teaching into my farm work, values and vision.
Even on the hardest days of farming, it feels better than the best days at a non-profit / on a computer.
Just being with land and having a relationship with plants from seed to harvest, as cliche as that sounds, and really just seeing the life cycle of a plant… It’s really grounding. Getting to know the plant, getting to see how it grows with the soil, what pests are attracted to it… Seeing everything you can is really valuable and inspiring and it informs how I get to share that with other people, whether at markets, in the bouquet share or elsewhere.
I definitely call myself a farmer now.
I did struggle with it a little bit while working at the first farm job when I was called a farm hand.
I would think, ‘I’m doing everything that you’re doing except for logistical things and looking at calendars and spreadsheets of planting dates and seeds, but I could do that if someone showed me how.’
Why do we use these different labels?
We all are doing the same thing – tending the land, feeling exhausted and inspired hopefully.
It was my resistance to all of it – I’m just going to call myself a farmer.
It’s both what I’m doing and the bulk of my income.
What’s needed is overall support in learning that involves making mistakes and coming up with new ideas.
I think even to underscore that – transparency – what is everybody coming to the table with? What are everybody’s values?
Let’s actually create a space where folks can share that, come up with collective values and agreements and a path for shameless accountability for harm that is caused. I think support could also come in forms of opportunities for leadership: creating leadership roles based on people’s strengths.
I wonder about the transparency needed for building that ie: if a farm owner is looking to hire 4 people, this person has 10 years of experience and this person has 1 year – how can we be transparent about how to meet people where they’re at, be challenged how they want and highlighted for their strengths, as well.
We need more lateral structures rather than hierarchical ones.
Something that feels really unavoidable to me is the perennial entitlement of white women farmers to solidarity with any femme identified farmer, including farmers of color – yes, this has kept me up at night.
I’ve been faced with this personally and I’ve had to say to all of these people, you are not entitled to any solidarity from femme farmers of color.
It’s this mind boggling thing, and yet it also feels so predictable.
To white women farmers who say ‘women farmers have to stick together,’
I don’t buy it.
It’s not your job or your work to create or expect this container. I’ve seen it obscure any vision of self analysis or accountability. It feels really harmful and shallow and it’s a lot to navigate. It has impacted my level of trust with some farmers I’ve known.
When I’m up at night, I also wonder how the rise in featuring and uplifting BIPOC farmers will continue. I wonder how that will continue to take shape. It’s obviously important, but different people have different ideas of what that looks like and sometimes it feels great and safe and sometimes it feels awkward and performative.
Climate change also keeps me up at night. It feels really hard to think about and picture a future of tending land when landscapes are shifting and burning and freezing and disappearing.