Garrett has been working on farms and orchards for ten years, and prior to that spent many years in large scale nurseries. He currently is working at the cooperative Fedco Trees in Maine.
Me and my partner have just moved to Maine, as a matter of fact.
We moved here to start a farm of our own, but that is down the road a ways.
Currently where I’m working at now is Fedco Trees.
They are a cooperative – an off branch of Fedco Seeds.
Right now I work in the warehouse, so we are shipping out a bunch of stuff for their orders. I’m basically just quality control right now. They receive a lot of shipments from big nurseries so we have to go through them and do quality control, grading and sorting by varieties and healing them in for when we get ready to ship.
This is a super seasonal job, it’s only until May.
I’ll try and get into some farm crew after that.
I’m trying to sneak my way into Fedco, that’s my plan.
For the better part of ten years, I’ve been in food based plant production.
I spent many years before that working in the nursery, horticulture and ornamental side of plants.
I’ve worked in the mostly western United States: Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska.
Originally I just had to get a summer job because my dad was sick of me staying home and smoking pot all summer.
He made me go to the nursery where he was working and I got a job there.
It was a huge wholesale nursery in Denver.
That was my first introduction to plants and how fucking cool they are.
That was the only skill I had, working with plants, so every summer I would work in the nursery and develop my skills further.
I would be working at these wholesale nurseries that were massive, acres and acres of plastic pots all on life support, and I’d think, ‘Why aren’t we growing anything else, even fruit trees?”
We had crab apples, but that was it. All this time and energy was being put into this shit. Why do we have Starburst ice plant? Why is Starburst trademarked on this plant?
I started to feel this disconnect with what I was growing and what I could be growing.
Then it dawned on me… I could be a farmer, that is what I want to do.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I worked on an actual orchard and that was my first diving into agriculture. But that was a sort of interesting position too because it was a nursery and an orchard at the same time. It was really cool.
Shout out to Tooley’s Trees in New Mexico.
I was there for a number of years. Gordon and Margaret were instrumental in helping develop and put a fine point on my skills. They completely altered my course. I was an apprentice for two years. I was back there even last year working with them.
I sort of bounced around from farms after that. I went to Alaska to farm.
That was terrible.
The reason I farmed for so many years under someone else’s deal was it felt like I wasn’t competent enough.
Farming – the learning curve is so steep.
I need to learn more.
I need to see how all these different operations are doing it.
What is their style and system?
I felt very under prepared.
I didn’t have any money, so financing is a whole different can of worms.
I do plan to have my own operation.
There needs to be in my opinion a paradigm shift in food production and I want to do my small part in trying to get people to think about how we produce differently and where it comes from and how vulnerable our system is.
My timeline is in the next 3-5 years.
That is why I moved to Maine.
I’m from the west, you know. I love the mountains, but there is no water.
How could I justify doing that there? It’ll never work.
There’s no water, it would break my heart.
I’m trying to play the long game here.
This stuff is going to outlive me hopefully, and it can’t outlive me if there’s no water.
Wage theft is one of the biggest things on farms.
The precariousness of the worker.
Everyone is hanging on these threads.
I’ve been at farms where your housing is tied to your job. So if you don’t tow the line, you’re out on the street.
It’s just terrible.
It’s hard to find somewhere that is going to pay enough to satisfy your needs as a human.
There is no such thing as a living wage working on a farm.
A dream farm for me would just have to be something completely different – like I would have to say a non-profit farm, but that brings its own set of difficulties.
If everyone was on equal footing in terms of the pay output.
That’s why I can’t work on farms.
Working my ass off making bunches and bunches of whatever we are harvesting and making nickels on the dollar.
If that payment scheme was different that is how I would be able to work on a farm again.
It would have to be worker-centered, worker-oriented and not the way it is now with the top down domineering bullshit.
Since my focus is mostly trees -that is where a lot of my experience and knowledge is.
The farm I start ultimately will be an orchard and fruit production.
Also it will be diversified veggies and cane fruits until the trees mature.
My partner also farms, and she is really into the education side of it.
She’s also a hell of a grower, and once we get our own thing rocking and rolling, education and teaching people what she knows.
I love that.
I also like to do grafting and pruning classes, showing people what they can do, what goes into them.
You start going to these workshops and they are so cost prohibitive to half the population, who are you really serving, you know?
What keeps me coming back to this work is mostly because it’s outside.
I hate to say it.
It’s certainly not the pay.
I like interacting with plants and the soil and the bugs and birds and all that.
I do enjoy that.
I’m an outside dog.
They don’t let me in.
My rhythm used to be that in the spring, summer, and fall I’d work with plants and in the winter I’d cook in kitchens.
It’s so crazy, I have that skill – cooking – and I see job advertisements at $18-$24/hour for line cooks.
Holy shit, what am I doing?
But can I ever go back in a kitchen?
I’d never see the sun. It’s a horrible tradeoff.
I don’t really call myself a farmer.
I’ve just started calling myself a grower.
Instead of explaining the life and my economic philosophy, I just call myself a grower.
Farmers are the proprietors,
the land owners,
the petit bourgeoisie.
Farm workers are the actual workers.
The farmers are the ones driving around in the truck.
I associate “farmer” with nothing really good.
If I was feeling super froggy I would call myself a farm laborer, or I would try to fluff it up a bit and say I’m an orchardist, even though it’s bullshit and I’m just picking peaches.
First of all, there needs to be an elimination of the exemption of overtime.
You can legally pay farm workers no overtime.
That needs to change.
That is so abused.
It makes me want to puke.
That would be a huge deal.
And day to day we need a better wage, we need insurance.
We need our frickin’ coworkers, the ones on the visas, to not be so scared to speak out about their conditions.
Half the farm work I’ve done has been with immigrant workers from Central America.
They are paid just enough so the boat doesn’t rock.
Talking to these folks, everything is miserable.
The housing is miserable, they have to work overtime.
The differences in the currencies at $13/hr is a shit ton.
And farm owners are using that as leverage.
It makes me want to fucking puke.
Per year I’ve never made more than $20,000 a year.
The most I’ve made as an hourly wage is right now where I work at $17/hour.
That’s the most I’ve been paid and that is temporary.
That is what blows my mind.
Someone like Fedco can pay $17/hour, what the hell is wrong with these other people?
I’ve never had health care or a health stipend from my employer.
The thing that really keeps me up at night aside from the economic abuses is climate change, straight up.
That is why we moved to Maine.
It’s worse than we thought and no one is fucking doing anything about it.
Every year it’s hotter than the last. Every year the fires are bigger than they were. Every year there is less rainfall. Every year there is more rainfall. And nothing is being done about it and it’s fucking terrifying.
It scares me and it breaks my heart.
What are we leaving the future generations?
What are they inheriting?
Look at what we’ve inherited.
It’s just going to get worse. I’ve got nieces and nephews. What is it going to be like for them?
What have we lost that we can never get back?
People who can make a difference know what is at stake and nothing is being done.
When are we going to be organized and say enough is enough?
We are on the front lines as farm workers. The peach orchards in Western Colorado, we see the Colorado river less and less every year. It’s scary.
We just pretend it’s not happening.
That’s what keeps me up at night.