Talia is going into her 5th season farming on farms not her own. She is working part-time on a diversified veggie farm in Colorado.
I am definitely at a transition point where I was farming full time last year and then felt like I needed some space from it to regroup and figure out what my goals are.
I’m very interested in starting a worker-owned farm and I feel like I need some time to educate myself and get oriented and envision that.
I had some stuff in my personal life that I’m working on, too.
I ended up taking two part time jobs this year – one of those is working on a farm two days a week, it’s something that I know what to do and there is a lot of that work available.
Up until this point I had been really feeling like my options were:
- make a slightly better wage in a leadership position on a farm and be expected to work 60 hours/week 6 days a week or work on a farm crew or
- not have enough money to live.
So, I took another part-time job that is an office job 3 days a week.
It wasn’t actually the move I was trying to make but it is what ended up happening.
I’m hoping not having to work 60 hours/week and making that extra money from the office job will leave me enough time and energy to do that envisioning and self educating and connecting.
I don’t know a ton about the farm I just started on.
I just had my first day last week.
It’s a diversified organic veggie farm, owned and run by a white cis straight couple and they do a huge CSA and some restaurant stuff.
I don’t think they do the farmers’ market.
The other places I’ve worked have been variations on that theme of couple-owned veggie farms with different combos of CSA, farm stand, farmers’ market, and occasional wholesale.
If I include times when I’ve worked part time and full time, this is my fifth season farming.
This is my second season in Colorado. My first three were in Olympia, Washington.
I definitely grew up always loving food.
My mom is really into food and nutrition, and is a self taught professional cook. I was raised paying a lot of attention to food and cooking. So I knew I loved to cook from a young age and always loved to eat.
I also enjoyed working outside – I worked for a horse stable in high school and ended up doing a lot of trail work and other outdoor work after high school.
The first class I took in college was about food and farming and I met a lot of people who had worked on farms.
I did my first season of farm work in my second summer of college.
It ended up being this magical combination of loving food and loving working outside with my hands that felt really good and exciting.
I’ve chosen to farm for other people because I really don’t feel like I had the skills or knowledge or access to land or resources to start my own farm and not really the desire.
Farm owners that I know don’t make it look fun.
They get attached to this martyr identity that feels unhealthy to me.
Partly it’s not having the desire to take on all that risk and also I moved around a lot as a kid so I struggle to find places that I feel rooted in.
One of the things that I want to put a lot of time into learning about in the next year or two/rest of my life is the Indigenous Land Back movement and how to reconcile farming with being on stolen land.
I think there are a lot of creative ways to do that. I have so much to learn about it before I have a concrete idea of how I would want to go about that.
With that, I definitely don’t see myself starting a regular LLC farm enterprise.
I’m excited about the solidarity economy and being able to share risks and benefits with other people through a worker-owned cooperative.
In most places, farming is more of a community endeavor rather than a couple or individual endeavor.
There are all kinds of challenges to working on farms, obviously not being paid a living wage is one of them.
A lot of the challenges are basic conflict of interests found in any job under capitalism, where workers are trying to make enough money to live their lives and be safe, and owners are trying to make their business profitable.
It’s really tough in farming because a lot of farm owners are struggling too, but not struggling as much as workers.
It’s this weird tension.
With small business owners – farmers in particular, it’s easy for them to forget what it means to work for an hourly wage and they don’t understand what it means to be on the clock.
They can get really delusional about expecting people who are working for them to be just as invested as they are, which leads to a lot of unreasonable expectations on the part of owners.
There are a lot of barriers to workers being able to set healthy boundaries – cultural, financial, all different ways that we are being pressured to prioritize work over any other part of your life.
I’ve only had one boss that I feel like had worked low wage jobs recently enough in her life to remember what it was like and was really respectful of our boundaries.
Farmers are delusional about everything being for the good of the farm, and not understanding that we are all in this nonconsensual game of capitalism where we have to acquire money/resources to survive. They don’t see that or they don’t want to see that.
Our food system has set up small farmers to:
struggle so much,
work insane hours,
not pay themselves,
be responsible for so much risk every year,
just not really having the time or resources to take care of their bodies or make sure the work they are doing is physically and emotionally sustainable.
I’ve seen farmers cope with that by taking pride in that and comparing themselves to see who is the most tired and beat up.
I’ve also seen farm workers fall into that mindset: I’m so tired, I worked 13 hours today, My back is so sore, I’m so beat up.
I’ve resisted getting sucked into that identity of “farming is my life and I will sacrifice everything for it”.
Yes, I love growing food and I want to be growing food, but I don’t think it’s healthy to sacrifice your well being for the rest of your life.
Maybe that is part of why I don’t default to calling myself a farmer because I don’t want to sign up for that identity for the rest of my life.
The place I worked last year was racist.
There was this father and two sons who were immigrants from Mexico and had worked on the farm for a decade and were getting paid the same as white people who only had a handful of years of farming experience and had less skills and had worked on this particular farm for only one year.
These handful of guys were truly valuable and irreplaceable. I talked to them about it and asked if they would be comfortable with me sharing that information with one of our bilingual crew members so we could talk more about it (because my Spanish isn’t that good), but they said not to tell anyone.
I don’t really know what other steps I could or can take to address that particular situation.
The bosses at that farm were doing pretty fucked up shit, but also had this really weird hippie utopian vision of their farm “everything is connected and everything is for the good of the farm”.
A lot of employees got a CSA share and I would edit my CSA share online to be all tomatoes or all bok choy because I was doing a lot of food preservation.
They would send these texts saying not to make your CSA all one item or make sure it’s veggies that we have plenty of. There were a lot of little things like that.
I’m playing the game. I’m playing capitalism right now as best I can to survive, and you don’t understand that.
Things I have really appreciated and would really appreciate on a farm are things that are in farm owners control and some that are not as much:
- Getting paid a lot more (in the farm owners’ control)
- Having benefits – health insurance and paid sick leave (sort of in the farm owners’ control)
- Having a crew and work schedule set up so extremely long hours are not necessary (in the farm owners’ control).
Even in situations where they are like ‘Oh the crew wants more hours…’
No – they want more money.
If you were paying them $30/hour, they would not want more hours.
I’ve seen that come up with immigrant coworkers – they have more family depending on them and less family supporting them and work way more days than everyone else.
Farm owners are always saying that they want to work more.
No, they want to get paid more.
Feeling like I have access to as much food as I want that the farm produces is an aspect of a dream farm.
When farmers are stingy with staff about veggies, that is really demoralizing especially because we can’t afford the produce at farmers’ market prices.
The place last year would put snacks out on Fridays during lunchtime or in the afternoon, which on the one hand was really fun – something to look forward to that at the end of the week, but also just feels like a really cheap appeasement thing –
We will give you these popsicles that you can get excited about.
Maybe if you paid me a little more, I could buy my own popsicles and treat myself.
Having the farm owners invested in the crew’s growth and knowing what skills the crew wants to gain and prioritizing that instead of always being in the emergency mode and thinking so and so is always going to do the seeding work and so and so is always going to do the tractor work because there is never enough time to teach anyone else.
I am spoiled by the access to delicious foods.
It really hurts me to buy produce during the off season.
It’s hard to imagine having a life where I do have to spend so much money on groceries.
I’ve tried other kinds of working with my hands and working outdoors – construction, landscaping, they are even more male-dominated and unsafe feeling to me than farming has been.
Even though they paid more, their crews were really dysfunctional and we had to redo things so often and it hurt to be there so bad.
With farming, everything you’re doing actually has to get done.
Even if your boss is kind of disorganized, I still feel productive and accomplished at the end of most days which is really motivating.
I also really like finding mutant veggies, which always makes my day.
In the big picture, everything needs to change.
Definitely consistent access to food from the farm and I think that could be supported in a lot of ways – whether that is setting up more time or someone to make food with the produce, or sharing equipment and knowledge about food preservation, not just putting extra food in the corner, but showing people how to use it and encouraging people to use it.
I had coworkers eating frozen food from Trader Joes every night even though we had access to so much produce.
We need more reasonable hours so people have time to make use of the resources available to them.
We need more general cultural awareness and more information about what people’s rights are and what it looks like to actually advocate for them.
This is why I’m so interested in worker coops – it kind of erases this conflict of interest.
How can we get farm owners interested in the well being of their workers, other than them just happening to be good people?
The system is not set up for that.
And I’m a huge believer in the idea that very few people are really stupid or really evil.
We are given rules or circumstances in front of us and try to do the best with what is given and that is true of farm owners and farm workers.