Currently I am part time farming at the farm I trained on last year and I’m supporting their student youth employment program.
I’m doing programming with high schoolers in terms of farming and cooking and supporting a youth led project with them.
For the community-led project, the youth decided to host a block party in the neighborhood with smoothie bikes, tours of the space and activities to attract young kids (primarily preschool and elementary age) to come out and interact with the land and food.
That is something they have been building for the last month or so.
I’m also the manager of the CSA.
We do a 4 season CSA, it’s slightly under 30 members.
That’s what I do in terms of paid steady farm work.
I’m trying to build out my own farm business on the side.
I’ve done seedling sales and I try to do wholesale with community partners. I pop up and vend at events and sell my seedlings to neighbors and what not too. I’m also looking for a part time job in food service, that’s selling healthy prepared foods and packaged foods, so kind of doing a little bit of everything and tending to my garden and making music in my free time.
My farm journey is not linear at all.
I was introduced to urban agriculture and farming in 2013 through a nonprofit I used to work for and ended up directing.
I really committed to farming and got more consistent with it at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
I think there was an essential need that I understood at that moment in terms of my community and myself with food access and being able to sustain ourselves.
This is my third season selling or growing food for a living but I’ve been interested in doing this work for years, it’s just the access to land and ability to do this work that’s been hard.
I moved to DC two months before the pandemic started in 2020.
I was already experiencing food insecurity on my own terms.
As soon as the pandemic started, all these articles and pictures showing many experiencing food insecurity and long lines of people standing outside in order to receive food to feed their families was hard for me to process.
I started volunteering at a food distribution site. I would go every Monday and support them in distributing food to the community.
Not long after, I became involved with a mobile farmers’ market selling produce in underserved communities experiencing food apartheid and I got access to land to grow through a community garden.
The power behind growing my own food was something I had never experienced and growing it at a larger scale was something I wanted to do.
By the end of my first season with the mobile farmers’ market, I really wanted more in terms of the full process of not only connecting with customers, but growing the food myself, having my hands in the soil and having a closer attachment to that process.
I applied for a Beginning Farmer Program, participated in their ten month intensive training and found myself wanting to do more still. They hired me during the summer to take on more responsibility and that is when I got more acquainted with the CSA and moved toward an understanding that this is a type of farm enterprise I would like to do myself.
Having that experience really did help me in terms of not only seeing something I want to do, but knowing I can and am capable of doing it.
This is my purpose and I understood that the moment I started connecting to the land. That’s what I know best at this point. There are so many things I do and am capable of doing and this is the most important to me right now.
I chose to farm for someone else because I knew that there were certain skills and experiences I needed in order to do this work on my own terms.
The first farm I was at taught me a lot about the basics of farming beyond gardening on a small scale.
Then I spent the first half of 2022 on a five acre farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
It was very intense, and I was overworked and underpaid. But I still learned so much from that experience. I was able to get food safety certified, and I learned a great deal about wash pack processes, which is an important element for me to do well as I’m trying to start my own farm.
I’m looking for land so I can grow food for my community and people that I know personally.
A lot of the farms I’ve worked at so far often tend to serve more affluent communities, communities that don’t represent DC holistically and the community that I know.
It’s so disheartening because I’m doing all this hard labor and the benefits are rarely reaped by people who look like me, myself included.
This is why I want the farm I build to be
I don’t know how long that is going to take.
I’m very much at the beginning of my farm journey, but it’s a big priority for me for sure.
There’s just something about connecting to the soil, to nature and to food that is very energizing and exciting to me.
The summer of 2013 when I first stepped foot on an urban farm – I honestly hated the experience, but I found myself wanting to return the next season.
Now every time I move to a new city, I have to find a space to farm and connect to the land.
There is some inexplicable energy that pulls me to this work every day.
Even in July and August, during the hottest part of the season, this work brings me so much joy.
I’m grateful to be a farmer even though it’s the hardest job I’ve ever done and will ever do.
A large part of why I farm in general is about consistently healing myself. I think there is something about making sense of ancestral trauma and connecting to my predecessors that has me deeply tied to this work.
The biggest issues I’ve experienced and noticed from farm workers I know relate to being exploited for our passion and our will to give so much.
In the last situation that I was in, I had no intention of leaving, or (depending on who you ask) being removed in the middle of the season.
A large part of this relationship ending had to do with a difference in values.
For context, I was really excited to work on this farm because it’s a women owned farm that holds a queer-centered approach. They’ve built a deep and caring community and they are trying to work towards a worker-owned model focused on more collaboration in terms of who owns the farm and who makes decisions — that really excited me.
The farm seemed like a space I would want to be a part of for years to come.
But the longer I was there, it became clear to me that this was still a white owned farm upholding and maintaining white supremacy in a number of ways.
I was the first Black full time teammate in the space and I had a lot of questions about that, too.
A lot of these questions I was asking myself over time as I asked other people their farm stories and found more clarity from these shared experiences.
It was hard to access the space.
Living in DC and working on a farm in rural Maryland, it was really hard to get there.
Despite always trying my hardest to show up and do whatever I had to to be present, it was never enough for the owner of the farm.
Those I worked more closely with on a regular basis understood the struggles I was going through.
As an example, if the start time was 8am and I arrived at 8:01am, it was already a problem.
There seemed to be a lack of building expectations that actually aligned with the collective which resulted in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.
I was very different from everyone on the team, and not just because of my racial identity.
Everyone else was better able to sustain their farm lives because they had partners or family who were supporting them financially, emotionally, and physically by cooking meals and taking care of things at home.
I noticed a gap in understanding what it
to make the space accessible for people who look like me and exist like I do.
The farm has a work trade program, yet not a single person of color took part in this program while I was around. I even recommended friends who really want to learn how to farm and gain more experience. Some of them reached out, tried to commit and soon found out that this wasn’t something that was accessible or attainable for them.
Even being an advocate on the inside, I found myself exhausted — it wasn’t sustainable.
I found my health and wealth deteriorating with each passing day and this experience ultimately caused a lot of harm.
It’s really frustrating because that seemed like the best opportunity at the time to further my skills toward the goals I’m working toward. Instead it sent me back financially big time and I have a lot to heal from. .
A challenge for workers on farms not their own is access in terms of transportation.
When I did my farmer training, I didn’t have a car, so I was taking the bus and the metro, walking, and sometimes biking to get to this farm.
Depending on the transportation schedule, it could take me an hour or upwards of two hours to get to my destination.
I know that the average person couldn’t do that.
One of the main reasons I could was because it was during the height of the pandemic in terms of government assistance and ample free time for the unemployed.
Last year I made enough to buy a truck with my savings, but now I have no savings.
I’m actually in debt.
Even being able to access land where food can be grown is extremely hard.
That is an aspect that people don’t always consider when it comes to becoming a farmer.
A key component of my dream farm is clear and consistent communication.
This may relate to day to day communications or long term when it comes to building a team culture where everybody is able to provide input and this input is valued and incorporated fairly for all.
It’s important for me to build out a team where everybody is able to thrive and learn and do our best.
Something I noticed at the farm I trained on is inconsistent communication in terms of who harvested this food, where it came from, and where it’s supposed to go. Questions that you would think are very basic and common sense, but people aren’t always thinking about the team aspect of farming.
We are all always learning when it comes to farming.
Even when I’m ten years into this, there is so much I’m going to want and need to learn.
We need a space that prioritizes not only the essential work that needs to be done to feed the community, but also to feed the farmers working to become the best food producers and land stewards they can be. That is an important balance to have.
My dream farm is ideally accessible to not only the people who tend to that land, but also the surrounding community.
The farm that I was previously on isn’t accessible to the average person so being in a space where your community can directly connect to that land and see where their food comes from – whether it’s coming to pick their own cherry tomatoes or having a little more involvement in part of the farm would be great.
That all ties into accessibility, communication and consistency.
I started farming because of my community and my own needs for food access and self sufficiency and that is a huge part of why I continue farming.
My understanding of the world as it is today in terms of food insecurity and climate change and all of the other negatives that relate to farming and agriculture influenced my actions as well.
Doing this work everyday makes me feel like I’m constantly doing something that is building toward the more just, equitable world I want to see.
This is the best way for me to build the world I want to live in one day .
I’ll keep figuring out how to do that in the long run, but for now I see farming as the best way for me to do that.
I spend a lot of time trying to educate other people on growing food so I do consider myself a farmer.
I identify as Farmer Tolu.
Honestly it was the beginning of this year once I started farming on what felt like a ‘real farm’ or more traditional farm that I started calling myself a farmer.
That is when I felt comfortable identifying as Farmer Tolu.
But after that experience and making sense of what I do now, I believe I have been a farmer for several years, but because of conditioning and cultural expectations, I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a farmer.
I still struggle sometimes with this identity because I’m not full time farming in the traditional sense any more.
At times I wonder if I’m still a farmer and ask myself what it means to be a farmer.
There is a huge shift that needs to happen when it comes to defining who even is a farmer.
By calling myself a farmer I’m supporting that shift in my own way.
What could support workers on farms not their own is having a support system whether that is family, chosen family, or close friends who can really care for you on those really hard days.
Whether it’s needing someone to talk to and chat about your day or having someone else cook a meal for you…
I’m really grateful to have met some amazing people since moving to DC who support me no questions asked. If I’m hungry, they are going to feed me and take care of me. I think all farmers and farm workers really deserve that.
It’s such hard work and should never have to be done alone.
There is so much that could change through policy.
With the National Young Farmers Coalition, I’m a Land Advocacy Fellow focusing on policy for the 2023 Farm Bill.
With the shift in terms of age and land ownership, given the reality that a lot of farmers are getting ready to retire and don’t have anyone to pass their land onto, there is such an need for policies to be in place to transfer that land to young, BIPOC farmers who have the skills to do the work, but not the resources to buy the land. I think there needs to be actions taken on local, state and federal levels.
I’ve definitely been trying to educate my community on the inequities of farming in the industry right now.
People don’t understand how bad it is.
They will talk about teachers or health care workers who have been failed by the system, but farmers are often left out of this conversation despite our essential work to feed people.
Everybody’s got to eat at the end of the day.
Agriculture is the foundation of every society.
It’s very important that the people who do this work are supported and sustained.
Allowing people around us to understand this allows them to wake up a little more and learn how to support farmers.