Labor Day is upon us – I think it’s time for that labor blog I promised earlier in the season. It’s a lot easier to write about what is happening on the farm, or about how to grow and cook vegetables, but I started farming because I want to make significant societal chance, and after ten years at this I accept I can’t do that by keeping quiet.
But this is the third time this season I have started to write about it and I get tripped up. I could study and research my whole life and still not feel confident that I had come to any real conclusion regarding labor, compensation and affordable pricing in agriculture (or any industry). But agriculture in particular is tricky because we simultaneously want to pay people fairly AND we want food to be affordable.
I farm because I want to change the food system so that food is:
- Produced with minimal environmental impact
- Produced using a labor force that is both treated respectfully and fairly compensated
- Affordable for the majority of people in my greater community
- Fresh, high quality, nutritious and enjoyable
(The fact that farming itself is also enjoyable, stimulating and deeply satisfying are benefits of the job, not reasons why I do the job – in fact, they make my total lack of actual benefits more tolerable. Oh, and ConnectorCare and MassHealth help too.)
It’s really hard to work on a farm, especially as a crew member. Most people, if given any other choice, don’t want to do it, especially not with the high expectations of productivity required to make a farm like ours survive. Not many teenagers or college students are interested either, and those who are frequently need training not only in how to farm, but also in how to be a functioning employee and adult.
Erin told me last week about her friends, traveling in Australia, who were fired from a blueberry farm because they couldn’t meet the minimum pick-and-pack rate (12 lbs per hour). I think that’s great. We raise our children to believe they have value, no matter what, which I believe is true. But in many situations, there are clear metrics for success that need to be met, and I have a hard time finding people who are able, and willing to meet those metrics for the compensation we are able to offer. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just flit around the fields picking this and that on a whim, not go out in poor weather . . .
Those incredible people who do work on our farm and choose to be out in the blistering heat or pouring rain regardless of low pay and lack of benefits (besides produce), are there because of a passion for agriculture. And they are subsidized by parents, a spouse and/or other jobs, because it would be next to impossible to afford to live in this community on a crew-member’s income.
You could try to simplify it and say, “just pay them more” but at this point, Kevin and I still make less than $15/hour ourselves. Paying people more either means taking a cut from our own variable paychecks, or raising our prices, which makes food less affordable to other people who are also working low-income jobs (and we know our prices are already higher than some grocery stores . . . but not all and not always – we can talk economy of scale and external costs in another blog). We did just give our regular crew a raise, and we plan to give bonuses as we meet budget goals for the year, but it still doesn’t come close to making working on our farm a viable opportunity for most people. You can get better pay working for a landscape company, or construction company, not because you need more skills, but because our society values manicured lawns and new buildings more than it values healthy food.
I obviously have not solved the puzzle, and I probably won’t, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to try. And I’m telling you this just because its a reality of what we do, and too often I feel that we gloss over some of the less savory realities of our line of work.
All this is to serve just as a simple reminder that so many things we need to survive are made available because of low-wage workers. And those workers have some of the greatest work ethic you can imagine. They are smart, and kind, and passionate, and valuable. Our society depends upon people who work for less – most people’s wealth wouldn’t exist without underpaid labor and resource exploitation as the backbone of our economy.
I’m not arguing against a competitive economy. I think competition has value – I am probably one of the most naturally competitive people you will ever meet. But I think other people and our environment have value too – more value than short-term profits.
Can we have both? I think so. But it will take a lot of work, a lot of conversation, a lot of reflection and puzzling to get there. I choose to believe that given the opportunity people will be generous before they are selfish.
Thanks for reading.
We’ve got a cool event coming up at the farm. September 9th is Farm Day in Holliston. Since 98% of the land we lease is in Holliston, we are going to be at the stand hosting an “Onion Cleaning Party!”.
What’s an Onion Cleaning Party you ask? Well, a bunch of people sit together, chatting and listening to music while trimming roots and tops of cured onions, and pulling away some dirt and extra skins in the process. It’s easy work, but we have a LOT of onions, so we are inviting you to join us. We’ll give you two pounds of onions for every crate you fill with cleaned onions!
Date: Sunday, Sept 9th
What’s in the share:
Well, there is definitely a tomato slow-down happening, so no more 5lb tomato shares, but we hope to have tomatoes for the next 3-4 weeks in increasingly smaller quantities. We are still waiting for the fall greens to come on. We are actually putting the irrigation strategy we worked out during the June dry-spell – the town of Ashland is putting a meter on a hydrant which we can use to quickly fill an inflatable pool which we can pump out of to overhead water. It’s not perfect, but its much better than driving up hill with just 250 gallons!
So we’re going to dip into some of the fall veggies that are doing really well and we know we have an abundance of. We’ll have leeks, delicatta squash and purple potatoes in the choices this week, along with some larger red and yellow onions and garlic. Delicatta squash does not need to be cured to sweeten, so you can enjoy it right away, but if you don’t want to it will be good on your counter for at least a month, maybe even two months.
Cherry Tomatoes – Consider just roasting these and tossing with pasta if you are slowing down on your cherry tomato intake.
Husk Cherries – 5 Recipes (if you don’t just eat them all)
Bunches Choice: Cilantro, Chard, Celery, Leeks
Weight choice: Adirondack Blue Potatoes and Anushka Potatoes, Red and Yellow Onion, Cucumber (limit one per share), Zucchini/Squash (limit one/share), Delicatta squash (limit one/share), Eggplant (maybe), Green Peppers