Lots and lots of farm work gets done in between my bouts of navel-gazing.
Our weeks have a nice rhythm. At the moment, the latter part of the week—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—is devoted to harvest and market. Monday through Wednesday tend to be full of seeding, planting, and lots of odds and ends like building high tunnels and low tunnels, spreading mulch and compost, and prepping ground for planting. We do our best to take Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, or at least do special projects—like the onion planting party!
Sunday, March 10th, we invited old friends and new CSA members out to the farm for a planting party and a potluck. It’s an opportunity to meet folks and let them meet each other, to let everyone see the operation and ask questions, and to give folks the mildest taste of the work we do every day. With over twenty adults and children joining in, we planted about three NINE thousand onions—three beds—in under an hour. Then we had a picnic and lounged in the sun and I, personally, ate myself into a food coma.
One of the many (awesome) kids who came out with their parents asked, as I instructed her on onion-planting, “Why are we doing your work for you?”—and it was such a good question and it was so hard for me to answer that I’m still turning it over in my head two weeks later. Labor—who does it, what it is, what it accomplishes—is an enormous, messy, complicated issue in US agriculture (well, I’d argue it’s enormous and messy throughout the world, but let’s specify things a bit for the sake of ease). It’s a topic that is way too large for a single blog post, so I hope and plan to explore it in more depth as I go on, but here’s a start.
Why, on such a small farm*, are we so busy (despite my glib suggestion that we could work more) and still so in need of help? Again, it’s a simple question with a very complicated answer. It has to do with the social, technological and environmental choices made on this farm, the cost of labor and time, and the desire to farm as a way of living in place, embedded in our community. We might could spend more money, more technology, more chemicals to cut down on the amount of labor necessary to make our livelihoods—but instead, we ask for help.
We hold planting parties every once in a while and we get a lot of help from friends and neighbors on projects like building the big high tunnel or trucking in compost. We’re blessed with a generous community of curious and hard-working friends who offer help often: they want to know where their food comes from, or maybe they grew up on a farm and miss the work. That help is utterly priceless, and I know how much it means to Ben and Patricia—and how much it means to me, too. Despite all that assistance, we are anything but lazy—while I glibly suggested we could work harder in an earlier post, 10 hour days are the norm and as it remains light longer we’ll use every minute we can to put stuff in the ground and get it back out again.
But there’s a less pragmatic reason for asking for help. Sharing work like this harkens back to an older model of agriculture and an older model of human relationships**, one which invests in the necessary, reciprocal relationships between people and the environment within a defined space and place—a concept Paul Theobald describes as “intradependence” (7). When our neighbors and friends share work with us, we blur the lines between work and leisure—we socialize as we work, make our ties stronger, forge new friendships. We’re asking for invest not merely in our economic stability, but offering a chance to invest in this place, physical and spiritual and social.
La de da kumbaya, right? What measurable benefits do you get from helping us farm? Exercise, knowledge, experience, a change of pace. Continued affordable prices for your high-quality, delicious, local, non-certified organic food while providing us with a living wage. Support for our efforts with Farm it Forward. One less source of chemicals in your neighborhood. Shared joy and beauty over a beautiful late winter day (I consider this measurable in endorphins and general well-being).
Kind of hard to explain to a kid who’d rather be playing than planting onions, right? I wish I had had some pithy way to sum it up at the time, something like this: “You’re helping us, and hopefully we’re helping you, too, in big ways and little ways, over time, through food and friendships and a healthy environment. I think we all do better when we do a little work for each other.”
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*There are a number of ways to classify the size of a farm—by acreage, by gross sales, by net income. To keep this in perspective, 76% of all US farms have gross sales of less than $50,000 per year. IGHF is small by any of these measures. Farm size and economics is a whole ‘nother blog post or six.
**”What about all the social progress our in terms of racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and heternormativity we’ve made in the past 100 years—the model of human relationships you’re talking about allowed lots of awful things to happen to people.” Yes, indeed. By no means will I gloss that over. However, I think the key to strong, progressive communities is mindfulness to intentionally avoiding recreating the structures of power and inequality that dominate our society. It’s not instinctive or easy. Community is a process, rather than an end state.
Would you like to know more about labor and farming? Most people think of immigration issues when they think of farm labor. I encourage you to ponder why immigrant labor is so prevalent in agriculture, if you choose to explore that question. (Labor accounts for up to half the production expenses in US agriculture.)