From the Farmer – Week of September 5th, 2016
I hope this newsletter finds you enjoying this very decent weather (given the apocalyptic hurricane weather predictions). I must admit we are feeling a slight shift in the season — as proven by the fact that Shannon, one of our 9 student farmers, wore jeans to the farm yesterday — but also bearing witness to our bumper tomato crop finally showing signs of slowing down (sad but true). The hot peppers are ripening into rich shades of orange, yellow and red (it’s hot sauce time!), and, we have some exciting fall crops planted out – chicories, fall head lettuces, scallions, green beans, and others. Sadly, this week, after much deliberation and conscientious integrated pest management with organic remedies, we have decided to pull all of our collard and green curly kale crops. It was a bit heart wrenching, but the damage done by flea beetles was showing no sign of stopping, putting other neighboring brassica crops at risk. This decision came with much weighty thought about the impact on the CSA shares; in the end, it felt like the best decision for the farm as we do not want to encourage an even stronger population next year.
Today is Labor Day, a holiday wherein we honor the contributions of American workers. Many of us enjoy a day off and long weekend with friends and family, to savor some final beach time or other summery traditions. It’s certainly a perfect day to enjoy a ripe tomato or cucumber on your Labor Day burger! We have always continued to work a half day on the farm on Labor Day, partly because Monday is a CSA distribution day, but also because we find ourselves in an odd conundrum faced by many farmers: nature doesn’t take off holidays:) So, we harvest and water in the am, then head to the beach to honor our own contributions and especially those of our 9 student farmers. The tradition of working Labor Day is also rooted in a desire to show solidarity with the millions of farmworkers – the majority undocumented (6 in 10, according to The Color of Food report put out by The Applied Research Center in 2011) — who may not have the luxury of taking off Labor Day. Much as it is basically impossible for all Youth Farm staff to take a Memorial Day, 4th of July or today’s holiday off (someone has to water the crops!!), plants at the peak of harvest need picking, and the demand created by our food economy demands that people work.
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that across the 4 stages of our food system (Production, Processing, Distribution and Retail/Service), jobs are low-paid, with the median wage paid amounting to $21,692 annually or $11.05/hr. The ARC report goes on to document rampant labor abuses many food system workers tolerate as part of their jobs, the racial and gendered wage gap across sectors, and so on. It’s a sobering, but important read.
If you are ever wondering, “Why did I get myself into this whole CSA thing? How many things can a person do with a cucumber?”, believe me, I’ve been there. I joined my first CSA when I was 24 and had NO idea what to do with cardoons, and had little more than a vegetable soup approach under my belt to deal with all those vegetables! This report is a great reminder that we desperately need a different model than the industrial food system that perpetuates so many race and gender-based injustices and oppressive working conditions.
The CSA model allows consumers to get closer to their food and know their farmers, to gain knowledge about food production and labor practices. And while you probably aren’t going to camp out at The Youth Farm for days on end, examining all our practices (because who has the time?), a certain veil is lifted and farmers must be accountable to their shareholders — must answer questions if asked. We would actually welcome you to come and spend a day with us, and get your questions answered!
The “sharing in the risk” contract that CSA members make with their farm gives farmers the freedom of being able to share the ups and downs, and to approach the work not with an “at all costs” approach, much safer for the worker and environment. This Labor Day, I’m feeling grateful for the privilege of farming for people who want to support and value our work.
Cheers to you, and have a great Labor Day. And remember to think about who farmed that beef or grew those hops or milled that wheat when you bite into your burger (topped, ideally, with a vine ripened Youth Farm tomato!)