The Fourth of December is my last day of work on the farm. Although you might see crops growing out in the new field, the place has been getting tucked in for the winter for a while now, and should be ready for the winter when I leave. Machines are being winterized and the irrigation system will undergo the same. It’s all part and parcel with the end of the season. The earth subsides from its state of ecstasy, the farmers slow their manic pace, the sun sinks deep into the southern sky.
For myself, the path before me is a blank canvas. I have a vision for what that may look like, but the reality is still elusive. My plan is to begin a CSA next year outside of Morgantown, WV, where I am from. I’ve worked out the numbers, from how many seeds to buy, feet to plant, dates of sowing and harvesting, harvest containers to be purchased, irrigation lines to be run, but some numbers are still elusive. Some numbers seem as though they are always elusive for the farmer. It is a cold hard fact that money is the hard part of farming.
As I have calculated, I have made around the federal minimum wage, which is actually pretty good for most apprenticeships. It’s less than I have made since I was fifteen years old, other than last season when I was volunteering on farms. I talked to a prominent farmer recently, who sells at the largest farmer’s market in D.C., and he told me to expect to make less than three dollars per hour working on my own (as he does currently). People in America struggle to make a living on much more than that. Poverty seems as though it will be my reality in the short term, and that is something that I will accept to pursue my passion. I have faith and determination to make a living being a farmer, but have no illusions about it being an easy or secure way of life.
I won’t trouble you with all of the numbers that I have calculated–from how many tomatoes I would need to grow to purchase a tractor, or a pair of new work pants, or pay rent, but it’s quite a few. What I would like to share with you are some thoughts about value and agriculture.
I farm because I want to help nourish people’s bodies and souls. It is a calling. I accept the low pay and the long hours, because I am trying to do what I love and share that love with you. When I go to a good grocery store, or a farmer’s market, I tend to look at the prices on the produce. Sometimes the prices seem low, sometimes they seem high. But when I think of the hours of labor that have gone into those vegetables, the passion that farmers have for what they grow, and how hard it is to make a living farming, I pay willingly because I know that that is the only way local agriculture works. I am sure you all value farming in similar ways to myself, so I urge that when you go to shop at MOM’s, the Accokeek Winter Farm Market, or any farmer’s market, when you consider the cost of a head of cabbage or a bunch of carrots, also consider how much fifty cents per pound more means to your pocket book and how much it might mean to a farmer trying to make a living, trying to buy a bigger tractor to grow for more people, or someone like me just trying to buy a new pair of work pants.
Thank you for the chance to grow with you.