News From the Farm | March 30, 2020

There is a good deal to think about as this week’s News is written.  First of all, we are doing well here at the farm.  We trust that you are weathering this storm with an abundance of love and patience. It can be hard to muster these sentiments when so much seems in turmoil. 

Last week we had a hard and unanticipated freeze. Although the weather predicted a low of 36° here at the farm, the temps dipped to 27° for a solid five hours. When that happens, all of the summer-loving things, venturing out with the first push of green get burned. Everything from the young leaves of walnuts to figs, grapes and pomegranates turn black and are set back to the starting point. Many of the almonds set as small nutlets froze and were lost along with some of the apricots and peaches. The emerging potatoes were fried also. Now a thin black line on top of their beds. It is all a bit heartbreaking and frustrating, and yet part of what we accept as the bargain at this wonderful farm. We can get whipsawed by the unexpected and then watch a week later as the small leaves begin over and once again move toward the goal of bringing sunlight and soil to fruitfulness. We live in a generous and bountiful land where even with setbacks emerge and thrive.

Everyone on our 80-person crew is coming to work healthy, so that we are able to continue our planting and harvest. We have done trainings with our workers, asking them to reduce their social circles, maintain as much as possible personal distance of six-feet, wash hands and clean surfaces regularly. The crew is wearing gloves when harvesting, washing and handling produce. They have been informed of our expanded paid sick leave and help if school closings have created extra costs for childcare. We have asked them to stay home if they don’t feel well or if someone in their immediate circle of contacts doesn’t feel well – and then keep us informed about their health. We hope this will be enough.  

Farm workers are essential to the food supply. There are an estimated 2.4 million farmworkers in the country, milking and feeding cows, driving tractors, and planting crops that will be harvested 3 to 5 months from now. They tend fields and harvest the crops that fill grocery store shelves. In my experience, farm workers are skilled, efficient, wonderful, hard working, dignified, honest people who for years have been living in the shadows of our culture. In times of uncertainty, they are “essential”. In times of abundance, they are largely forgotten. I am grateful for our crew’s choice to be at Full Belly.

It is estimated that of the 2.4 million farmworkers in the US, anywhere from 47% to 70% may not be fully documented.  These workers are fulfilling tasks that are fundamental. Many of them are cooks and cleaners. They labor in construction or packing plants, provide childcare and clean lawns. We depend upon their labor. They are willing to come to work as part of this interdependent social security that is created when folks show up and apply their skills to a task. 

We see their work on farms across California as key in assuring that the pandemic will not become the greater problem of food shortages. We need them to be healthy and continue to show up. They need access to straight information about Covid 19 and how to be safe while needing to know that they best stay home if they don’t feel well, and that they will be paid. I suspect that even though most of these 2.4 million workers pay taxes, they may not be included in this package of direct payments to American families and they may never be able to claim these social security benefits that they have paid for. 

This is neither a just nor right way to acknowledge those who are essential to the abundance that we enjoy. We have designed our farm to produce year-round so that we can provide employment year-round, and so that the lives of our workers can be stable. A stable job can mean the ability to buy a house, keep children in one school, and enjoy a level of security. The stability and security of this farm are wholly dependent upon their pride and efforts. 

From asparagus and blueberries to zucchini and peaches, we can be thankful for the hands that cultivate and choose. Perhaps this is the time to advocate for their elevation to a place of respect. They deserve legal status and acknowledgement of their being on the frontline of food security. Theirs are the hands that bring abundance. This crisis has laid bare how so many of the things that we need in order to be secure, like basic ingredients for many common medications, are made elsewhere. Small farmers have been arguing that a healthy rural population that feeds local food systems may be more stable and healthy than depending on importing our food from faraway places where labor is simply cheaper. 

Write to your local Congressman or women and our state Senators to tell them that this is the time to acknowledge those who are keeping us secure by working our fields. We need them to continue in order to provide for our wellbeing through their work. They in turn need the decency and justice of respect and thanks with acknowledgement of their humanity in a time when we know their contributions are essential. Provide them a path to legal status. 

Be safe, be creative and watch new growth emerge even when a frost takes its share. We will see again a wonderful spring emerge. 

— Paul Muller

Transplanting Tomatoes