News from the Farm | September 4, 2023

Friday morning’s meeting – every Friday, we start the day with stretches and exercises (usually led by Andrew) followed by announcements.

Like every morning this summer, our crew of about 90 came to work today to plant, irrigate, weed, irrigate, pick, and pack our harvest for distribution to the many purchasers of our produce. For the almost 40 years of this farm, we have all worked on Labor Day—perhaps missing the central point of the day, to honor and acknowledge the contribution of those who keep our world moving, and eating. 

Most California farms probably are at work today; I know of few who can stop to relax. This is a key harvest time for us diversified small farms, and for the larger, less diversified farms too. Almond harvest is in full swing and tomatoes and wine grapes are being harvested all over the state for processing. The crops don’t know it’s a holiday and most crops have a narrow window of ripeness and a short window when the market and processors have a place for what we have tended and raised. For farms like ours, to miss or slow for even a day has big impacts on our business, and on others. If we took today off, there would be no CSA boxes tomorrow, Tuesday’s farmers market would be a bit emptier, and there would be many disappointed wholesalers, restaurants, and stores that expect crops to appear and abundant displays to be refilled. 

Our sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and goats also need attention. They labor without acknowledging the calendar—munching down cornstalks, old melon fields, weeds or cover crops. Our commitment to them requires daily love and focus.

Our crew accepts Labor Day like any other workday—they come ready for the beginning of the week. We adjust our start time with the season; today we’re starting at 7:00 am, so while we don’t have the day off, everyone could snag a few more minutes of sleep this morning. They’ve already loaded their trucks with empty harvest containers and water coolers, grabbed their group’s pick sheet, and dispersed to pick ripe melons, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and so much more. Others are out collecting eggs, weeding, prepping fields for fall plantings, and shifting pipes to moisten fall plants and turning on drip tape lines to sustain our summer crops. 

Our crew works so hard and so generously in every condition and are remarkably skilled and efficient at what they do. Much of the harvest of California’s abundant agriculture is shouldered by immigrants from Mexico and Central America – as is ours.  It is a generous gift that they provide to all of us as labor committed to feeding us all by both creating and bringing in the harvest. 

Our farm is organized on a model where people are central to adding value to crops, in which we are not forever substituting capital and equipment for labor. We do use tractors, planters, and cultivators, and other equipment to grow crops more efficiently, but these machines are run by people and very little of what we do is without a human touch. Our work requires teamwork, skill and awareness of the whole. Timing is critical, as is good communication. Harvesting crops at the peak of ripeness demands skill—a generally under-appreciated knowledge.

It is to our long-term benefit to create year round employment for these skilled workers. This has always been the goal of our farm, and influences what we grow. It is also to our benefit if our society considers farm work to be a dignified career—to honor the choice to work in the fields and make that choice a stable career.  That only works if farm workers are compensated fairly. This is a component of organic farming that is often missing – social stewardship that returns fair compensation and living wages to those who work our fields. It is often argued that to increase the minimum wage would make food less affordable and might foster another push for greater mechanization. Perhaps, but a living wage should be a human right and a fundamental principle that the rest of the economy is built upon.

We continue to broaden our ideas about stewardship to include our responsibilities as social stewards to those who work with us side by side to bring forth the harvest. We are perpetually engaged in a discussion about balance, fairness, and equity. We are perpetually aiming to improve our labor practices and to creating nourishing food and nourishing places. We hope that our farm is built upon the regeneration of all the resources that allow us to farm this land for many years to come, which includes labor. Dignified work, paid fairly, honored and respected is necessary for a renewable, sustainable labor force, which agriculture will always need, but has always fallen short of providing for all engaged in this work. We are all responsible for creating, and demanding, this goal as we enjoy the abundance, quality, and striking beauty of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, grains, eggs, dairy, and wine that grace our tables. Maybe we need to pause this week to give thanks to all who work our farms and ranches, honoring their labor.

– Paul Muller