News From the Farm | September 7, 2015

Our crew started this morning, Labor Day, at 7:00am.  We had been starting at 6:00 and then 6:30, but as days shorten, the workday changes with the morning light. Like so many mornings over this long summer, our crew of 85 men and women came to work to pick, plant, clean fields, change pipes and pack our harvest for distribution to the many purchasers of our produce. For the more than 30 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. 

Most California farms probably were at work today—I know of few who can stop to relax. There is harvest for example—that window when the crop is ready and the market has a place for what you have tended and raised.  To miss or slow for even a day changes the ability to be at the market tomorrow, for example Tuesday’s farmers market would be a bit emptier. Wholesalers, restaurants and stores 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 laughing and positively enthusiastic for the beginning of a week. They load up empty boxes, grab their group’s pick sheet and disperse to pick ripe melons or cherry tomatoes, peppers or beans. They collect eggs, fire up tractors to keep moving on fall tillage, and shift pipes in the fields to moisten broccoli plants or the fading summer crops. 

Our crew works so hard and so generously in most any condition—remarkably skilled and efficient at what they do. Much of the harvest of California’s abundant agriculture is shouldered by immigrants from Central America and Mexico – 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.  Maybe we need to pause this week to give thanks to all who work our fields, honoring their labor.

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 have invested in many tools to make the growing of crops more efficient. Tractors, planters, and cultivators allow us to grow crops by managing these operations to minimize the amount of labor needed to get the crop to harvest. Timing is critical, coordinating the field preparation, incorporation of cover crops, and irrigation and planting in order to minimize weed growth. This requires teamwork, skill and awareness of the whole. 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. 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. To raise the minimum wage across the board for all workers would create a level playing field for all who labor. 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 should join the fight for an increase in the minimum wage.

We hope that our farm is built upon the regeneration of the resources that allow us to farm this land for many years to come. Dignified work, paid fairly, honored and respected is at the heart of a renewable labor resource—one that Agriculture will always need—one that we are all responsible for as we enjoy the abundance, quality and striking beauty of fresh fruits and vegetables that grace our tables.

–Paul Muller