News From the Farm | September 2, 2013

Tomorrow is Labor Day, a holiday that honors the work of all who place their effort as a brick in the edifice of this amazing society. For most it is a day to stop work and take a rest – hard won through the struggles, marches and demands of workers in the late 1800’s. It is a day to honor, as Peter J. McGuire, co founder of the American Federation of Labor said in 1882, those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the Grandeur we behold.”  

Often acknowledged and celebrated is the vision of the successful entrepreneur, but Labor Day demands that we equally respect the patient, persistent and diligent contribution of those who labor at all levels, showing up every day to do the tasks that often are not acknowledged. Those who labor are linked together by the ethic of sustained dedication – the factory worker in a foreign land, the office worker in the Bay Area, the teacher, software developer, machinist, fast food worker and the farm worker in our fields – all have a personal commitment to the task at hand.  Most work for more than pay. There are rewards in the dignity that is linked to making something more whole. There are rewards from doing good, serving all creatures great or small and being linked to the common effort.

Years ago, when we were choosing our labor’s path, we full bellies felt the ethical need to construct and embrace something like right livelihood. We chose farming as our practice. The Buddhist 8-fold Pathway of Right Livelihood, along with Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration, inspired us.

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others… Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them.  We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Parallax Press, 1998, p. 104.)

I often wax idealistically, – I apologize – because there are so many shades of labor. For many, labor can be a trap where human dignity can be held or acquired by another. For others who are unemployed at this time, searching for a good, fair-paying job becomes futile and any job would be better than none.  This is also a time when labor is changing for many and the power of capital is out of balance with the responsibilities of capital to labor for fairness, commitment, security and dignity.

On this Labor Day eve, I think about all who contribute to this farm who will arrive tomorrow to toil and sweat. They will show up together starting at 6:30 am on Labor Day, the same as most days, because the crops are ripe and the fields beckon to harvest. I think about the component of organic farming that may be missing – social stewardship that returns fair compensation and living wages to those who work our fields.  

There is also an ideal working in my head that there should be more gardens where all hands can find a place to labor and make things grow. Our farm provides work with purpose and dignity – any garden can do the same. Let’s recognize that anyone can make the abundance of the earth come forth through effort and nurturing seed. All can share in the beauty of being producers even as part-time gardeners.

So Labor Day 2013, rich in history, is a time to rest and reflect about the genius expressed each day by so many in their own fields. It is a continuing discussion about balance, fairness and equity. It is our time to improve our practice of creating nourishing places. We have our work ahead to improve this farm’s labor practices. We will continue to attempt to broaden our ideas about stewardship to include responsibilities as social stewards to those who work with us side by side to bring forth the harvest.

–Paul Muller