I’ve said this before: farm labor in the US has never been fully and accurately accounted for in our economy. From its founding on child and family labor, to morally criminal slave labor, to indentured labor, to migrant labor, to exporting farm labor across our borders to take advantage of favorable exchange rates and economic divides, labor represents one of the biggest invisible sea anchors in our food economies.
It is not an easy problem to solve, or even grapple with, whether on the farm level, the worker level, or the purchaser level. There are groups working to engage with this enormous challenge, to experiment and see what can be done to create fair wages for workers, and affordable help for farmers.
If this topic sounds mystifying, but interesting, think about trying out some farm work, or working with one of the groups trying to work out economic models that support farms and workers. There are schools programs, farm worker programs, farms looking for workers.
As the farming population continues to age, more and more groups are focusing on this central problem of replacement rates, and are slowly recognizing the gap in support workers, not just farmers themselves.
Get in touch with us if you’d like to be pointed in the direction of some of these groups.
This originally went out on April 17, 2014.
What’s wrong with this picture?
There’s no one on the pack line.
“Do you know how much MORE we want to do with our farm,” the owners ask?
This theme resounds from farms statewide.
Potato packing line.
I was tempted to send you pictures of our family farm in Grand Isle and its remaining 2 feet of snow! Instead I’ll leave that to your imagination while I ramble on another potentially depressing topic – getting good help onto farms.
For a couple generations now, we’ve told young folks to pursue careers and wealth in places far away from the land and farm work. We may be seeing a young farmers’ movement where VW Golfs deliver to abundant restaurants, but in many parts of Maine what is more obvious is the drain of quality help from our rural towns.
In these towns, the picture is more bleak.
“They just don’t know how to work.”
“I feel like I’m working for THEM!”
“It’s not even HARD work anymore!”
What makes help ‘good’ anyway?
I encourage you to ask your favorite local farmer – make sure you have time to enjoy the full response.
If you know someone who looking for a job, just graduating from high school, interested in farming but has never actually farmed before – encourage them to actively reach out to local farms for work this summer. Many farms are now year round operations. The potato growers whose beautiful yukons are pictured above have full time (plus) work 10 months of the year and part time for April & May. Send me an email if you’d like to work in Northern Maine (and ignore what I said about the snow up there right now – I DID go cross-country skiing yesterday in the strong sunshine!).
The nature of producing food in Maine is changing. So is the quality of available farm labor. It’s a part of the movement that needs to get moving.
Encourage those around you to get to know the far flung farms of Maine. Ever worked on a potato harvester? Did you know organic farmers use them too? Observed combining from the operator’s deck? Moved tons of product (and I mean that literally) using a skid steer or forklift? Managed a crew of 10?
Farms need good help. And lots of people need work. The perception is farm work doesn’t pay well. Farmers tell me they would happily pay more if they got the productivity they expect.
Your weekly orders are building the economy, and not just in an abstract sense.
Help is wanted on Maine farms because you are eating their goods.