Today was a rainy day - finally, me and my wife got started early to plant our 750 winter squash transplants that were bursting in their pots. When we stopped for lunch, I browsed my facebook feed... oh look a farming article, opened it and read it. The article was about large farms not having enough workers to make up for the lack of seasonal farm workers that have been delayed or stopped at the border due to the coronavirus. What the article was implying is that the government is paying students to stay home when they could be working on farms, and the comments of the farmers in the article and the comments below were along the lines of "you can't get young people to do hard labour anymore." In the comments someone went so far as to mention that young people are out protesting and fighting for their future but yet won't work on a farm and get their hands dirty.
This felt off to me, just as it does every time an article comes out like this (which seems like every month or so...), so I mentioned it to my wife and she said "well we've had more people asking to work on our farm then ever!". Then something clicked in my brain: we, a small-scale farm have people searching us out and wanting to work for us, but we don't have enough money to pay them VS. a large scale industrial farm who has more access to government funding and therefore money to pay them can't find workers...? Hmm, there's something there, maybe that should be the narrative?
Young people are inspired by spray-free/organic, small-scale sustainable farming practices and are reaching out to us with no effort on our part, no job postings, but we cannot pay them because we barely make enough to survive on ourselves (figured it out one day, the 2 of us make less than minimum wage). We continue to do this because we are crazy enough to care more deeply about doing right by the environment and the people we keep fed then the amount of money we make. We are only able to do this by a synchronization of harmonizing forces of support from many, many different people: family, friends, farmers, small business owners, customers, farmers market staff, basically the community as a whole helping and supporting us and just the general momentum of interest in local food and businesses, listening to what people are saying they want, seeing how they are using the produce, and endless researching of new crops and varieties of crops to grow, it is very much an exchange of information, a connection to a wider community and and just simply following *what feels right*.
This is why it bothers me when some of the older generations say that millennial and the younger generations don't want to work (I am a millennial, yes, though I have some white hairs). I believe that young people want to work, and will work, but it has to be on something they care about - because they are informed about the state of the world. It is obvious to us that large scale industrial farming (chemical fertilizer and pesticide using, overworking the soil, monocultures) is unsustainable and cannot go on. It makes me sick to my stomach driving by a field that is all yellow because it was just sprayed with glyphosate, or seeing a field so ultimately weedless you know there is barely any microbiological life in it due to years of over working, over harvesting, spraying and applications of chemical fertilizer.
Young people are working toward their future, and yes maybe when you were young that meant getting a decent paying job that will provide you and your family with enough money to live on. Our generations do not see the world like that, we do not see stability in our futures, we know that everything could collapse at any moment and there is unlikely to be social security for us to rely on when we are older, let alone a stable climate. We want to do something that really matters. And yes, some of us get disenchanted and lost, we give up and just want to "enjoy our lives while we can" or we get depressed and kill ourselves - suicide rates for young people are the highest they've ever been. And why? We have a hard time seeing a good outcome for our lives with all the obstacles stacked against us. We want our lives to have meaning. We don't want to stick with the status quo because it is not working, it is broken.
Back to my main point, many of the older large scale industrial farmers are complaining that the young people don't want to work. Maybe they just don't want to work *there*? I've worked on a few other farms and there are big differences between them. I've worked on an organic farm and I've worked on a few industrial-style farms... the difference between them are like night and day. Working at the organic farm I felt part of a team, I felt valued, I felt like I was doing something important and the people I worked with seemed to feel the same. The owners routinely checked in with how everyone was doing, and there was even one week in the middle of winter that we got 3 snow storms in one week and they paid everyone for the full week even though we had only been in to work a couple days. I don't think it hurts to mention the name of this farm - it was Taproot Farms. Contrast this with one of the conventional/industrial farms I worked on where the owner whistled to call the Jamaican workers to him like a dog, ran his forklift inside continually enough that there was an unbreathable haze in the air, and when I took him to the side to mention the other workers seemed very unhappy his reply was "don't worry about it". Now that I think about it, all of the conventional style farms I've worked on seemed to have a steady thread of disrespect or indifference, to their workers... or a just a lack of warmth maybe? maybe this is why they have a hard time finding workers?
I know by saying this I am putting myself at odds with most of the farmers in the Valley, actually in most of North America. I am by no means trying to say that older conventional farmers are all bad, I am related to and know many of them and they are mostly nice, generous, hard-working people. I have the highest respect for farmers because no matter what type of farming you do it is never easy and you are often taken for granted. The point that I am suggesting is if you are having a hard time finding workers or selling your produce, maybe you should diversify your crops so if one fails then you still have something? maybe you should look into transitioning your farm into organic, or spray-free, or permaculture? Or grow a different crop that doesn't have as many pests? There are tonnes of people in my generation you could hire to help you make changes... hell, we'd probably give you advice for free just to help! Instead of throwing out thousands of seedlings cause you have no one to plant them, maybe speak to the community and see if they'll buy them from you? Speaking one-on-one to people in the community is what keeps our business alive, because we can understand what people want, what they care about, what they find intriguing and also help them understand farming. Word-of-mouth has been our main source of advertising, people like to talk about what they are excited about! Get creative! Get flexible! People will help you!!!!!!!!!!!
Take for example the Wolfville Farmers Market online platform WFM2go, due to the community's huge surge in interest in local food due to the pandemic, they have been working around the clock to increase their capacity, they asked for volunteers and now have upwards of 30 young volunteers helping every week... why do they have that? Because they are supporting small producers and businesses that are working towards a sustainable future and our generations *care* about that, because the farmers market is showing they care about them too, and their future.
Often people from older generations have the attitude "its too costly to be idealistic - just shut up, put your head down and work". What kind of world has that left us? I want to say to them - maybe it's too costly in the long-run to NOT be idealistic. If my farm failed tomorrow I would go work on another small scale, spray free or organic farm... as long as I was physically and mentally able. This is what I believe the future needs from me and so it is what I am committed to do, no matter how sore I feel at the end of the day, no matter how many sacrifices I have to make, financial or otherwise, no matter how many offhand comments I get - "oh, you're a farmer......why?". This is why - I am going to put all of my energy into activities that make sense to me, that make the future better for me, my family, everybody and everything.
Let me give you another example of what young people can do when they are given a chance, take our friend Emily teBogt, she is a farmer in her mid-twenties who works unbelievably hard from sunrise to sunset growing a huge variety of vegetables, pork, lamb and eggs. She organizes it all herself, and does it all naturally, and her operation is always expanding. There are countless other examples of hardworking young farmers popping up every year in Nova Scotia who are using practices that reflect their values.
We want to work, but we want to do something that makes sense in the long-term.
Signed - a millennial farmer.
Olde Furrow Farmers!!