We seem to be in the midst of a tug-of-war battle between winter and spring. Old man winter is putting up a decent fight here as of late, considering the poor showing over the past few months. Still, for the second straight year it didn’t feel like we experienced much of a winter at all. Hopefully I’m not speaking too soon. We heard spring peepers on February 28th! They’ve since quieted back down, realizing it was a false start. I definitely feel for the fruit tree farmers – from Georgia all the way up to the Northeast. These mild winters and false starts can wreak havoc on trees that bud too early, only to be nipped by a frost or freeze. Meanwhile, here at Sandbrook we’re sticking to our crop plan. The warm temperatures have not persuaded me to jump the gun to seed or plant any differently than previous years. After all, even with a very mild winter last year, we still were hit with a frost in the middle of May. The first seeds have been sown, and the greenhouse is purring away… circulation and exhaust fans on sunny days, and the heater on chilly nights.
We have our full crew locked in earlier than ever before. It’s going to be a good year. I’m so grateful for my farm team every season. Without them there is no Sandbrook Meadow Farm. They work a seasonal farm job, meaning no year-round income, and are seriously underpaid. The work is as physically demanding as any out there, yet they persist. Our seasonal crew comes to Sandbrook for more than the income. There is an education; vocational and life learning are all happening here. There is joy; we are all immensely proud to participate in the production of an amazing commodity in a way that not only enhances the local community, but also maintains and protects the integrity of the land. Still, this is not an easy vocation to commit to for the long-term.
It’s hard to make a living farming. The lifestyle is unpredictable and it’s nearly impossible to get good financial returns on our investments of time and energy. Capital costs of infrastructure and equipment, as well as the price of land are also prohibitive factors in sustainable agriculture. Even as a successful farm and business, paying the kind of wages our employees deserve is just not feasible, because food should cost more than it does. It takes a lot of time and resources to produce something good, something really quality. Let’s appreciate that.
This is a systemic issue that applies to almost every commodity. As a society, we’ve found ways to cut down on time in an effort to make things “cheaper.” However, if something is “cheap” to buy, that cost will be paid elsewhere by either compromising the land, the people working it, or both. Nothing is cheap. In organic, small-scale agriculture, the earth is cared for, but the workers often make personal sacrifices. In industrial agriculture, both the environment and the people unwillingly sacrifice a whole heck of a lot. The more deeply I become involved in systems of production, the more I come to understand that nearly everything produced nowadays, including many foods, has negative consequences.
Being so dependent on the soil and its health for my livelihood, I feel a profound appreciation for the environment every day. Conserving resources and consuming responsibly are now a part of my value system. Educated decisions are the best way for me to minimize my negative impact on the earth and its inhabitants. Useful questions for me include: Where does this come from? How is it produced? What happens to this after I no longer need it? I believe that it is the accumulation of seemingly small decisions made by ordinary people that will shape our future – either for better or for worse.
As we round the bend into spring – a new season of life, and a new cycle of production – I encourage everyone to find ways of investing more in our collective future. Buy less, but spend more for what is responsibly made. Seek out commodities that support people and the environment. At the end of the day, what else is there? We each need to take responsibility for our individual impact, by ridding ourselves of the myth of “cheapness”. Let’s recommit to prioritizing quality, sustainability, and fair labor practices. Thank you for being a part of our broader farm community – we are so grateful to have your support as we strive to be good stewards to the land, build a sustainable local business, and produce the highest quality organic produce. Here’s to an amazing 2017 growing season ahead!