By Kareno Hawbolt & Kimi Hendess, Sweet Digz Farm
What a year! As for all farmers around us, the wet cold spring played a huge roll in the timing of our crops, the speed at which we tried to catch up all season long, and the bumper crops of weeds that tried to take over the farm! Luckily, we had the moral support of our awesome mentors at Sea Bluff Farm – Robin Tunnicliffe and Sasha Kubicek with their combined extensive expertise in farming and financial management (respectively). Being in constant communication with them helped us realize we weren’t alone in the challenges of the season, and also helped us think about farming and its financial realities in a big picture way. We also had the benefit of having two new farmer friends farming near us, and being able to offer our mentorship to them at the same time as being mentored by Robin & Sasha. This helped us be aware of the richness that farm community offers, and the many ways in which we all need to stick together to support one another.
Looking back at our YA mentorship, we definitely learned some important new organizational and financial management skills, but the most significant aspect of the mentor relationship we forged was the conversations we had about the big picture of farming in a global food system that is, essentially, broken. These conversations were far from depressing – in fact seeing the global forces that influence our small farm operations was inspiring.
Inspiring to have like-minded farmers with whom to talk about the values of a true CSA model where we emphasize the community role of our customers, and ask them to support us in keeping our admin and logistics to a minimum (rather than try to keep up with the convenience and customized options as per new developments in big business food delivery services). Inspiring to challenge the notion that we have to race for the most income per acre, at the expense of our sanity and time for earth care. Inspiring to recommit to the political aspects of farming – the extra time it takes to talk to people (and city council) about the need for farmland defence, and about food that is grown in a way that is healthy for humans, non-human animals, and the earth. And inspiring to deepen our commitment to learning more about the ways in which our global food system depends on the destruction of the earth and animals, and a systemic racism that commits violence to indigenous people, people of colour, immigrant and migrant workers, and slaves (for real), predominantly from the Global South but also in our own communities.
Rather than just communicating via social media in a superficial show-n-tell kind of way that seems to increase feelings of isolation, this mentorship gave us the impetus to have long conversations about these issues, and to feel the moral support that comes from asking difficult questions and contemplating the broader justice issues that go far beyond the details of our own financial statements.
In a context of seeing climate change first hand this year, witnessing the continued loss of Richmond’s farmland to mega mansions, and hearing that our provincial government is sacrificing the Peace River valley for the Site C Dam, flooding its farmland, wilderness habitat, and indigenous sacred lands & food source, it has been so important to look at the big picture and remember the root of why we farm in the first place. It helps us lift ourselves back up from the exhaustion of a tough season, and commit to farming better and in dedication to the betterment of the entire global food system. At the moment, we lay dormant for a few more weeks… then we will rise again!
P.S. Some of our inspiration for these conversations has come from the totally coincidental discovery of two books in the public library while on our end of season R&R week. Divine intervention, for sure. We highly recommend them! In efforts to continue fomenting these conversations amongst fellow farmers, here’s the list:
Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and our Future (Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, 2017) – a beautiful compilation of letters from “three dozen esteemed writers, farmers, chefs, activists, and visionaries [who] address the highs and lows of farming life – as well as larger questions of how our food is produced and consumed – in vivid and personal detail.” (quoted from the cover)
In this book we discovered Raj Patel, a radical political economist/philosopher, activist, and author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (video clip summary here), which positions the world food system in its global capitalist paradigm and shows the big picture context of how fresh fruits & veggies have increased in price far more than processed food (1990-2015). In talking to friends about Raj Patel, we realize he’s very well-known… we’ve had our head in the earth and on local farmland defence front lines, so had never discovered him but now we can’t get enough. His letter in Letters to a Young Farmer (which he retroactively titles “Practice Reparation”) is here – scroll to March 2017.
The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming (New Society Publishers, 2015) by Natasha Bowens whose beautiful photography and interviews of farmers of colour across the US highlights how the food and farming movements in North America are mostly white, and aims to challenge the status quo of agrarian identity. We’ve got a copy on order (from our local bookstore – support fellow small businesses!)
Food for thought…