A Small Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Niagara
Monday, June 20, 2011
Life is rich
This is a blog post I wrote , gee, a good year and a half ago for a different blog I used to contribute to."La plus ca change, la plus ca reste le meme. "Still pluggin' along at those 70's Dairy Queen wages, despite the fact I'm told there was money in farming last year! All good, people. All good.
Prior to my reincarnation as a grower, I worked as a social worker for the local Children's Aid, a job I swore I would never do when I graduated from university.
As life happened, circumstances saw me stick around in the job for about 13 years — a baby, a house, the whole deal.
It was a stressful job for sure. I lost a lot of sleep over some of my charges. They ran, they abused drugs, they committed suicide — things this old farm girl from Harper's Corners couldn't imagine.
The red tape of the job was mind-boggling, but my friends tell me it is nothing compared to today.
But I was paid reasonably well — well enough to fulfill all my obligations to my growing family and then some.
As I transitioned out of social work into farming, I continued to work at the CAS part-time. But of course the growing ended up taking more and more time with the financial remuneration not really keeping pace. It got to the point I would look at my CAS cheque with surprise. It really started to seem awfully big the more I farmed.
Which brings me to today. On this drizzly November 25, this gal found herself picking gorgeous small leaves in the hoophouse; beautiful purple mizuna, frilly kyona mizuna, mustards of every hue and texture. Leaf by leaf. A wonderful chef I deal with had asked for these very small leaves and the only way to get it right is to hunch over and pinch off one leaf at a time.
After an hour of this, I headed up to the garage and my scale to see where I was at, weight-wise. I needed three pounds. I was hopeful. Surely I had hit two pounds? But no, just over one pound.
So, I began to think, what do I charge for these very special little gems that are so darn time-consuming to pick? My usual price that I charge for the bigger leaves that I pick inmuch less time wasn't really going to cut it. But as a grower, I can only charge so much before people rebel...and I must admit I feel bad if I do charge too much more than that.
But say I chose to charge $10 a pound for those greens. Well it took me an hour to pick them, an extra bit of time to wash and spin them (in water produced by a water system installed for that purpose), but I also had to buy or save the seed, fertilize the soil with compost and minerals, plant the seed, water and weed and put the roof over the heads of these lovely little greens in the form of a hoophouse. And there are the incidental costs too: bags, baskets, labels, invoice books. On it could go.
So I ask myself what my husband always asks me,"What did I pay myself for this job?"
And of course, I really am not sure. This seems to be one thing that farmers don't get paid for a lot: their time. It definitely isn't going to be $10 an hour. I figure I am somewhere around the wage I made when I was 16 and working my first job at the Dairy Queen in Waterdown.
But I am not complaining. I wouldn't go back to social work for all the money in the world. What I do is in my blood — I grew up on a farm and this is the best fit for me. I LOVE to be outside, I love the physical work and the meaning this has.
I'm sure, though, that we underpay farmers for what they do and have expectations of cheap and plentiful food. That does come at a price for all of us, I believe.