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let's talk about essential work.

The movements of the season have brought us all the way here. Here we are in August and enjoying the abundance of what we need and the company of what we have. Food has a way of consistency unlike other things, and as farmers we are consistent in our work -- we must be -- to feed ourselves and our communities.

It’s the height of the 2020 growing season at The Lively Farm in Northern Michigan and this is a time of year that tends to stretch us in new ways while also bringing us together and reminding us why this is so important. While we reflect on all that we’ve harvested we can’t help but look forward to what’s yet to come..

The abundance of summer shows in the phases of wildflowers in bloom and the nearby fields of corn (most importantly the sweet corn for us humans!)… The cycles of the seasons, cycles within cycles, show us patience, so much resilience, and show us that there is something bigger than us. The food is a product of our work, but our existence is a product of our ancestor’s work to make today possible.

With the plenty of this season, we’re reminded of why we do this. It’s a lot of work. Tiring and maddening, frustrating and silly. It’s also completely the opposite. It’s in this reflection that we remember that this is not a choice, this is essential to our intention to be a part of our existence on earth. Eating is Essential!

So, in bringing up essential work and essential workers, we have something to say. There is plenty of talk about essential workers in the time of COVID-19 but what about always, in all times, at the “best” of times?

While our work is certainly essential and important, we as white, rural farmers do not face the same troubles as migrant farm laborers, people of color, or huge processing plants. The land we now work on wasn’t always ‘ours’ and in a sense was stolen from those who lived and loved it before. During the Coronavirus pandemic our human population has faced extreme pain and suffering, and it has come at the cost of life, well being, trust, and care. We can’t stop the pain and suffering single handedly, but we can work to understand it and dismantle the systems that make this so. Essential workers are behind most everything that ‘just happens’, at “the best of times”. The cafeteria is mopped, the grocery store stocked, the dinner delivered, the car built… It’s not without all of the essential work that our society functions as we know it, with perceived ease and care for those involved. Often these essential services are undervalued, underpaid, understaffed, overworked, exploited, unjust. Are you taking this into account in your daily life? As you ask for more, faster, and better from those responsible for these services? We must challenge these systems of oppression which are keeping us divided and separate from solutions. We must appreciate and acknowledge that which we take for granted and do not understand.

Our work on the lively farm being deemed essential is not untrue, but it is certainly embedded with immense privilege and security. Bringing light to the struggles and injustices is a part of our work as farmers in a place within society that makes farming (doing the essential work of feeding people) a choice and in many ways easier than for other folks. It is our duty to shed light on these injustices. We Root For You is innately our mantra. This comes from a deeper mantra found in Noblesse Oblige -- to whom much is given much is expected. Always will we work to give back to the community. Donating & providing fresh vegetables to the food pantry, taking part in conversations to Understanding Social Justice, and making our farm a safe space... We have much to do and are making plans to further engage.

The Lively Farm has been able to keep moving forward, all things considered, as a small business with little trouble social distancing, and in need of only seeds, potting soil, water, and compost to get our work started. Access to land and necessary capital -- while not free -- is available thanks to family with available land and opportunity to invest in such work & a community that has come through in supporting our agricultural efforts in our CSA.

We believe in justice within the food industry and as the common ground of our society. This time is bringing us toward a culmination of a new age. We are farming for freedom — freedom from racism, classism, destruction, and greed. We are working to give back to our community and better ourselves as we find our place within it. Like many we’ve been dealing with the grief that is the pandemic, the rage that has been brought on by the police killings of unarmed black people, and the division within our country that has only been deepened by greed and corruption. Our ability to take action feels stifled by the amount of work we have to do in the field and keep our garden alive, but we’re always able to engage in conversations that educate and inspire movement toward justice. Keeping up with the fight for justice is up to all of us.

Let’s talk about essential work. Let’s talk about systemic racism. Let’s talk about feeding our community. Let’s make a better world possible by working together and respecting experiences that have brought us here today.




More reading on this topic from YES! magazine:

Interested in engaging the conversation of racism?

Understanding Social Justice -- a workshop series -- is available through Title Track.

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