Farm Workers – A short Essay

Here is an adapted version of a recent college essay I had to write for my History of Agriculture class. It does not fit the format of my usual posts but I hope you enjoy it!

Agriculture has an interesting and at times shocking history. America has had her controversies surrounding agricultural development to include the British government imposing restrictions on American industry so that the colonies were reliant on England for British imports of farm tools and heavy equipment, the slave trade of agricultural laborers during the antebellum years, and in modern America there is the matter of illegal alien workers.

To summarize American agriculture from the colonial years, farmers of the 17th century relied on hand tools and imported plows from England or trading farm products with Native Americans to get by. Then during the American Revolution (war for independence from England), demand for rope, sacks, sailcloth, cordage, wheat, and meat increased and so the production and price of hemp rose. This rise in demand and the intensity of the production of hemp created a demand for slave labor in order to be able to meet demands. The use of slaves in the south also allowed the cheaper production of tobacco and other commodities but this movement was met with the British attempting to weaken the American agricultural economy by luring slaves to escape and join British armies and gain freedom. The slave laborers were treated as a commodity, property, and escaping their masters to fight for the British would have had its own dangers and pitfalls and their freedom for their escaping is questionable. Americans mirrored the British by offering slaves ‘freedom’ to join the Continental Army, or Navy so again the slave laborers were forced to choose between two evils, and this after all is not freedom or a choice.

Regardless of the incorrectness of slave labor, it did benefit agriculture as well as the revolution for farmers were able to keep producing food for Americans at home and establish infrastructure and farms as well as meet the increased need for certain crops for the war effort. If farmers had not have met these demands then perhaps America would not have succeeded in her independence from England when she did.

During the Antebellum period, cotton was a major cash crop and valuable source of fiber but again slaves were utilized to keep the production active and level with demand. What did this bare on the life for slaves? The people captured for the slave trade were treated like cattle, graded for price based on their ‘quality’ and ability. A man in his prime working age was described as “one hand’ and could fetch $1800 while a woman aged 18-25 were described as “half hand” and were usually not expected to be AS productive ad their male peers – not that it was a pleasant or easy way to live. The laborers were able to grow a garden for themselves in their own time and were provided basic shelter but they were usually at the mercy of the Overseer (like a foreman) for rations of bacon, cornmeal, and sometimes sweet potato and molasses. Not only did the Overseer control rations but they also were responsible for setting targets for production that were then enforced by a Driver (who often times was a high ranking slave who earned special privileges for keeping his subordinates in line and meeting quota).

The Civil War brought about some relaxation of the slave trade when there was much turmoil to do with the use of slaves. In short, the north mostly opposed and the south mostly approved and it was one of many factors fueling the Civil War. One thing that cannot be denied is the fact that slavery did allow agriculture in the south to expand rapidly, it developed a biracial society, and of course it brought profit to the southerners states for it meant southern could manage larger areas of land and thus produce more crops.

The subject of supply and demand and controversial labor sources did not end in history for even today America is largely reliant on laborers from other countries. The migrant worker, guest worker, or illegal alien. However we describe 90% of Americas farm laborers (10% or less being citizens) for the most part they have low wages and often live in poor rural communities. They are lured to America with the view of adventure and earning money for their families or escaping turmoil in their own country and then they end up working long hard days, migrating to work the harvests, and living in what in America is considered to be poor and squalor conditions.

In an attempt to control illegal immigration whilst also improving conditions for laborers the Immigration Reform and Control Act was instilled in 1986. Since then however, there was an influx of illegal migrant workers and their living conditions and workers rights declined. The argument being that Americans simply do not want to work the hard, long hours at the low wages payed that illegal workers are willing to do and that without the cheap labor, many farms would not manage to keep up with production.

A new bill is being evaluated that would close borders and reduce the flow of migrant workers to America whilst actions being applied to inspect and regulate farms and their employees. The great concern for farmers is that provisions will not be made to compensate the inability to use cheap illegal labor. Many big farmers want to remain legal and in doing so lose millions by doing so.

Whatever ones personal views on immigration and border control may be, it is hard to deny the reliance America has on cheap farm labor and the cultural reality that most Americans will not work the same hours of physical labor for the money that farmers are affording to pay. In brief, farmers generally make a small cut of what we pay a supermarket for an item and so they need cheap labor in order to keep the farm running. It is a cycle of government, stocks, and mega stores controlling the value of food and the amount that a farmer receives for it. By no means should we look bad on farmers for employing illegal aliens, they are doing what they have to do to bring in the crops and make money. It is neither good nor bad to use migrant workers, it just ‘is’.

The problem for many people with using migrant workers is that for the ethically concerned, the living and working conditions for the laborers are shocking to most of us who have never broke a sweat outside and who have a reliable home to return to. Migrant workers must follow the harvest and oftentimes their children miss school and so are bound to follow in their parents footsteps and be farm laborers also. I think the stem of the problem is that America has lost focus on what is important. We want cheap food but most of us do not question WHY the food is cheap. Most of us do not appreciate how little of our grocery receipt actually pays the farmer and then his laborer budget and how much goes to the government, investors, and big supermarkets. There needs to be a push for lower distributor profit in favor of higher farmer profit. This will lead to better working conditions and wages for laborers and may even lure American citizens to take up farm labor jobs. This would then keep money in America. Another concept a lot of us have lost touch with is the cost of food and the acceptance that food production is hard work and deserves more benefit than the hardest workers behind our food get. Too many of us are happy to pay $5 on a box of sugary corn cereal (sugar and corn are cheap and the end product is highly inflated) but yet we question the value to our health the cost of a $5 bag of organic, fair trade apples. The last couple of generations have been brainwashed into believing we need a diet heavy in cereal and corn crops, everything is laced with corn syrup and byproducts. We have lost touch with real food and its value. We happily drop money on music downloads and fast food but do not question why fast food is often cheaper on our pockets than good, healthful food. This plague of skewed thinking that is mostly by no means the fault of the average citizen need to change so that we value real food again, fight for farmers to be payed a higher percentage of the market value, and then and only then will conditions for farm laborers improve. The more that we vote with our dollar at farmers markets, the more farmers will sell directly to customers and this will trickle more cash into the system without growing the middle man that is really only the face of our food.

As a Permaculture and fair trade enthusiast and budding small permaculture farmer I am passionate on the subject of access to organic food for all and the ethics behind our food production. It is my hope that in my lifetime I see and be part of a change in how we as a nation think about and prioritize our food purchases in order to create  shift in the availability of whole food and the economics of agriculture. I realize that this process may be slow but I am hopeful. If we all chose one item that supports the ethical employment of laborers and the restoration and preservation of our lands then eventually we will be able to feed everyone in the nation as well as doing so in a sustainable and ethically just way.

 

 

Look Around You…Making Use of What you have.

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The Colonials, Pioneers, people living in the Depression era and then WW2 all learned to be resourceful. The colonials arrived at Plymouth rock with whatever they packed on the ship…and those were finite resources. They had to look around and see what they could use to survive.

The pioneers moving west also had to be inventive on the trail to make repairs, supplement their pantry supplies, and treat illness. Folks living through the Depression era were struck with low wage or no wage in conjunction with high prices or poor supply. They had to save and reuse, re purpose, forage, and make meals out of very little.

*We will explore frugal meal options in a future post and youtube videos*

The same again with families during WW2 when rations limited the amount of food that could be purchased and oftentimes the supply could not even match the ration books of many families in many towns.

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School Children during the Depression Era.

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Right now, at time of writing, there are many Americans who are malnourished in the face of an affluent country. Malnourished, yet they live in a country that wastes millions of tonnes of food annually and when an increasing number of people are obese.

For those people who always have the financial stability to just drive to the store and buy more food if they run out, the thought of having very little to eat might seem unlikely….and that is the wrong way to think entirely. 

We should not take for granted that the supermarket will always be open and stocked, we cannot take for granted that there will be mechanics, electricians, doctors, hardware stores, access to purchased fuel. We should learn to make use of what we have more in order to humble ourselves, to waste less, and to give ourselves a little bit of security knowing that we have acquired skills and knowledge that we might not have otherwise.

Lets look at the prickly pear cactus at the top of the post, the Native Americans knew how valuable this plant was and we can make use of it too. It grows wild all over the southwest and is easy to keep in other climates [check with your local extension office if you can grow them where you live]. The prickly pear fruit can be used to make a drink, syrup, jelly. The young cactus pads can be skinned and eaten like a cucumber and even pickled too. The larger spines can be used as sewing needles. Neat huh?

What grows wild near you (away from traffic and chemicals) that you can utilize?

What can you grow in your garden that can feed you and give other purpose too?

We have wild creosote and mesquite bushes…the creosote attracts bees, when pruned it provides mulch material, and most importantly it holds the soil structure and prevents erosion.  The Mesquite makes bean like pods that can be ground for flour, they provide shade and habitat for beneficial insects, and when pruning the dead wood you have a great wood for smoking meats.

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A small handful of Creosote and Mesquite.

It’s not just wild things that we can make use of (with good reference books of course!) but what man-made or man-left things can you re-use?

When we arrived on our homestead, there were some things left behind in the barn, a shed, and in a small salvage pile. In the rafters of the barn we have a bunch of scrap wood, siding, pipes, iron rods, a few tools. The shed we have pvc piping, old milk pails, rebar,  and the shed is also the perfect size to renovate into our hen house. In the salvage pile we have cattle fencing, fence posts, wood boards, and even sign posts!

Luckily the materials left behind are all decent and useful to us…I know sometimes people move to a home and find actual junk that they wont use…or things they see as junk instead of a resource. I have already used some posts and cattle wire for my compost coral, wood boards for a couple raised beds, and I plan to use a piece of particle board to make a barn quilt *more on that later!*

Above is the giant mass of bamboo growing inside our “back yard”area. A problem if let to get too out of hand but what a great resource! I am using some as a filler in the bottom of raised beds and also permaculture beds, some I will use to make edging for our garden flower borders, some will be used as a flooring and interest for our chickens to scratch through (and after they have scratched it up it will go to compost) and the leaves I have been using as a mulch along with bush trimmings. Not to mention I doubt I’ll need to buy bamboo canes for climbing plants ever again!

By saving some food cans, I have been able to use some to grow sweet potato slips in and some as seed starting pots. I punched holes in the bottom for drainage and at planting time I will remove the bottom and plant the seedling WITH the can around it. This wards off pests that attack tomato and pepper stems. Eventually the can will rust and I will carefully dispose of it at the recycle center.

Saved food jars that are not of suitable size for home caning lids, can be used to store dried foods in having kept the screw caps but here I am using them to propagate celery.

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Lastly for now, these railroad sleepers were left behind and I used them to make a small bed that is for the boys to experiment with. We filled it with native soil and steer manure compost. They got to chose and buy seeds and they can grow and learn with this bed so that I can manage our main food and market beds. Presently they have basil plants, mint, thyme, radish, lemon cucumber (that will trail out the right corner), a baby watermelon (trail out left corer), sunflower along the back, marigold along the sides, and ruby chard in the middle.

Its great for kids to learn for themselves. Experiment and learn what works and think about solutions and plan based on prior knowledge. Example, knowing that the sunflowers grow tall, we discussed the best place would be the back edge with west sun behind them so as to offer some partial shade for the chard and radish in the middle and apex.

So that’s me finished for now, just a few ideas of how to look around you and be inventive. Re-use things as much as you can and think outside the box.

Your giant bamboo monster needs thinning? Do so mindfully and make use of it in several ways. Another cute idea I will be making is solitary bee nests and I will have some of those for sale.

Did you purchase celery and are still waiting to be able to plant your own seeds out? Propagate…in a later blog post I will show you everything I am propagating from bought fruit and vegetables.

Also, I will show you how to make flower border edging with said bamboo monster and of course! A barn quilt. Excited for that!

Thanks for reading if you got this far and sorry for delay since the last post. Been super busy over here but I have lots to catch you up on. I hope you enjoyed today’s post and look forward to any comments or thoughts below.

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The Quiet After Monsoon Rains

 

Taking the Leap…House Hunting!

As a military family, we have been too scared to try to buy a house for fear of being relocated. So, we made do with rented homes…and for 13 months, our travel trailer!

Here are some pictures from the gardens I have grown in the two homes we have rented while at our current duty station.

FIVE YEARS have passed at this duty station and a re-enlistment. Due to my husbands job, there are two other bases that he could get sent to…one is a 4 hour drive away and the other about 8 hours.

So yes, we took a huge leap and decided to buy a property to call our own. Who knows how long we will be here wasting money on rented homes and so we did it.

It is scary.

We spent a few weeks hunting and found a home and if all goes to plan it will be ours mid April

**so good vibes will be appreciated!**

Now, what if he gets orders? THAT is a very scary and dreaded concept now we actually decided to start being adults and buy a home. If he gets the base 4 hours away, he would live there in our camper for the work week (remember, we lived in it before) since he would only be ‘home’ to eat, sleep, and bath. He is quite content with that. Since we do not see much of each other during the work week, he would come home for the weekends so that we would not be forced to SELL or RENT the house out. He can also pick up home cooked meals on the weekends to freeze, home canned items, and garden food.

But HOPEFULLY that won’t happen…and especially hopefully he won’t get the base 8 hours away because we would likely have to rent or sell – lets just not go there ok?

Our PLAN is to make as many extra PRINCIPAL payments we can each year and the big hope is to pay off the mortgage quickly so we 100% own it and will always have that.

BESIDES – do you know how much interest we could avoid by living modestly now instead of stretching a mortgage over 30 years? It was over $70,000 in interest lost compared with paying it over 8-9 years.

Of course this only works if you chose a home below your top end budget so you aren’t extending yourself. But for US, a huge priority was being mortgage free as quickly as possible so we have the FREEDOM to have a home that 100% is ours, we can sell it and own all the equity, or we can rent and bank on it if we decide to move elsewhere.

It will be a thrifty and spend conscious time but we will have much more security  later on and choices if we own our home. It is lucky we enjoy “simple” pleasures like camping, hiking [shed hunting, scouting, foraging], hunting, fishing….because we won’t miss more spendy activities in favor of paying the mortgage down.

Plans aside though, it is still scary. 

So stay following us on Old Soul Homestead because I will be not only sharing our homestead journey and the tasks and skills associated but I will ALSO be sharing ways to be thrifty. Thrift and Homesteading go hand in hand really, especially when you are first starting out.

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After closing day, I will share what we were looking for in a homestead, roadblocks that needed investigating, and resources that are available to you as a Homestead hunter.

Do you have a house hunting story to share? Comment below.

If you like my posts so far, please do follow:

 

The Homestead Heart

“You have such an Old Soul.”

A phrase I have heard quite a few times from various people; teachers, elders, my peers. What does that even mean anyway?

I suppose when you sort of fit in -yet don’t – because you love people but not everything about people. When you are somewhat a loner but value some good visiting time with a select few people. When you love everything about the past yet you were never there in the flesh, only in spirit. When you are fascinated with history but not from the textbook viewpoint but from the raw living side of history whether that be your grandparents era or many generations before.

People say that reliving the past is a bad thing but how can getting back to our roots ever be bad when it brought us to where we are today. Modern life is just a scratch on the surface of what has made us who we are and frankly the modern world does not impress me as much as the trials and tribulations that our ancestors endured. Sure I appreciate some modern things; modern medicine to some degree is wonderful and in others is a dubious step forward, modern transport is convenient but to what cost,  modern agriculture provides and abundance of food and yet still so many are malnourished while being obese, and modern telecommunications brings us to blogs like this and near instant access to knowledge but can also open us to time wasting, danger, and fraud.

So what could be so bad in stepping back in time to appreciate the simpler things in life? Homesteading is one way to do just that and it creates a mindset of reverence and appreciation for what we have and what exactly it takes to get what we need or want. If you have an old soul you will be drawn to old time skills, tips, wisdom, and past times and I hope that you find that here as I share our family journey to homesteading.

Homesteading is in the heart and it can be found in the inner city or the wide open country. It can be found in the business woman in the city who bakes her bread from scratch or the stay-home dad who grows a garden. It doesn’t matter where you are, homesteading is in your heart and here we can explore various aspects and experiences that will hopefully appeal to your homestead heart and old soul.