On the upcoming Labor Day, please keep in mind all the work being done to provide fresh, nutritious local food in our community. This is a time to appreciate how hard the farmers and farmworkers toil in the soil, the sun and the rain in order to feed our families. The work is physically demanding and never really ends. A farmer is in the fields during the nicest day and the worst weather, as well. Seasons come and go, but the work is always steady. At the beginning of each season there is soil preparation and seed sowing and transplanting, and then there are the weeds and pests to manage. At peak of season you will find your favorite farmers harvesting the abundance from their fields to bring to the market. At the season’s end they are again preparing the soil to start the next seasonal cycle. And, because we live in Central Texas, the growing season is much longer here than it is in northern climates where winter forces farmers indoors.
We regularly see the farmers at market and get to know them personally, but we do not always see the team that pulls in the harvest, helps to lay the irrigation line, weeds the fields, and generally keeps the farm running. You may be thinking: “How do they keep up with the work?” Marysol Valle of Fat Frog Farm started out with a local farm in East Austin called Hands of the Earth. She regularly had two farm hands and a group of happy volunteers with varying experience working alongside her, especially on Fridays to harvest for Saturday market. Lorig Hawkins of Farmshare Austin knows both sides of farm labor – she has worked on farm crews and managed crews in the fields. As Farmshare Austin’s Farm Manager, she has the pleasure of not only cultivating crops, but growing new farmers as well. “As we grow food and teach the next generation of farmers, I think it’s important to recognize the hard work that goes into farming, whether it’s growing vegetables, raising cattle, or managing orchards. It’s all hard work, but ultimately rewarding.”
So if you are looking for a way to pay back, reward or help out a farmer, think about volunteering. You will find there are only a few farmers who will turn down free labor. It is equally rewarding for you as well. You are outdoors enjoying the harvest, learning techniques you can use in your back yard garden, and getting some great exercise. Farming is like doing a low impact aerobic exercise for hours. And, remember that we all have our strengths and areas of expertise that can be useful on farms and ranches: Landscaping experience, mechanical deftness, grant writing, and web design skills can all be useful in the fields or in the farm office.
Not sure where to begin? Try reaching out to any of these Austin area farms: Farm Share Austin, Urban Roots, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and Green Gate Farms. They all have volunteer programs in place, but you can also just ask your favorite farmer how you can help.