I was selling produce and herbs at our South Bronx farmers’ market last week, when a woman visiting this country and curious about sustainability projects came up and started asking me about what we do. As I explained the weekly schedule that most of us in this Wassaic farming collective have: farm, work at our paying jobs, harvest for market, farm, drive to and sell at market, farm, organize for food justice projects, and work at our paying jobs – all she asked me was, ‘what are the paying jobs?’.
When I told her that two of us work for a landscaper, i.e. we get paid to plant flowers in the yards of estates that are empty 300 days out of the year, and that I also work catering events sporadically, i.e. I get paid to serve too much food to people with too much money, she just looked at me and said, “So you get paid good money to do meaningless work while the meaningful work goes ignored?”
I didn’t blink. “Yes,” I said, ” when you put it that way, that’s exactly f*cking right.”
I thought about this for a minute, and how right she was in summing up not only how farmers or food justice activists are valued, but how our society values work in general.
Want to teach our future generation? Here’s a few bucks, good luck surviving. Want to feed your community? I don’t think so, I think I’ll take your land instead, good luck surviving. Want to make this $2.5 million mansion look pretty 365 days out of the year? OK here’s a ridiculous amount of money, keep up the good work. Want to entertain people with your athleticism? Here’s a contract, I’ll pay you millions of dollars for as long as your body holds out.
The most meaningless contributions to society are valued at extremely high levels while the potential for this generation to survive in doing meaningful work continues to be depleted.
This shit is backwards.
I recently sat on a panel in D.C. with a few young folks and talked about the importance of Working for Social Change, no matter how much of a struggle it might be, especially in this recession. (I usually hate plugging these things, but feel free to check it out, panel starts at minute 18ish). But what I really wanted to highlight when talking about finding economic stability in meaningful work and/or farming, is that we have to begin repainting the picture of what we – the people doing the work- hold valuable, and what economic stability means for us.
A picture of my bank account, even with my overpaid meaningless side jobs, would not show up next to the definition of economic stability in Webster’s Dictionary. Not even close. But I have a roof over my head -it’s called a work exchange for room and board. I have food on my plate -it’s called growing my own and bartering with other farmers. It’s about thinking alternatively on how to live and survive. How to gain stability outside of the framework that society’s leaders have built representing their view of what economic stability is, what holds value.
Because why would we strive to reach goals that are set by the same people who think a black man that can hit a little white ball into a hole 18 consecutive times deserves millions of dollars, while the black man that is trying to grow healthy food for his community and family deserves nothing?
We have to create a new, self-sustaining stability for ourselves; new values and goals that are rooted in a world of meaningful contributions to our communities and our land.
Even if it means that until we get there, we have to do what we gotta do to survive, and not be ashamed to do so! Pulling weeds out of cracks in the terrace of a Rockefeller estate for $20/hr included. 😉