Food / Health / Misc / Thoughts

How to Survive Your First Season Working on an Organic Farm

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Photo Credit: Maddie via Red Wagon Organic Farm Blog

Working on an organic farm is a rewarding job. You might not make a lot of money, hell you might not make money at all, but a bad day on the farm is better than a good day in an office.

I worked on two organic farms, one in Texas (Urban Roots) and one in Colorado (Red Wagon Organic Farm). I cherish the times I spent on the farm. It’s back-breaking work (seriously), but it really teaches one to endure physical labor and enjoy the fruits of that labor. And, the mounds of organic produce I could take home was worth every second. I remember rough, long days, and I also remember beautiful days spent with great people.

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Harvesting arugula on a sunny day on the farm! Photo Credit: Maddi via Red Wagon Organic Farm Blog

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Me harvesting some organic arugula! Photo Credit: Mo via Red Wagon Organic Farm Blog

Working on an organic farm is hard work and the decision should not be taken lightly. Some people just want to live the lifestyle without actually considering that this job is manual labor. Here are just a few things to consider before you delve into the amazing and damn tough job of organic farming.

1. No Overtime Pay

Yep, I did not stutter. There is no overtime pay in the farming business. Only a select few states require farmers to pay their employees overtime, and still, some cases require more than 60 hours a week for overtime to kick in. If you are working as a volunteer or intern, then you might not be too hurt about this news because you aren’t getting paid anything at all. However, if you want to take farming as a job or career, this is something you should consider. Exposure in the media has brought to light how hard farmers truly do work. There is never a season where you won’t have a long day in the fields or wash house. Basically, working more than 40 hours a week is inevitable in the farming industry. Hopefully, overtime pay will become a thing one day for all hard-working farmers and farmhands.

2. Work Relies on the Weather

Farming relies heavily on the weather (unless you work primarily in a hoop or green house). But, more often than not, crops are exposed to the elements. If there is a drought or flood or late freeze or some other kind of natural disaster, the crops will be affected. Some seasons will be better than others because of this. I almost lost a farming job because of a drought.

3. Protect Yourself from the Weather

Since you are working outside, you will be exposed to the elements, especially the sun and rain (or even snow if you are working in a cold climate!). You must prepare accordingly. Sun burns happens on the weirdest places. Make sure to apply sunblock to your hands and your lower back – the places sometimes forgotten while applying sunblock. We used to call sun burn on the lower back a ‘farmer’s tramp stamp’ because this really only happens from bending and harvesting for extended periods of time!

4. Bad Weather Doesn’t Mean ‘No Work’ Day

Small organic farms make their money through CSA shares, restaurant orders, and farmer’s markets. Therefore, skipping a week of these money-making avenues could ruin the farm’s finances. Therefore if bad weather hits, don’t always expect your boss to halt all work. I remember harvesting turnips for hours in a Texas downpour and washing vegetables all day in the freezing cold right after our first fall snow in Colorado.

5. Expect Long Days and Early Mornings

The day before market will almost always be a long day. Don’t ask when work is done, just keep working! The more efficient you and your other farmhands work means that you all will get done sooner. However, always take breaks and snacks and enjoy your time together. During my full-time job as a farm shift leader, we would have ‘5 a.m. Fridays.’ We would start work promptly at 5 a.m. and work until everything was done. The longest day we had was 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. This truly teaches you discipline and appreciation for the small organic farm industry.

6. Learn to Cook, Pickle, and Jar

You will be exposed to so many new and exciting organic fruits and veggies FOR FREE! Take this opportunity to get all the free produce while you can. I learned how to bake delicious desserts with beets and zucchini. I learned how to pickle turnips, cucumbers, green beans, jalapenos and so much more. I also made so many jars of organic tomatoes for when winter hit!

7. Make Amazing Snacks and Lunches

Invest in a small cooler where you can store your food for the work day. Freeze a water bottle so that you can enjoy a cold beverage in the afternoon. I remember my first day on the farm. At lunch time, all the other workers had incredible lunches while I was stuck eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Utilize your new produce and boost your morale with some yummy lunches and snacks.

8. Take Care of Your Skin

The sun isn’t the only thing that can wreak havoc on your skin. Constant exposure to dirt can dry out your hands, causing them to crack and bleed. I highly recommend bringing along Farmer’s Hand Salve by Burt’s Bees. Apply it while working in soil or just use it at night when you get home from the farm.

9. Get a Good Harvest Knife

There is nothing more annoying than a dull harvest knife, am I right? Your run-of-the-mill steak knife will do the job. However, there are harvest knives on the market made for harvesting! I personally like knives shaped like this one, because it has three sharp sides that can be utilized for cutting.

10. Get a Cell Phone with a Tough Case

Nowadays, everyone has a cell phone. Cell phones were the main way to communicate on both the farms that I worked at. On the farm in Colorado, we had two locations and lots of acreage so our workers were very spread out. Cell phones were really a ‘must have.’ Since you will be on your phone during the work day, your phone will be exposed to water, mud, dirt, and grim. Therefore, invest in a tough case to protect your phone from farm elements.

11. Expect to Get Strong

My first day on my second farm job, I had to help move these huge empty coolers. Being a petite woman, I was skeptical if I could even reach the handles with my short arm span. I ended up able to move them, but I had huge doubts if I could actually lift them if they had produce in them! By the end of the farm season, I was so strong! I could carry multiple crates full of root vegetables. I could toss those huge coolers on the truck full of various veggies. It felt great to be a strong farmer.

12. Take Care of Your Body

Farming is a physical job. You will be moving, lifting, squatting, picking, washing, etc all day. After my full-time farm job, I was left with a hurt sciatica that I still suffer from sometimes. Therefore, make sure to stretch and do yoga on a regular basis (check out my article on some simple, slow yoga poses here!). Lift with your legs. Squat instead of bend. Be fully aware of your body. If you have pain, don’t continue work and alert your manager immediately.

13. Embrace the Suck

Last but not least, embrace the suck. Organic farm work is not always a breeze! Embrace the fact that the next two hours of your life will be consumed by weeding or that the only way for you to go home is to complete a harvest of an entire field of snap peas. Cherish this work and relish the fact that you are awesome enough to work on an organic farm!

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Me working at Red Wagon Organic Farm! Photo Credit: Maddie via Red Wagon Organic Farm Blog

Have your worked on an organic farm? Tell me your experience in the comments below!

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