When you think about the vegetables that were harvested for your lunch, you might consider how they got from the vine or bush or branch and on their way to your plate. Some farms are filled with massive grinding and churning and chomping machines that wind through the fields to cultivate and pick and sort. But on other farms there are human beings who are bending down to tend your vegetables, and John Silver, age 45, says the payoff is more than monetary.
“I worked on farms when I was a kid and I’m doing it now as a fill-in. I grew up in New Jersey, and I started farm work when I was going to college, as a part-time job, in the summertime. Right now I’m kind of between jobs, and I just wanted some time for a little physical workout. I’ve done an awful lot in senior housing, actually. Running assisted living sites, and doing things like that. I’ve had as many as 120 staff report to me. I built the first assisted living facility in the state of New Jersey, and the commissioner thought it was so good he gave me a pilot program award for it, about 10 years ago. I oversaw the construction, in that one I coordinated all the funding and financing.
“The farm where I work now is fabulous! It’s just a trip to walk down the rows where everything’s growing, to see it live. It’s so fresh ... its wonderful!
“Something like farm work, where you put work in to something, you immediately see results. You know, you clear the fields, you plant the rows, you harvest, there’s so many bushels you pick ... so it’s kind of like, direct work: direct results.
“And when you’re doing farm work, you’re doing something that’s going to be good for somebody. You know, food is a wonderful part of our lives, when it’s healthy and done right.
“We deliver to restaurants and diners, on our way in to the market. Why wouldn’t a diner want some delicious fresh arugula? I mean, geez, it makes their plates fantastic! I mean, you go out to a diner and they have this wonderful little bit of food, that they put a little sauce on top of, and you go, “Oh my God, this food is outrageous!”
“Also, it’s nice to be paid to work out! Instead of paying a gym to work out, you get paid to work out; it’s built-in for you! And there’s a lot of research out about living longer, living stronger, you know, and quality of life. And it’s certainly true!
“Sometimes I start as early as 6 AM, sometimes at 8:30. I take lunch at noon, when I take an hour off, and then I go till about 6 at night. Usually there are several of us working in the field, and depending on what the task is, sometimes we’re working together, sometimes we’re working apart.
“Leafy greens are all pretty much the same amount of work and same amount of cultivation, etc. Tomatoes are a little bit different, because you have to tie them up, because if they lay on the ground the vines will rot and the leaves’ll rot and the fruit’ll rot. Whereas the greens, like arugula, you don’t have to tie up, it just grows upwards. So each has their own nature, and, you know, the things that move them the best; whether its direct light or more soil or less water. You know each one’s got their own little thing, and you work with each one’s thing to bring out the beauty.
“You think about it ... farming is kinda like cooking a meal! You know, you start your fries at a certain time, because you’re planning on them being ready in time for when your your meat is cooked and your sandwich is made. You know, you’re coordinating all those things to bring them together at one particular moment. But when you’re cooking, you’ve got only three or four items you’re trying to bring together ... well, the produce farmer is doing that with a much larger variety and longer tasks: to put together the planting, the cultivating, the harvesting, the cleaning, the sorting, the boxing, the driving to market; all that stuff. They all have to be coordinated, to go out together
“But I don’t grow anything myself. It’s like any profession! What was the saying? ‘The cobblers children don’t have any shoes.’ Well, the farm worker doesn’t go home and farm! It’s like any profession, in that way.”