The Promise Of Worker-Run Farming


Published:

© Wellington Jr Teixeira, Flickr CC

Many Americans are turning to sustainable farming operations to enrich their communities and personal lives. While these enterprises can be economically precarious, small-scale food production helps foster many cooperative and sustainability-oriented values.

Having committed to such sustainable practices, some would see worker cooperatives as a natural next step for small farm operations. But beginning farmers largely choose traditional business models such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs. Rachel Armstrong, founder and executive director of Farm Commons (where I used to work) says this is because “beginning farmers get advice from people they trust, and those people did it the traditional way. They say ‘I did it this way, and it worked.’” They might even see worker cooperatives as “a solution in search of a problem,” Armstrong says, although Farm Commons is one of a few organizations seeking cooperative solutions to the challenges small farms face finding adequate seasonal labor.

Perhaps an even deeper barrier, Armstrong says, is the cultural ideal of the American farmer emphasizing individuality and singular leadership, a sense that “I am doing this myself.” Even young, sustainability-oriented farmers may feel drawn toward traditional ownership models.

Cracks are emerging in that orientation. Luis Sierra, assistant director of the California Center for Cooperative Development (CCCD), says that requests from farmers to help form worker cooperatives are slowly increasing — emerging organically from communities rather than from the evangelism of the cooperative and new economy movement. “People have brought these ideas to us rather than us going out and looking to promote farms as worker co-ops,” he says. “Young farmers who have finished their internships have started to look at farms as possible co-op ventures.” Recently, leading cooperative advocates Democracy at Work and the National Young Farmers Coalition co-created “An Introduction to Worker Cooperatives for Farmers and Start Ups.”

Success stories can help, like the worker-owned CSA whose subscriber base went from 20 to 80 members ($3,000 to $12,000 per month) in just one year. Urban farm operations may be natural places for worker ownership to crop up, and the cities needn’t be huge: Wellspring Harvest, a worker-owned hydroponic greenhouse, serves Springfield, Massachusetts, with a population of just over 150,000.

Beyond their viability as business models, worker-and-farmer-owned cooperatives also give sustainable farmers more room to live and farm their values. Solidarity Farms in Pauma Valley, California, describes itself as “a worker-owned family farm with spunk,” and seeks to address immigrant farmworker exploitation by co-creating “a more equitable model where we share equally in the rewards and struggles of the business.” Perhaps the most striking impact worker-owned and managed farms can have on communities is found in Eugene, Oregon, where Huerto de la Familia (“The Family Garden”) has grown from a six-member women’s community garden project to a nonprofit umbrella for small farm and food businesses throughout the city. They offer business classes and family food sustainability to the economically marginalized.

Worker democracy is also compatible with the reciprocity and balance of ecosystems and community food systems. “The farms we’ve been working with have been very small in scale,” Sierra says, adding that each member-owner is in charge of a venture like greenhouse manager or orchard manager, and all are available to help as needed.

Sierra and Armstrong both say a lot of work still needs to be done developing viable practices for worker-owned farms. The biggest challenge is the long-term economic security of workers. In traditional family farms,security “comes from real estate, the sale of land,” Sierra says. Generating consistent profits is necessary for any business to maintain decent retirement programs, but many farms aren’t profitable year in and year out.

This may be an unavoidable contradiction between cooperation and sustainability on one side and doing business in a capitalist economy on the other, but organizations like CCCD, Farm Commons, and others are working on finding new solutions on issues like retirement security, compensation for equipment, and other investments.

The success of any worker-run farms will spread because it’s easier to be a cooperative entity in places where there are a lot of other cooperative entities, Armstrong points out. As interest grows in both sustainable farming and worker democracy, there is hope for increased synergy between the two movements.

Matt Stannard has a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law and is a researcher, writer, teacher and content producer on cooperative farming, economics, and law. He was policy director for Commonomics USA, outreach coordinator for Farm Commons, and a board member of the Public Banking Institute, and is now operations director of Solidarity House, a policy research and media cooperative. He lives on a commune with his family in Laramie.

This article was republished from Shareable.

See also:
Transforming Food And Health In Native Communities Through Vertical Farming
15 Organizations Creating Edible Landscapes

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

March 19, 2019

This final day of the astrological year features no exact planetary aspects. The Sun is at the last degree of Pisces, the Sign of the Two Fishes. One looks to the past while the other contemplates the future. It’s a good time to pause and consider your…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

March 2019

Sunday afternoon: 3–4:30pm at Hillside Herbals Spring Tonics II: the spring tonic herbs—it's about circulation, assimilation and elimination—tincturing. Rachel has...

Cost: Drop in Fee $10 includes all materials and handouts.

Where:
Hillside Herbals
Jefferson, MA


Sponsor: Hillside Herbals
Telephone: 508-847-8615
Contact Name: Rachel Ross
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Show More...
Show Less...

March 20–23 9am-3pm each day Experience transformation guided by Mother Mary. Through Divine vibration, you will be aligned for quicker healing and evolving with mind body spirit and...

Cost: $500

Where:
, MA


Sponsor: The LoveLight Center
Telephone: (207) 216-9584
Contact Name: Cheryl Banfield

More information

The American Center for Bioregulatory Medicine and Dentistry (The BioMed Center) is the most comprehensive center in North America for bioregulatory medicine and dentistry. Come see what...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
111 Chestnut Street
Providence, RI
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover how you can release tight muscles and improve range of motion in locked joints in a weekly ESSENTRICS stretch classes led by Raindrop Fisher, certified Essentrics instructor. Raindrop is a...

Cost: $10 drop-in / $100 for 12 classes

Where:
Village at Waterman Lake
Function Room - Chalet Bldg
715 Putnam Pike
Greenville, RI  02828
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This 8 week series in Tai Chi will provide you with everything you need to get started in a personal Tai Chi practice. Just for Beginners—there is no expectation, and no pressure in...

Cost: $137 for 8 weeks

Where:
Spiral Path Connections
218 Boston Street
Unit 104
Topsfield, MA  01983
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiral Path
Telephone: 978-314-4264
Contact Name: Johanna Hattendorf
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“All we need is love” the Beatles claimed in 1960’s. In fact, we have been looking for love from the beginning of time. We are conditioned that it is love which brings us...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the...

Cost: $30 (some hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen Howell, M.Ed.LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Only $225 if you register for both days! Save $25! Please click here to register for both workshops. This is a 2 day course being held Saturday and Sunday, March 23...

Cost: $125

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, Suite 1-A
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Former Buddhist monk and world renowned healer, Seth Monk, will be giving a Siddha Healing to our community. Seth will be accompanied by Shannon Fitzgerald, an AromaReiki Master for a beautiful...

Cost: $35

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

In her art and spirit workshops, Melissa combines her gift as an intuitive with her extensive background in painting to help you to work through creative blocks and learn or refine technique. Come...

Cost: $150

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Journey back into the experience of peace, harmony and inner power through this unique meditation practice. Explore the power of your thoughts and how they can bring you inner harmony and help you...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachussetts Ave
Cambridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Psychics, mediums, angel readers, spirit art. Reiki, chair massage, IET, Gaiadon Heart, crystal healings, etc. Sign yourself up for a few appointments and bring your friends! Appointments...

Where:
Women Of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Telephone: (508) 230-3680
Website »

More information

6 Saturdays 10am–11:30am February 23–March 30, 2019 Taijiquan (Tai Chi ) is a healing martial art, using breath and movement together to strengthen the body and quiet...

Cost: $120

Where:
Metta Wellness
679 Pleasant Street
Paxton, MA  01612
View map »


Sponsor: Metta Wellness
Telephone: 774-245-5487
Contact Name: Rick Rocha
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags