Social Justice in Farming

Jena Brooker, student
Sunday, May 4, 2014

     There was a guy on the side of the road holding a sign saying, "Farm Tours" painted along with an arrow and a strawberry. Intern Tom said, "That looks a little like Bear." (Bear was the guy who was giving us a tour.) So, we kept driving. And then realized ten minutes later, that was in fact the strawberry farm we were touring! So we turned around.

      Bear was very gracious about our tardiness. He welcomed us with three gallons of strawberry lemonade, which was much appreciated on the 82 degree day. We gathered around his pickup truck as he explained the basics of Swanton Berry Farm. 

     Swanton Berry Farm is the first organic strawberry farm. Swanton was also one of the first farms to change worker conditions in a positive way. A lot of farms pay for quantity; you get payed by the box. However, Swanton decided to try out paying by the hour and it greatly benefited them. In addition to paying by the hour, the pay is a livable wage. They are able to succeed because their berries are picked at a better quality, due to their workers not rushing. Another really cool thing about Swanton is their approach in the worker's ownshership of the farm. I didn't quite understand it all, but it's kind of like a co-op. It gives their workers security, completely opposite to the likelihood of being fired on the spot for whatever reason. The strawberry beds are also raised 36 inches off the ground. This minimizes the harm done to a worker's back, due to having to stoop over so low. 

     They also grow: blackberries, kiwis, artichokes, rhubarb, broccoli, and other berries. To help the abundant plant life on the farm, they have nine bee boxes. We got to check out the bees and I learned that there were different colored shapes on each box to guide the bees back to their home. Bees are incredibly smart. 

     When you grow a lot of one thing in the same area, your crops become much more prone to disease. Strawberries especially require a lot of chemical upkeep to maintain their potential. Swanton struggled with losing their strawberries to Verticillium. However, one year they found that planting strawberries in a field recently planted with broccoli got rid of the disease! So, Swanton is able to provide us with delicious berries without using non-organic harmful sprays to keep their crop alive. 

     After touring most of the farm, we got to the strawberries! We were given free range to pick as many as we wanted. When looking for the right strawberry you want to flip the strawberry over and pick the ones that are the most red, all around. Warm from the sun the strawberries were incredible. It also felt good that these berries were the product of social justice. 

      TIP: U-PICK strawberry fields are really gross, kind of like a McDonalds play place. 

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