It’s Labor Day in the Capital Region, and people everywhere are enjoying their day off and breathing in the last days of summer– cruising Lake George, camping in the Adirondacks, eating lunch on the street in Saratoga, and enjoying BBQ’ed goodies on the back patios of every neighborhood. But, there is one group of people out there that do not have the day off- our farmers.
Growing up on the farm, I realized at a young age that farmers rarely get a day off. On Thanksgiving, my dad and I would head out to the barn to do the chores. We would heave hay out of the stacks to feed the cows, defrost the water hose and top off all the tanks, and do a head count to make sure all our livestock were accounted for. On top of the daily feeding, there are always a handful of tasks that need to be done on the farm- touching up fencing, clearing out muck, shoveling snow, repairing feeders, and so much more. The same would go for Christmas day, New Years, President’s Day, Veterans Day, my birthday, his birthday… every day. While we may have had an abbreviated day’s labor, there was NEVER a day OFF.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining. Farming is a labor of love, and farmers do it because they love it. It takes a very special kind of person to devote themselves to a profession like farming. But, raising good food for the rest of us to eat is a full-time job- not 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year, but really FULL time.
Today, no less, farmers in our area are really scrambling. Last weekend, Hurricane Irene tore through the Capital Region, washing out roads and power lines. In farm country, a lot more was lost. Reports from farmers include fields of crops washed out into rivers and streams, drowned livestock, broken fencing and infrastructure, smashed equipment and leaking barns. With the end harvest season so near, many farmers had invested a whole year’s worth of labor into raising their annual crop, only to have it wash away– an entire year’s income gone.
Many farmers in the hardest hit areas have no hope of recovering this income from flood insurance- the insurance is so expensive (I’ve heard quotes upwards of $10,000 per year) that they couldn’t afford to insure it in the first place. As a member of a farm family who has experienced the ebb and flow of farm income first hand (although never to this extreme), this breaks my heart. Farmers work harder than anyone I know, and so rarely make profit that represents the tremendous amount of work that goes into growing good food. It is unbelievable to think that all the time and money that has been invested into this year’s crop could be completely lost.
This Monday, Labor Day, farmers are quantifying the wreckage and mending what they can. Other farmers, whose land still lays underwater, are laboring mentally at the question of whether or not it is even worth it to try to rebuild their business. Whatever they are doing, it’s far from a day off.
So, as you enjoy your burgers and BBQ chicken today, think of the farmer who raised your food and who is out there working today (if they are lucky). Honor our farmers and their hard work by buying local food- it does so much for our community, including contributing to the reconstruction of the farm community after the devastating losses suffered in Hurricane Irene. Every dollar you spend with a local farmer multiplies 3-4 times in the rural economy. Support our farmers this labor day, and they’ll support us for the rest of the year!