from Full Belly Farm, courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop
We use our hands a lot in our work at the farm. Pulling small weeds, cleaning garlic, picking flowers, finding cherry tomatoes hidden in between the vines. Our fingernails aren’t polished, our fingers aren’t dainty. With work, hands flatten out and get bigger and stronger. Farm hands are stained with years of grit.
Just because they’re used to work, doesn’t mean our hands aren’t still tender. Attaching a mower to a tractor, Fernando sliced open his thumb the other day, all the way through to the thumbnail. Now he is trying to work with a big bandage around his thumb.
At meetings where experts were discussing the future of food and farming, someone said recently, with authoritative finality, that the hoe and the hand tool, wielded by the unfortunate farm worker, were outmoded and could never feed communities in the future. Mechanization, mono-cropping and advanced technologies – those narrow-minded efficiencies that reduce the options and try to guarantee the outcomes – we were advised that only these would feed future populations and free the farm workers from their toil.
But with so many critical resources in decline, with so many converging challenges to food production, the one thing that remains constant, the one thing that many of us can rely on, is our hands, our own manual labor. Where will the workers go when their hands are no longer needed, when no hands touch the land?
Sometimes manual labor is considered unskilled. You hear the words together: unskilled manual labor. But all the work at the farm must have skill and intelligence applied to it. Manual labor can be meditative, it can help to overcome preconceptions about physical limits. Maybe it can even help you sleep better! At the farm we are physically and mentally connected to what we do and at the end of the day we know what we’ve accomplished. In this work, a skillful, evolved brain develops along with the hand work. It’s a matter of pride to be a producer.