Gay Farmers Exist, Possibly Grow Your Organic Local Tuscan Kale

To many people, the movement for organic, local, sustainably-raised food is unquestionably by and for liberal, middle-class Whole Foods customers and NPR enthusiasts — probably white, probably college educated, probably not particularly worried about the availability of food if they’re able to be so concerned about its quality. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that in order for organic, local foods to exist, there need to first be local organic farms, and for that we must first have farmers — a group that’s usually conceived of as being working class, undereducated (at least in academic pursuits), and politically and socially conservative (although farm subsidies necessarily set them a little apart from the “no government intervention” end of the spectrum). How does that disconnect in our framing of these two things happen? Organic farming is hard. It’s more expensive and takes a lot more effort than farming with pesticides. Given that we’re more conscious than we have been in generations of where our food comes from, we manage to be pretty unaware of who our food comes from. If you care that the carrots you’re buying are locally grown and biodynamic, you have at least one thing in common with the person who grew them, and you might have even more. For instance: maybe the farmer who grew them was queer.

 

VIA LAND-NEWS

Obviously queer people are, in reality, everywhere; even if they’re not out, they’re in blockbuster movies, government positions, teaching in schools, and bagging your groceries. But queers with traditionally working-class or blue-collar jobs are often invisible. In the same way that not everyone understands the intersection between generally-codified-as-liberal food politics and the livelihoods of the people who make our food, we may not be aware of the fact that identity politics are at play as well. Luckily, Grist has spotlighted a few examples of queer farmers and farms, and it’s an interesting meditation on the what occupying an unorthodox identity has to do with pursuing unorthodox ways of producing food.

Johanna Rosen and Jade Walker run Mill Creek Farm, which operates in West Philly and calls itself a “community-based, nonprofit, educational farm,” running youth programs and integrating the community while running three farm stands. She tells Grist that “I don’t make my work about me or being gay… But I feel like urban farmers are queering the food system. Just by bringing fresh food to this neighborhood we’re mixing it up.”  Others agree:

“A lot of people want to get back to the roots of growing and producing wholesome food and knowing where it comes from,” says Courtney Skeeba. She and her partner Denise Whitesides of Homestead Ranch in Lecompton, Kan., raise goats and produce products such as hand cream and soap with goat’s milk. She believes this active curiosity comes naturally to LGBT folks. “As a group of individuals, queer people have a tendency to be a bit more aware and active,” she says.

Others noted the fact that urban and/or sustainable farming was a kind of nonconformist statement, and that “there’s room for experimentation and for things to shift and change,” It’s indeed easy to see why a demographic that’s personally invested in social change, fixing broken systems and providing options and empowering choice in marginalized communities. Looked at that way, “queer urban sustainable farming” isn’t such a hard concept to wrap your head around. Mill Creek Farm even has its own beautifully shot and produced video spotlight:

West Philly Grown from Clay Hereth on Vimeo.

But looking at it this way, it seems like queer farmers are almost an outgrowth of the local and sustainable food movement; a product of the political moment. Without evoking Brokeback Mountain too blatantly, it seems important to mention that there’s always been queer representation in the farming community as in most traditionally working-class or even masculine/physically demanding lines of work, even if it hasn’t always been as easy to talk about or politicized as it is right now. For instance, Frank Baylis, who’s been raising cattle with his partner for the past 22 years.

“So I walk into the local feed store, and all the usual guys are hanging out by the pot-bellied stove, but there’s a new guy there. I say a few words as I’m getting my stuff, and then walk out. Forgetting something, I come back in and overhear the new guy ask, ‘He queer?’ One of the other guys says, ‘Yeah, but we like that queer.'” That was 30 years ago. Baylis realized it could have been different. “I’ve been very lucky,” he adds. “I’m good at what I do and the locals don’t really care if I’m gay.”

Baylis is also opposed to the “commercial, mass-produced” system of factory farming, but he doesn’t seem to have entered the industry because he was impassioned about food politics. That’s not to slight Rosen, Walker or any of the other queer farmers quoted, but to draw attention to the fact that queer people have always been here, anyplace that “here” is. We’re police officers, construction workers, park rangers, factory employees, postal workers — we’re everywhere, not just at farmer’s markets and local craft shops that sell tote bags with embroidered swallows on them. It’s great that there’s growing recognition of the fact that queer goals and values align and intersect with other movements’s values and goals, and that there are things they can lend to and learn from each other. But it’s maybe more important to recognize that our goals and values have always informed social and economic change, even as broad as the growth of the farming industry in the US, because queer people have always been a part of it. Being out as a local sustainable farmer does ‘queer the food system,’ but we should never forget that we’ve always been there, making the world more like one that we want to live in just by being in it.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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16 Comments

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    We’re out in fields all over the world wwoofing too, (haven’t heard of wwoofing? No, it’s not dogging for beginners, or a train station in rural England – although I heard both possible definitions suggested by my boss when I left my job in London in July, put my stuff in storage and told them I was off wwoofing for the summer. Google it if you’ve not come across it, it’s genius).

    I’ve stayed on hippy communes in Finland, communities in old gothic buildings, Eco-houses, yurts, even an off-grid pomegranate farm in South Turkey, and although everything varies enormously between hosts and wwoofers, and sometimes you end up chatting about life the universe and sexuality around bonfires until 2am, whilst other times you decide to stick to discussions on humane cabbage-white-caterpillar-invasion-prevention-procedures and get all geeky about pruning, I’ve never felt more myself, free and liberated as when I’m out with the land and the day and the seasons. Plus plenty of candle/torch/bonfire-lit time in the evenings
    for writing poetry/blogs/phds/business plans. Heaven.

    Plus we’re in good company, just think of queer gardener/writer Vita Sackville-West and her garden (watch Portrait of a Marriage …wow), and those Land Girls can’t all have been waiting for pilots to come and rescue them.

    To the land!

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      I went wwoofing in Washington state in August. And although my experience on the farms i went to was not all positive, I definitely am invested in continuing to be a part of organic farming.
      And it seems that a good number of the people who wwoof, at least in the US, are women, which would probably lead to a decent number also being queer. (this was my experience in americorps. lots of women, a healthy queer presence)

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    We are lesbian fish farmers (insert tasteless joke here) in the middle of rural sw Wisconsin. We are active in the farm to table movement. Most customers don’t care if we are straight or queer–they seek us for our product (rainbow trout) and that they can meet the farmer and know that we care about what we provide. How can it get any better? :)

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    Catherine Friend (http://www.catherinefriend.com/) is a queer farmer in Minnesota who has written quite a few books on farming and sustainable agriculture. Also, my mom knows her through her knitting group! If you’re in Minnesota and interested in well-raised meat, look into buying from her. You can support humane and ecological farming and the gays at the same time!

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    Yay farmers! I interned on a farm and met these coolio guys who were touring SW WI because their gonna start a non profit farm feeder program that teaches people to farm and then gets them onto their own land to do it, and they happen also to be gay.
    People can be so awesome.

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    i mostly agree with this post, farming/gardening fuck yeah, and wwoofing oh yeah- such a great way to learn travel work meet people, wonderful people, but yes its not all sunshine it is a good way to see how hard/endless the life of a farmer is …but i do not believe that the organic food movement is exclusive to priviledged white folks. or at least we can agree that it shouldnt be. it is an alternative to the industrial agriculture system that our society and food culture is immersed in, but its a timeless concept. farmers are just trying to do right by their families and what are you gonna do when you cant even compete with govt subsidizes? my great grandmother fed her 13 children (in shifts) from the garden she tended on their property, that was their food security. (thats also a nod to you vermonters) community gardens are not new. what im really trying to say is that in order for healthful non-GMO food to be more available to all people we’ve got to support that effort. i started a community gardening project in our town with my buddies where we give most of our produce to the food banks, the rest to volunteers who help us grow, and sell a small portion to restaurants to generate some money to feed back into the project and sneak good food onto customers plates. we also started a school garden at the local school and are working with teachers & administrators to incorporate more gardening/food education/environmental curricula into all grade levels. to foster an understanding of these issues and opportunities from a young age. but its hard because of legal issues, health code issues. we’ve got to change the system to make the food/philosophy more available to everyone not just people who have the time to get into it because of a privileged position that offers that time in the first place. we’ve all got pride and no one wants the charity but i just want to share. we need community, we need trust in each other, that there is good and it doesnt have to be selfless, we can just really really like helping each other. the whole “i am the 1% standing with the 99%” you all have been posting. the richer can use their dollars to support the proliferance of organic food, to lower prices, and share, and it can get better. anyways, the recent history of detroit offers a sad and hopeful example of where the organic movement = food security when the system fails.
    as for the gaymo’s, there are a lot out there wwoofing for sure! and the urban ag scene is crawlin with ‘em. this is where homo bandana style finds its farming functionality ha.
    im sorry if i sound idealistic and ignorant, instead i am trying to be hopeful in a big game. we’ve got to be the change and whatever youre up against you gotta feed your motivation.

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