Cultivating Justice: Episode 4

Cultivating Justice: Episode 4 150 150 Farmerama Radio


Welcome to Cultivating Justice! Our 6-part series in collaboration with Land In Our Names (LION) and Out on the Land (OOTL, part of The Landworker’s Alliance) which weaves together interviews, conversations, music and reflections from Black people, people of colour, trans people, queer people and women, on their relationships with land, growing, and identity.

Episode 4 is hosted by Hester Russell and Zoe Miles, who are both from Out on the Land (OOTL), and also involved in an emerging grower’s union. In this episode, we hear more of Jas Butt and Hari Byles’s music made from recordings inside a wormery and a compost heap in East London. We also hear another clip from a a performance by artist Sin Wai Kin, commissioned by the Queer Ecologies collective. Our chorus of voices returns, reflecting on the relationships and congruences between plants and queerness. 

We also hear from Natalie Tamburrini, who talks about her experience of working on a farm as an autistic person as part of a project called Eco Talent, and shares her ideas on how to make farms – and workplaces in general – more just, accessible and inclusive. She shares part of an open letter she has written to neurotypical society

Then, we chat with Maggie Cheney of Rock Steady Farm in upstate New York. They discuss how they are centering care in their work on the farm, and consider how this could be a way of queering our approach to landwork.

The Cultivating Justice podcast series is made by Sam Siva, Katie Revell, Hester Russell, Dora Taylor, Abby Rose and Nadia Mehdi. This episode featured conversations with Natalie Tamburini and Maggie Cheney; reflections from our chorus of voices – Tinisha Williams @island._t, Sasha @mindyourownplants, Dani Foster, Dav Singh @gardendaywithdav, Anna Barrett @theannaseed, and Nancy Winfield; clips from a performance by Sin Wai Ki mixed for the Microbe Disco and a piece from Jas Butt and Hari Byles. 

You can read Natalie’s full letter here

Hester and Zoe referenced an emerging growers’ union they are involved. Here Hester has shared a bit more information about it and links to get in touch if you are interested:

“A union of landbased employees has been forming since the start of 2022. New name tbc! Together we aim to provide support for grievances, counter isolation, increase the accountability of employers, fight for better standards and to build power and solidarity across the landworking and other union movements. See our full aims hereThis union is still very young and welcomes any landbased worker who is not an employer or a manager to join our conversations. At the moment we are conducting a workers enquiry as well as forming and strengthening our group processes. Join us on discord to say hi and find out more

Our series music is by Taha Hassan. Our artwork is by @Blkmoodyboi.

Thank you to our funders, Farming the Future and the Roddick Foundation. And a big thank you to everyone who’s contributed in any way!

Visit to find out more.

Full episode transcript:

Natalie: To neurotypical society. It is important to me that my voice be one of importance – a voice that is not only heard, but one that is able to create change. It is important to me because I speak not just for myself, but for a whole community who are having to fight to be listened to: the autism community.
Cultivating Justice: episode 4
Natalie: We are not the burden that society has labeled us… We are held back by society because you think differently to us and that scares you… I am here to tell you that it is okay to be afraid, but it is not okay to turn that fear into hate, anger or prejudice. Take your fear, embrace it, and understand it. Overcome it, and use it to learn, to educate yourself.
It’s not about what we are lacking. It’s about the tools that society is lacking to accommodate our neurodivergent minds…
We are not the first minority community to have to fight for our rights, and we won’t be the last. These battles are ongoing and seem to be indefinite, but the world should not be this way. No one should have to fight to be treated fairly. Stand up for autistic rights.
Welcome to Cultivating Justice!
Hester: Before we start this episode, a heads-up that it includes references to anxiety, depression, grief and experiences of ableism, as well as descriptions of self-harm and autism meltdown.  Please take care as you listen.
Zoe: Just to let you know, there are also a few swear words in this one! 
Hester: I’m Hester Russell, and I’m a grower and organiser for Out on the Land or OOTL. I’m also involved in a new and emergent union of landbased employees.
Zoe: And I’m Zoe Miles, I use they/them. I’m a grower too, part of OOTL, and the same emerging union.
Hester: The music you’re hearing right now is a track called “Beautiful Gizzard”, by Jas Butt – a.k.a. Guest – and Hari Byles. It’s made from recordings of a wormery and a compost heap in East London.
Zoe: And the clips we heard at the start of this episode are taken from an “open letter to neurotypical society”, written by Natalie Tamburrini. You can find the full letter in the shownotes for this episode, and we’d really encourage you to read it.
Hester: We’re gonna hear more from Natalie in a moment. She’ll be talking about an experience she had when she was working on a farm, and she’ll also be sharing some of her ideas to make farms – and workplaces in general – more just, accessible and inclusive.
Zoe: We’ll also be hearing from Maggie Cheney of Rock Steady Farm in upstate New York. Maggie will be talking about how they put care at the centre of their work, and how doing that can be one way of queering our approach to landwork.
Hester: Feedback is a campaign group that’s working to regenerate nature by transforming our food system. One of their projects is something called “EcoTalent”.
Zoe: It’s an internship scheme for young people who are passionate about the environment, but feel that their background, or their life experience, is stopping them from getting jobs in the environmental or food sectors.
Hester: Katie from Farmerama first came across the EcoTalent scheme at a COP 26 fringe event. At this event, EcoTalent interns were sharing the experiences they’d had on the scheme, and the ideas they’d come up with to improve the food system.
Zoe: One of the presentations was a video testimony from Natalie, who we heard at the start of this episode. It left a real impression on Katie, so we asked Natalie to share her story with us as part of Cultivating Justice…
Natalie: I’m 26 years old. I am autistic and I’m also nonbinary. So I’m part of the LGBTQ plus community, as well as the neurodivergent community. I am an advocate for the rights and needs being met for autistic people.
Katie: How did you get involved with Feedback and specifically with the EcoTalent project?
Natalie: So I wasn’t in work. I could not find work that was, like, autism-friendly or able to meet my needs specifically, but also I didn’t really know much about my needs either. So it was like, they need me to help them, but I couldn’t. So I wasn’t actively looking for work or anything – I thought I’m just not supposed to be in the world of work, and I had come to terms with that. But I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw an advert for an internship for young adults in my age group who didn’t need any prior experience, didn’t need a CV, and specifically was aimed towards young people who had barriers that were like stopping them from entering the world of work.
I was like, I’ve never heard of any internship or any job that describes me so well. So that’s what really drew me in. I was like, I have to go for this. I don’t care what the job is. I’m going to go for this because they could really open some doors for me. Just help me out, you know, getting into some mainstream work or something. So I was just like, let’s do it. And then, yeah, I got an email back saying that they wanted to interview me and it was for a job on a farm. Now, I’ve never really had any interest in like… well, not really interest, like I’ve never really thought about it – where my food is produced or farming or anything like that.
I live in London. It didn’t even occur to me that there were farms in London. So I was just like, okay, this is interesting. I like animals. So can’t be too hard, right? And then I got the job.
Katie: How did you feel when you found out that you’d got that job? Can you just tell us a bit about that moment?
Natalie: I was ecstatic. I have never been prouder of myself in my whole entire life, because I’d just come to the conclusion that I’ll never be able to enter the world of work and I’ll just have to be on benefits for the rest of my life. And it seemed like a quite bleak and quite sort of down and out future. Like, you know, there is nothing to strive for. There is nothing to work towards because no one wants to employ me. And then Feedback just came along and was like, you got the job. I was like, I cannot believe it. Cannot believe.
Katie: Tell us what actually happened then when you, when you started the job.
Natalie: So the first day was a bit of a shit show. I should have gone to the farm before my first day. I should have been introduced to the staff and told exactly what my timetable was going to be, what time I was going to eat lunch, what time I had to arrive and what the process is, you know: once you get through the gates in the morning, this is where you have to report to, and this is what you’re gonna be expected to do. You know what I mean? Like some sort of introduction to the job. I didn’t know I needed that at the time, so I didn’t ask for it. So when I first showed up, my anxiety disorder kicked in because my autism was screaming at me. You know, there is no structure. You don’t know who you’re meant to be working with.
You don’t know what’s expected of you. And I had a panic attack, so I ran back to my car and I drove home… and cried. In my head, I was like, oh, I knew this was going to happen. I knew I was going to fuck it up. So I felt really crap about myself, you know? And then I spoke to James and he was like, it was set up bad.
Hester: Just a note that “James” is James Turner, Feedback’s Project Manager.
Natalie: He was sorry, like, we was, we was all sorry for each other and he was like, but I really want this to work. And I was like, yeah, I didn’t want to give up, I really wanted this to work. So me, James really worked together to work out a plan. The plan that me and James came up with was communicated to the manager of the farm and the manager of the farm agreed.
But when I went on my new start date, she hadn’t actually put anything in place for me, what we agreed on. There was no consideration at all in terms of my needs. And it was just as hard as the first day that I had a panic attack. There was no structure, you know, I remember on the first day it was home time, but I didn’t know it was home time. No one had told me, “Natalie, this is the time you’re finishing”. And then the manager came up to me and she was like, “What are you still doing here?” And I was like, “You told me to clean out the chickens, I’m doing what you instructed me to do”. “Well, it’s time for you to go home. So go on”. And it was like, so like abrupt, there’s no transition.
I need transition time. And that was every day. Most of what I go through is I would say quite commonplace. Like I know every autistic person is different, but we do share some traits. And I think mine was quite well known traits as autism can go. I was actually unwell while I was working at the farm for about three weeks.
I’d been going to the hospital and having biopsies and stuff. I was not eating properly or drinking properly. I’d just gone through a grievance, my cousin unfortunately passed away. So all of that plus working, you know, eight o’clock till whatever it was, I can’t even remember now, doing like manual labor on the farm.
And I was just mentally and physically exhausted. I was pushing myself and pushing myself. And this one day I was tired, I’d had enough with the manager, like really had enough. I had been given a project to do that was about four days long. I had to clear out this barn, paint the walls, jet wash the floor, and repaint the floor.
It was my job. And I was so proud of it. It was mainly me on my own sorting out this barn. And it looked amazing when I was almost done. And so four days on the trot, I was doing that job. It was very clear to me what needed to be done. I loved it. It really, yeah, itched the right spots in my autism. It was everything I needed.
And then on the last day I was so almost done. Like I had maybe an eighth left to do, and I’d been working on this floor for about three days straight.
And then the manager came in and she was like, “Oh, you’re doing amazing”. I was like, “Thank you”. She was like, “But you don’t need to do this last bit”. I said, “Sorry?”. She was like, “You’ve been working too long on this project. I want you to leave it now”. Just like that. So abrupt, you know, “You’re leaving the barn. You’re not to finish the job” and I just, I shut down.
She left and I just stood there. Couldn’t move. I was stuck in transition mode. Like “I have to finish, I have to finish. I have to finish!”. But then my autism’s like, “You have to listen to the authority”. So it’s like, I just was frozen. I was frozen for about 25 minutes, stuck in the same spot, like a solid block of ice and just crying to myself.
I was like, do you know what, you do not care about me. And you’ve made that very clear. You don’t care what my autism means for me, you don’t want to put the time in to learn about what my autism means for me. And you’ve made that perfectly clear. I now have no respect for you. I was done at that point with her, but I still worked on the farm, right? So, a few days down the line, I was working with my colleague and he was great. I mean, we really got along. He had a really bad day. I, I still don’t know what it was about, but he had such a short fuse. We was in a muddy field and the job was to clear out this shed. But I was physically done. I couldn’t even lift the wheelbarrow out of the mud. So I didn’t really tell anyone that I was ill. So that’s my bad. And I didn’t tell him that I was grieving as well.
Maybe I should have in hindsight, but anyway, so yeah, I just didn’t have the strength to carry this wheelbarrow, and he’s getting really frustrated with me. He was like, “If you don’t want to be here, go home. You’re not doing the work”. I’m shaking with exhaustion and now I’m just angry and I don’t care now.
So we had a fallout and I could feel a buildup. And I was like, I know this buildup. An autism meltdown is coming, and I am not in the place to be having an autism meltdown right now. I was so upset. I couldn’t breathe, I was crying so hard. I ran to the car park and then I realized I left my cardigan in the field with my car keys in. It’s starting to rain. So I just sat on the gravel against my tire of my car, in the rain and just cried.
I must’ve been crying really loud. I tend to do that when I’m in a meltdown. I’m not really thinking about how I’m presenting to everyone else. I’m just in the moment, you know? So my manager comes out of course, and she’s like, “Natalie, you can’t be behaving like this. Someone’s going to see”. When I’m in a meltdown, I cannot verbally communicate. I cannot use my words. I’m not really thinking either. It’s like, I’m not in control of my body, really.
Yeah. My meltdowns can be quite rough in the sense that I will be – trigger warning! I will be punching my thighs. I will be hitting my head. I could be kicking the floor kind of, screaming and then just crying and stuff. And my meltdowns can be brutal. It can look like I’m in some really deep distress, which I am, you know. And I am non-verbal, I cannot communicate with you and I’m in a full meltdown. And honestly, I can’t really follow instructions or anything like that. Like, as I say, I’m not really in control of my body, right? So she’s telling me that I should leave the car park and go inside. But that’s just not doable. I’m here now. I’m having the meltdown. And she starts grabbing my arms, my wrists. She’s like, “Come on, we have to go inside. People can’t see this”. She was embarrassed of me. The rules are, you do not touch me when I’m having a meltdown – at all. You don’t try and move me unless I’m in a place of danger, you know? Which I wasn’t.
And she was like “Stop crying. This is ridiculous. Why are you crying like this?” And then she starts threatening with, “If you don’t calm down right now, I’m going to call the ambulance”. Not my parents, the ambulance. Now the problem with this, right, is if an ambulance comes and they see me in this distressful state, and she doesn’t say anything, they’re not going to think “autism”.
Why would that be their first guess? They’ll think “This is a mental health disorder that… we can’t deal with this. The police are going to have to deal with this”. So then what will happen next is they call the police. This whole situation has now become absolutely terrifying. I’ve heard of stories of autistic people having meltdowns and the police have restrained them so hard that they’ve suffocated them. And they’ve died in the hands of the police because they’re having a meltdown.
It just scared the absolute living daylights out of me. I don’t know how I managed it, and I can’t even remember how it got there, but my phone was on the floor and I managed to like, press like one button or something. And my dad’s mobile was being called from my phone. So he could hear the commotion, me screaming, her shouting and all this.
I just let him hear what was going on, hoping, hoping that he would just come and save me. And, yeah. And then 15 minutes later, my dad in his Beamer comes riding into the carpark. I was like, “Yes!”. That’s when I really let go. So my parents sat down on the floor with me and rode it out with me. After I calmed down and got into my dad’s car, we sat for a little bit, and then my colleague who’d shouted at me earlier came over and he was like, “I’m so sorry, Natalie”. He was like, “I am having a bad day and I did take it out on you a little bit”. He was like, “Don’t leave, please come back to the farm tomorrow”. And I was like, “No, yeah, I will, I will come back”. No, I don’t go back. I got into office work instead, which is so much better. 
Katie: What are some of the things that your employer could have done differently?
Natalie: Things that could have gone differently is me, my Feedback manager and the farm manager could have all had a meeting together specifically about what my autism means for me, of what I knew at that point, what could be put in place to help assist and accommodate, to make my job doable – not just autism, you know, my anxiety disorder as well, and depression. Those things play a real big part in what I’m able to do, day-to-day. Yeah. And then just sit and work together and work out exactly what needs to be done. But even if we did do that, somehow, I feel like it still wouldn’t have worked because every single person would need to be on board. So it’s not just about what accommodations can be put in place. It’s also about the people you’re working with.
You know, if the people are ignorant and don’t want to learn or want to support, then they’re not going to, and you’re not going to have those things put in place, no matter how much you beg, which is discrimination, you know, and it is totally against the Equality Act 2010, but unless you, you report them or do something about it, nothing’s going to change, you know what I mean? The thing is I didn’t have the knowledge back then. I think that is such an important thing to keep saying. 
Katie: There was something that you mentioned in your video testimony, which I think was called the PIE Plan. Can you tell us a bit about that? What is the PIE Plan?
Natalie: When I was working at Feedback, Feedback were really interested in how they could do better to support autistic colleagues or anyone who they’re going to end up working with who are autistic. And I invented this system where if they employed someone who is autistic, they could use this thing called the “PIE Plan”, which is “personal inclusion and equity plan”.
The autistic colleague and their manager will sit together with this form. And it’s a contract, basically, that the employer agrees to put in these set accommodations that the autistic person needs. And they will write it all down. So the employer can’t say, “Oh, well, you didn’t mention that”. It’s there in black and white. It’s on paper. And it’ll have emergency contacts written down so they can’t threaten with ambulances and shit.
It will have agreed adaptions, provisions and alternative communication methods that the autistic person needs. What to do in the case of a meltdown or sensory overload, what to do in the case of a shutdown. The autistic colleague can give permission of who can view that document. Can it be just the managers or can it be colleagues as well? Or even external organizations, things like that.
And then there can be set dates of when the PIE Plan will be reviewed, ‘cause obviously if the autistic person doesn’t know their needs, they can learn as they go along on the job. And they say, “Oh, I need to add this, or I don’t need this anymore. You can change that”. And then eventually you’ll get to a full, clear understanding of what adaptations are needed and what to do to help support the autistic person. And then the manager or managers don’t have an excuse to let that autistic person down.
Natalie: I think people really forget that just because we autistic, that we are capable of critical thinking. Just really, please listen to actually autistic people and actually autistic voices.
Hester: Zoe, how did you feel hearing from Natalie?
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, I remember when I first heard it just being stunned as it unfolded, just being like, oh my god, Natalie has been through so much, during an internship that posed itself as being so positive and inclusive. 
Hester: It’s so clear from her reaction to getting that job how rare an opportunity that is, and so for it to be so disappointing was really hard to hear. But, I think what really comes out of that is not only that we need active diversity-positive recruitment in our sector, which is so un-diverse in so many ways across all sorts of intersections – simply recruiting people isn’t enough, you also need to have functioning accommodations. There’s work to put in, and care to put in.

Zoe: Absolutely, I think that the lack of consideration for what makes a workplace sustainable for humans to work in – it’s really neglected.

Hester: Yeah I think there’s sort of an expectation that you are fit, strong, fast, healthy – you’re not going to take many sick days or holiday days. It’s just such a toxic culture of needing to be fit in all ways, which is so unrealistic. We really need to build resilience into our sector in terms of people, and that comes from creating enabling environments. And there’s this whole idea in farming that economic pressures mean that you can’t make those accomodations, but that’s such a cop out.

Zoe: Totally. This culture of over-working, for the good of the cause. I mean I think that’s the idea, and it permits a lot of bad boss behaviour. Like how Natalie’s manager was so unaccountable to anyone, and was able to abuse power so horribly. Even with that policy in place that James and Natalie had figured out together.

Hester: Yeah, I think that thing of an informal workplace – not quite clear expectations – and blurred relationships which are both professional and unprofessional, can lead to some really complicated situations, and I think having clear expectations laid out, having a contract, having a really clear job description. Little things like that which are just normal in the working world, but apparently not normal in agricultural farming can prevent so many issues.

And also I think that brings us on to the need for a union for people working on the land who aren’t land owners of bosses, because there’s nowhere to go with those issues at the moment. I think it’s really important to create some benchmarks and some frameworks for discussing these issues, and to try and create some change.  Do you want to explain a bit, Zoe, about what the union is and where it’s at?
Zoe: Sure, yeah, so a bunch of people have been talking for many years, about the need for collectivisation of workers in the growing and farming sector. Specifically, I’m thinking of the ‘good food’ sector, because that’s where I’m working. There are networking organisations already in place, like the Land Workers Alliance, and the Organic Growers Alliance, but there’s none so far that focus on workers rights. A lot of people are starting to feel frustrated with the sustainable food sector, because it’s not sustainable to work within. 
Rates of pay aren’t fair, often there’s an over reliance on volunteer labour, there’s often way too much experience needed for very poorly paid or poor condition jobs, and there’s a lot that we can do about it, when we collectively act. But not a lot we can do about it when we’re individuals. So at the moment we’re at the stage of genuinely just gathering people. We don’t have a formal name yet, that will be coming soon! And we don’t have a public speaking policy yet, and I’m speaking on behalf of myself. I’m part of the coordinating group, which is still open to be joined by anyone – if you’re interested or if this is relevant to you, in the show notes there’s a way to get in touch. We’re at the stage where we’re having regular meetings and figuring out how to build power together. 
Sin Wai Kin – Queer Ecologies clip
Zoe: That was a clip from a performance by artist Sin Wai Kin, commissioned by the Queer Ecologies collective.
Hester: Maggie Cheney is the general manager and one of the co-founders of Rock Steady Farm. Rock Steady is a queer-run cooperative vegetable farm in upstate New York. It’s rooted in social justice, food access and farmer training.
Zoe: Maggie’s been involved with food and farming for their whole life, in urban and rural settings, and they’ve been involved in so many great projects.
Hester: Sam Siva from Land in Our Names spoke to Maggie about the role of care in landwork – and in work more generally.
Zoe: Sam started by asking whether centering care could be one of the ways to queer our relationship to work – and to each other?
Maggie: Our staff are a hundred percent queer and trans, so all of us come with needs that might be a little bit more, I don’t know, heightened than a farm that might have all cis white folks who are men, you know? Like in the United States, there are so many structural layers that are against BIPOC people and queer and trans folks that just baseline, we’re coming into a space that are filled with people who have more needs in general.
And I think as Rock Steady’s kind of gone on its path, you know, we’re in our seventh year, that’s been very apparent that there are layers to how we support our staff that are above and beyond maybe a space that has less kind of layered identities. So in that way, the queering of our farm is providing the care that we think people need. And given that people that are in our team are very bi-racial, like multi-class, multi-gendered space. And I think in general, queer folks tend to center care and mutual aid a little bit more than other people. I think that’s a wonderful thing about queer people is that often we haven’t been able to find our needs met in mainstream society, so we’ve had to create mutual aid systems in all different ways.
So that’s just a part of our culture because of who works for us. You know, everyone is a little bit more tuned in to that type of support where we support each other. We find resources that other people have, we network our communities, but then there’s also just like a heightened awareness that care is just very important, you know, just to kind of be okay in the world. Like our baseline just needs more support generally, and that’s okay. And that’s not to say that people who are not queer also don’t need the same support. You know, I think that everyone in agriculture should get more support because it’s a really difficult field to work. It’s incredibly challenging. So I think that there’s a lot of learning that can be had from the way that we do it at Rock Steady that is very much applicable to any workplace, in agriculture or not. 
There’s also like a lot of work that we do around creating a healthy work environment, which feels safe for people to communicate their needs both for themselves, but also for, you know, how they want to handle conflicts or just in general, like if we’re also working with people who have a lot of different learning styles and possibly learning differences and overlapping with communication that we have to do on an ongoing basis as a collective – and with our farm, we’re doing loads of communication. You know we’re very team-oriented and there’s lots of different managers and it’s a complex project. So there’s so many ways that there can be miscommunications and conflicts.
And I think that’s true on any farm. Conflicts just happen. So we put a lot of energy into trying to like give people more skills essentially, to try to communicate with each other. And then also defining as a group what does supportive, safe communication look like, what does the workplace culture look like to people? What are the important values that we all hold, and we want to uplift? So we do work with outside facilitators that support that work and as a farm, that’s important because I think there are a lot of people who want that type of workspace, but don’t necessarily have the skills internally to do it themselves, especially if it’s a production farm, which is incredibly stressful and very tightly time managed. There is an assumption that you just do not have time to do anything other than production. And I’ve definitely been in that place myself as a farmer. You know, there have been moments where you’re just like, I do not have time to deal with this conflict.
So we’re trying to create a culture which invites people to address conflicts as soon as possible and feel like they have the skills to do that, and they have the time to do that and they have support if they need it so that things don’t get put off and then explode at some other point in the future.So it’s been  really well worth it for us to dive so deep into this work with the outside facilitators. Yeah and I feel like people really lean into the work that we’re doing with them. Relational Uprising is the organization that we work with. And I think for them that feels like a form of care, and you really care about my wellbeing at this farm. And show that care by like paying for people to get training and facilitation and group process and storytelling and all these things that kind of build relationship resiliency. Because we just want the whole system to be healthier. And I think a lot of farmers put energy towards the health of the farm, especially in sustainable agriculture.
The narrative is soil health and ecological practices and climate safe everything, but that is completely undone if your humans are unhealthy and hurt. I just don’t think that they should be separated. So I think that’s a hard decision for farmers to make, to put actual funding and finances into that work. But the same way that we are like making calls about what tractor we should get or implement we should buy, or if we need to pay for a particular lawyer for something, the same way, we’re really, really prioritizing the facilitators that we work with and paying them well and paying our staff well. And paying for like amazing lunches during that time to just kind of balance it all out. I think especially for not just farm workers, but also farm managers and owners, right? There’s this perception that if you’re someone who’s at the higher end of a hierarchy or an owner that you can just do it all, and oftentimes those folks are really struggling mentally because of the stress of the position they’re on. And they can inflict the most harm because of the power that they hold. And if that’s not addressed and they’re not getting the support that they need, that’s creating a very unhealthy system. And I think outside facilitation can support the people in power so that they can hold that power responsibly and not put harm on the people who are within the farm which is, like, incredibly important.
Hester: It’s so nice to hear about places which are really putting care at the heart of what they do.

Zoe: Yeah, it sounds like a really great place to work first of all. What I really appreciate about what we’ve just heard is that Rock Steady sounds like it will still have challenges to work there, sure, I think any work place does. But there are ways to hold people accountable who have more power in that system, for people who have less power. I think that’s really central to care in a workplace. I think that just putting resources into care, what Maggie’s been describing, is just so unusual in workplaces in a capitalist system.

Hester: We talked earlier a lot about workers, and how to put care into that system and sustainability into that system for workers, but it’s also about the farm owners and managers who are under loads of stress and actually how they need to care for themselves, and if the people at the top aren’t doing that, then there’s not going to be that example for everyone to follow, or feel enabled to work according to their needs. And I feel like there are so many burnt out overworked farmers out there.

Zoe: Totally, I’m just nodding along this whole time. Right now we’re expecting all of us to burn out on cycle, and get sick, whereas if bosses and managers are affirmed that they also need to be taking care and respected – you know their energy and time respected, and needing a life outside of this, that’s beneficial for all of us, and it means this work is inclusive of more people who want to do it, including me. I don’t want to give up my whole life for this anymore you know.

Hester: I think also the stories we tell in land work, and what we put on a pedestal, there’s a bad culture of like ‘who’s worked the most hours, and who’s the most tired’ and actually we should be celebrating a business model that supports work life balance, or that integrates rest, or farmers that can take a 2 week holiday in summer – that’s great! Yeah it’s just changing that lens a bit.

Zoe: I think for a lot of people the food system we want to see does involve a lot more labour, and for that to be possible and true this labour should be well compensated, and it should involve enough rest. Not enough rest so that you can just get back on the horse the next day – not a literal horse, not to burst anyone’s bubble, unless you’re really lucky you’re not going to have a real horse. You just have to get back on your knees usually, and harvest some more chard the next day. This work is appealing in theory, and in practice can really squish you down. It doesn’t take into account that you still have needs. So much of this work is about changing a system, and still actually in reality, fitting totally within it, and being as productive as possible and giving our labour and time fully to this work. There are so many people interested in this work and there are so many people with visions of making this work good. Surely there’s enough energy there, and enough people wanting to shift how we do work in general and sustainable food related work, that we collectively figure out more solutions to these problems, because they’re the same – farms like Rock Steady are already giving great examples of how we can address some of these problems, and there are organisations that are set up that we’re often in contact with that can actually help facilitate this. So basically I think there’s a lot of collective problem solving that can happen, and the networks are already in place, and the solutions are already there, it’s just about working together, and to feel like we’re allowed to start trying them.

Hester: Obviously we’re in this capitalist system where you do have to produce enough to stay afloat, and you do have to sell your veg, but also there are creative solutions and there are ways that we can try to build in care and rest. It’s a process and it’s just that thing of not getting blindsided by economics, and the business of the season, and not forgetting the people. So listening to Maggie, it’s just really inspiring to hear how they are enacting that there and I’d like to see more of that in farms in the UK, and everywhere.

Zoe: I totally agree with that. I think challenging burnout culture, and putting in place ways that we can work out solutions that don’t keep that cycle going is also to the advantage of an organisation, to be able to retain their workers, it’s caring for your organisation as well, I honestly think that it’s the thing that’s been missed out of the conversation amongst so much of the sustainable food and farming sector in the UK is how can this work be good for all of us in the long term. Not just for the environment.

Hester: Care isn’t just a queer thing but actually queer communities are a really great place to learn from. There’s so many networks of mutual aid and support, and that’s a really great thing for society could get some takeaways from. 
Sasha: I am affirmed when I see individuals like myself… taking up some space. Like, my affirmation is not personal on my own individual merit, it’s like if I see one of my trans sibs thriving in horticulture and schooling people on pronunciation. Like, that for me is affirming. I think community has helped me with the affirmation that we’re on the right path, sometimes it feels like a dysphoria, sometimes it feels like that. But community has definitely felt like the affirming party.
Anna: My queer identity interacts with my relationship to the living world in the sense that queer to me means really that I don’t really relate to the world as a binary place. You know, with a right and a wrong, and a male and female. Yeah, it’s more, it’s more blurry than that, isn’t it? And yeah, I guess I don’t accept the mainstream sort of society’s version of the normative, personally. And I think that my queer identity really kind of forces me to question assumptions around those things often. Which is I think really, really important. Yeah, I think nature does exactly the same. It’s really diverse, really fucking queer. Which is great.
Sasha: I think like queer individuals, plants develop in was that sometimes have stories to tell. Not all plants adhere to the binaries; not all plants do what we expect them to do. But we’re not just talking plants, we’re talking non-human beings, nature, everything.
Anna: And I just think, you know, if you’re ever, as a queer person, feeling, you know, that you’re too queer, that you’re too something, that society doesn’t really want you to be, then basically you can just look at nature, and it’ll be doing it. It’ll have been doing it for, you know, trillions of years. So it’s kinda old news for nature. I just think once you start to explore nature or the natural world, it’s just really naturally out and proud, and, well, that’s just great, isn’t it? I think that’s great.
The Cultivating Justice podcast series is made by Sam Siva, Abby Rose, Dora Taylor, Katie Revell, Nadia Mehdi and Hester Russell. And thanks to Zoe Miles for co-hosting this episode with me.
This episode featured conversations with Natalie Tamburrini and Maggie Cheney…
Reflections from Sasha, a.k.a. Mind Your Own Plants, and Anna Barrett
Performance art by Sin Wai Kin… And music by Jas Butt, a.k.a. Guest, and Hari Byles. Our series music is by Taha Hassan. Thank you to our funders, Farming the Future and the Roddick Foundation. And a big thank you to everyone who’s contributed in any way!