TRUMANSBURG, N.Y. — Evangeline Sarat, the owner of Sweet Land Farm, significantly improved the lives of her employees when she decided to “go” Living Wage and pay them $14.75/hour.
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Sweet Land is a 34-acre farm located in Trumansburg, NY. It has a summer CSA share with 300 members and a winter CSA share with 85 members. It is also a woman-owned and operated farm. According to its website, “a third of Sweet Land’s 34 tillable acres is in annual vegetables, with an acre or so in perennial and bi-annual fruit and the balance in cover crops.”
The sustainable model of Community Supported Agriculture
CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” According to the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center of the United States Department of Agriculture, it “consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm.”
“A farm produces food for shareholders and the shareholders buy into the farm; then they come for a set number of weeks and they get whatever food I have,” Sarat said.
The benefit for farmers is that they get upfront payment. Sarat needs this money when she has to face a lot of expenses. The CSA system is also useful to cover the natural risks of farming, such as bad weather and crops. According to Sarat, customers form a connection with the farmer and the farm.
A certified Living Wage employer
Sarat used to be married and started this farm with her husband. Once they were divorced and she found herself to be the only owner of the farm, it became “more obvious” to her how much she had to rely on her employees.
“There was no way I could run a farm that big on my own. The only way for me to have that job was to have employees. I wanted to show them how important they were to me,” Sarat said.
At the beginning it wasn’t a very premeditated decision. She understood that she was taking a big risk, but she felt she “could not go on” if she did not pay her employees the living wage. Now that she took that step, she can also afford to hire more qualified workers.
“I am going to interview some really qualified applicants that I could not interview before because I did not pay enough and they are really in that place in life where they need to start making a living wage,” Sarat said.
Her employees told her how much this pay raise impacted their day-to-day life.
“They told me that it really impacted the quality of their lives. That was a great feeling,” Sarat said.
Sarat is also very grateful to the customers who, despite the price increase to cover the increased cost in labor, are available to pay a little extra to support her choice.
“It’s amazing to me just how many people in the community have chosen to support a farm that pays the living wage. I’m really grateful to everyone out there who has supported me,” she said.
A woman-owned and operated farm
When Sarat dropped out of college, she was not really sure of what she was going to do. The miracle happened when she started working at an organic farm.
“I thought I was doing a carpentry internship, but it turned into working more on the farm part. I don’t even remember planting the seeds and watering them but I must have been doing that. I walked in one day to water the plants in the greenhouse and they had germinated! It felt like it had punched my stomach… but in a really good way!,” Sarat said.
When she saw those plants germinate, she understood that this was really the job she wanted. Everything started falling down into place.
Now she is the only owner of her 34-acres farm and she has three to four full-time seasonal employees.
For her, it is important to stress that this is a woman-owned and operated farm, because farming is a male-dominated profession.
“I want this to be encouraging for other young women out there who want to start a farm,” she said. She wants them to know that their passion is really going to make their business successful, despite the material difficulties, so they “should not be too hard on themselves.”
“If they have that passion to farm, if they really feel that in their body, that is what will keep them going and will make it happen,” she said.
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