Caitlin Hachmyer pairs farming with activism, teaching
Farmers work famously long hours, especially right now as the growing season reaches its peak and harvest is in full swing. But Sebastopol farmer Caitlin Hachmyer packs more into a day than most.
Hachmyer, a fast-talking 33-year-old, runs Red H Farm, a small farm that sells produce to customers at the Sebastopol farmers market, to community supported agriculture subscribers and to Sebastopol's Handline restaurant. She spent a recent Thursday harvesting early to beat the approach last weekend's withering heat wave.
Hachmyer is a lead instructor at Farm School, a training program at Sebastopol's Permaculture Artisans, where she also farms three-quarters of an acre. She teaches agroecology at Sonoma State University and she's the host and organizer of a second annual conference on women in the food movement. This year's all-day event, held Sept. 30 at Permaculture Artisans, will feature an international roster on the theme "Foundations and the Future: Celebrating Women's Leadership in the Food Movement."
On top of all that, Hachmyer is an outspoken advocate for small farmers in Sonoma County and, in particular, the need for land reform. Land reform is typically associated with developing countries where wealthy landowners hold vast swaths of land and peasants eke out an existence on the margins as tenant farmers. But the situation is not so different here, she says, where the high cost of land means most farmers rent instead of own, making them vulnerable when landlords jack up the rent or fail to renew leases.
Small-scale farmers in Sonoma County suffer from rural gentrification, a case Hachmyer makes in Land Justice: Re-Imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States, an inspiring new book just published by the Oakland-based nonprofit Food First, where Hachmyer worked as an intern. As a remedy, she calls for making public land available to farmers and developing incubator farms, steps aimed at creating "community-level investment" in the food system and the development of commonly held land as a check against the dictates of private property.
Hachmyer didn't start out wanting to farm, but sees her work as a bridge between advocacy and agriculture, which, she says, are too often viewed as two separate worlds. It was studying anthropology and political ecology at UC Berkeley that opened her eyes to the efficacy of sustainable agriculture as a tool of social justice. Rather than limit her understanding of agriculture to books, she worked as an apprentice at a farm in Minnesota while also interning at Food First and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "My introduction into agriculture was through a political lens," she says.
When Hachmyer emerged from school ready to apply her academic and grassroots knowhow, the Great Recession was just starting and no jobs were forthcoming. So she turned to farming by necessity. She worked on a biodynamic farm in France before she decided to work an acre of land at her childhood home in southern Sebastopol. "I thought, 'I have this land, and I might as well give it a shot.'"
Hachmyer has strong views and doesn't sugarcoat them. She chose farming because, she says, she wouldn't have to make "moral compromises." She does most of the work herself because she can't afford to pay a living wage for full-time help.
In spite of fatigue, a sometimes aching back and concerns for her financial future, Hachmyer is committed to farming.
"I can't imagine not farming now," she says. "I don't even know how to grocery-shop anymore."
More information about the Sept. 30 'Foundations and the Future' conference can be found at foundationsandthefuture.wordpress.com.