by Elizabeth Henderson
Early in 2016, Evangeline Sarat at Sweetland Farm, in Trumansburg, NY, announced that she would paying wages to her employees at the Tompkins County living wage level. Evangeline explained, “For me, it is very pin pointed: if my employees work, they should make a living. Especially, with food. If they’re working to grow healthy food, I don’t see how it’s logical that they not get enough to live.” Her declaration set off a flurry of emotional discussion among farmers and foodies that has not died down, especially with Governor Cuomo agreeing to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Paul Martin, current manager of Sweetland, explained the consequences of Evangeline’s decision for Sweetland.
To afford to pay higher wages, Evangeline raised the price of her farm’s CSA shares by $100. The immediate effect was that member numbers dropped from 380 to just 300. Paul still paid their four workers $15 an hour for the 2016 season. After completing financial calculations for the season, he reports that things were “a little tight,” but worked out. The drought made it harder: there was only enough crop for summer shares without the extra he had planned for summer wholesaling. Nevertheless, Paul is determined to make things work and says, “At Sweetland we are still experimenting on how to have an economically sustainable farm. The farm has to be thriving enough, an attractive business model so that my kids or someone else would want to buy the business. I still feel like it is important to pay labor, but it is just as important to pay the farmer a living wage and that has to come first.” He has set out to achieve the balance among pricing to customers, the needs of his employees and his own needs….
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