Fair Environment, Wages, and Hours
Pablo Silva, our field manager and owner of Silva Family Farms, has been with us since our beginning. He, however, has been in berries since he was 14 years old. Bow Hill wouldn’t be where it is without him, but also, his family and friends. Growing up in an agricultural community, most of his friends and his wife, Maura, come from that same background. Each year, Pablo chooses who we hire to work in the field. Many of our field crew come from conventional farming backgrounds but wanted to get out of that literal toxic environment and switch to organic as a safer and healthier alternative.
The beauty of living and farming in the Skagit Valley is that there are crops here all year long. The harvest crew are all local residents and don’t have to migrate to find farm work. They can put down roots, buy homes and land, build community, start their own farms, send their kids to the same school year-after-year, and live like the average American population. Due to our valley’s rich agriculture and an ever-rotating cast of characters growing in fields, our pickers are employed year-round, and we’re just one of those employers.
Some reasons specific to Bow Hill that our crew comes back year after year, we can accredit to three main things:
- Self-management of the fields
- Multiple roles on the farm
- Fair pay and a bonus at the end of the season
Let’s dig deeper into those three categories.
The pickers manage the field. They take ownership of the field as much as we do. We started doing this after the first year. When we began, we’d say “let’s pick this row, let’s pick that row.” Then we realized, the harvest crew are the ones out in the field every day, hour after hour, with their hands on the plants. Now we just say how much we need picked that day, and then they choose which rows. Our crew enjoys coming back each year, so they’re invested in the survival of the plants. They maximize the yield by choosing which rows to pick and which rows to let rest. As professionals, they’re highly skilled at managing the flow and stages of the fruit.
That leads us to their multiple roles on the farm. There is a lot of work to do to prepare the fields before picking even begins. Pruning in the winter once the leaves drop, weeding in the spring, and trellising right as the fruit sets; we hire some of the summer field crew to do these tasks. There is an edible weed, purslane, that our field crew will harvest and send off to restaurants wanting ‘certified organic’ purslane; a succulent nutritious green and folk remedy. Then it’s blueberries, blueberries, blueberries for 8-weeks. After the berry picking is over, there’s mulching, pruning, and guess what, weeding to be done.
Since this is the Pacific Northwest, after all, our summers are not without rain. Many farms have separate picking and packing crews but here we have only one. On days when the sun is not shining (which, surprisingly isn’t many), we find work for our harvest crew, as blueberries split if picked wet. Whether that’s packing the berries into bags, weeding, or washing totes, we keep them busy and paid. It may be less efficient for us, but it keeps our crew happy and that’s the environment we want to create.
Speaking of the crews’ happiness, let’s get into fair pay. We talked about all the crops that grow here in the Skagit. Our biggest competition for our crew is cultivated blackberry farms. The blackberries come on in a furry right as our blueberries are dwindling, when there are about two weeks left. We used to lose a large part of our crew to blackberry farms, and then we thought “what if we have an incentive to stay through the whole season?” So, we went ahead and created a bonus for those who commit and follow-through as Bow Hill’s crew for our entire 8-week season. It’s worked out well, for all the money they potentially miss out on by staying with us, they’re rewarded with a bonus based on the entire amount they picked that season. It’s a situation where they trust us, and we trust them to stay around.
We have developed really good relationships with everyone who works for us. We’re committed to them, and they’re committed to us. We’re so grateful to our harvest crew. Thanks, Pablo, Maura, and all of your amazing and dedicated friends and family.
For more on this, listen to the podcast we’re featured on here. This subject is covered in depth starting around minute 25:30.