Work Song: An Ode to Land-Based Manual Labor


 The joy of chestnut harvest

The history of manual labor is fraught with inequities, none more glaring than the United States’s imposition of over 150 years of chattel slavery on a proud African people who were stolen from their homeland by the millions and forced to build a white anglo-saxon version of the “new world.” I recognize my privilege in writing this post as someone who has never been coerced into manual labor by force or out of an immediate economic necessity. I’ve also never been told that I cannot aspire to anything beyond manual labor based on my skin color, ethnicity, or degree of physical ability. With my country’s painful history and my own privileged identity in mind, here’s my ode to work and workers:

I am pouring concrete. Two days ago, I made the 7-hour drive from my hometown of Arlington, Virginia, to Shutesbury, Massachusetts. I’m starting my 6-week stay with friend and mentor Russell Wallack, ecological designer and founder of Breadtree Farms. I came up here to plant chestnut seedlings, but now I’m pouring concrete. Russell and his partner, Kate, recently bought a home, and between some serious DIY renovations on the house’s sill plate, orchard planning, and preparation for the newest member of their family set to arrive in early December, their hands are perpetually full. 

So, I’m helping with the renovation, pouring concrete, participating in an elaborate construction project that I would have very little interest in if it weren’t being done by people who I adore. And, yet, I’m loving it. I love manual labor. I loved it on the farm over the summer and I love it now. I know that next to no one looks forward to digging holes, moving rocks, and weeding rows of vegetables by hand out in the sun all day, but hear me out for a moment. The more I look around I realize that my love of work is not unique. Humans were born to work.

Sometimes weeding can be a chore

Weeding can be a chore. 

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