Letter to Future Landworkers

Jyoti Fernandes

2/23/20244 min read

LWA founding member and Campaigns Coordinator, Jyoti Fernandes, shares her message to future landworkers in our new book “With the Land | Reflections on Landwork and Ten Years of the Landworkers’ Alliance

 It is a bright and frozen morning. Our young calf is lying in the sun, the birds are pecking at old seed heads through the ice, we have temporarily found a solution to the burst pipes, and I’ve just finished peeling carrots and potatoes, uncovered from storage and held plump in their own soil, to put in a stew on the woodstove. It is finally quiet and I have a few moments to think about you, future land workers, and share a few lessons I have learned. 

I started this journey, working the land, because of my children. I was pregnant with my firstborn at the peak of youth, when ideals and energy are at their brightest. I had spent time with land-based indigenous communities, watching how they raised their children alongside their daily work; teaching them about how food grows and animals are raised, how the insects and birds, weather and creatures interact. How to gather wild plants, chop wood and preserve harvests. How to cook. How to warm themselves and learn the language of the landscape around them. I wanted my children to learn these things. So, my husband and I decided to become land workers, travelling from farm to farm to learn the skills and eventually falling in love with our own patch of land. 

It has been a hard journey, as farming skills were not passed to us as children. We have had to relearn our skills from old farmers and books and experience as many of you will also have to do. There has been so much joy as we embed ourselves into the intricate web of nature and community. As we gained the skills to nurture orchards bursting with fruits and nuts, to breed flocks where multiple generations of sheep and cows often stand contently licking each other, to fill the larder with tomato passata over winter. Often the most satisfying moment of the year is when the freshly pressed apple juice is stacked into the apple juice shed, with the heat from the pasteuriser steaming off into the cool autumn air…

These moments of abundance sit alongside moments of despair. We have lost livestock and crops, grown harvests that we couldn’t sell, and fought the authorities to stay on our land. Even now, after over 20 years of farming, the dairy cow who had become my daughter’s favourite during the Covid-19 lockdown was lost to complications after birthing. I could see my daughters using skills they learned from their years on the farm to nurture the poorly cow, but it didn’t work out. We were sad and deflated, yet, through land work we have learned that you must pick yourself up, and that somehow death is a part of the cycle as much as the life of our new fluffy calf. 

Lean into the fact that setbacks sit alongside victories, and from each you will learn. This understanding has become ingrained, as much as hope for the future persistently sits alongside fear in my heart. Coming to peace with this feeling builds resilience. I have often thought that every peasant in the world must feel this way.

Years ago, to find that shared understanding, I sought out a network of land workers. I wanted to be a part of a community building something larger than ourselves, so that all those heartbreaks were collectively held and their solutions our common cause. Yet, I have also found that the politics of people – in communities, in relationships – is often the hardest to negotiate as we find our way back to the land. I built the strength to deal with this as I learned; as each part of nature operates in its own unique way, so do people. If we embrace and build on that diversity, we can build collective strength.

At the first gathering of La Via Campesina (an international farmers organisation which coordinates peasant organisations founded in 1993) that I attended in Indonesia, I sat alongside hundreds of representatives of 200 million peasants, as they welcomed the Landworkers’ Alliance into the most diverse and complex, yet grounded, alliance of human beings I had ever encountered. All the feelings I had felt inside myself were channelled into concrete plans for resistance and building that world. I learned that there are many things we cannot do on our own, but when we do them together, we create magic.

Our movement will do all it can to build a strong foundation of knowledge and power for you to draw from. You will need it. The future world you will be working in will be chaotic and volatile. You will face extreme droughts and frozen spells and rain for weeks on end. There may well be economic collapse, hunger, and extinction on a mass scale.

There is a line in the Land Manifesto from which I have drawn inspiration for my work over these many years. It says that ‘when capitalism falls and the stars and stripes fade in the West, the land will remain’.

Truly, your work on the land will be the most important work there is. To keep the knowledge of the seeds and breeds in living, working memory as our grains of survival. The patterns you recreate will be ones that will see us through. The webs of relationships will be what we use to rise from the ashes. 

My daughters, along with many others, created the land workers youth group called FLAME.  They’ve become the flame that warms my heart as I see these young people working together, respectfully and compassionately. I know that we will have the opportunity to rebuild a better system in a design so much better than before. We have the foresight now to bring back nature as part of a just and equitable society, in a new pattern, based on the old knowledge and skills of our ancestors but more exciting than ever before in history.

Future land workers —you are our legacy and our hope. 

We, as land elders, will collectively hold you to go forth to restore our land with grace, agility, wisdom, and above all, love.