Did you know that most farms don't provide a living wage for their farmers?

January 19, 2022

Did you know that most farms don't provide a living wage for their farmers?

This info is not shared to make you feel bad about farms losing money but, rather, to set the stage for what YOU can do to make a difference and why you should care

The stakes are high because land use, conservation decisions, farming practices, and even if someone stays in or goes into farming should be based on whether a farm can make a profit and produce a living wage - we should not expect our farmers to subsidize our food with off-farm income.

Our environment and the future of local food depend on our food choices now - we are at red alert in a 911 situation right now with local food.

The reality is that farms have to be financially sustainable to be sustainable & they are not!

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) recently released the results of their study on direct-selling veggie farms:

  • "We found that the majority of direct-market vegetable farms were not earning a middle-class income. Participating farms had a median net income of $18,500, which approximates the 2020 poverty rate in Pennsylvania for a two-person household."

Frankly, their results were no surprise to me.  The income findings by the USDA for all small farms have consistently been even more dismal and the majority of farm household income comes from "off-farm jobs" or a second income, not the farm (aka they are subsidizing the food they produce and donating their time to bring food to you):

  • "At the median, household income from farming was -$1,198 in 2020. Given the broad USDA definition of a farm, many small farms are not profitable even in the best farm income years.

(Just a note that the -$1198 for 2020 is better than the -$10,000 range it has been in recent years and, I suspect it is due to so many people buying local in 2020 that abandoned local food when grocery store shelves were full again)

You see, I learned over the past 11 years of being in the thick of things is that there are a bunch of factors that go into this and it has little to do with what "factory farms" are doing "to us" and a whole lot of what we are doing to ourselves and the future of local food.  

Just to be clear, I am right there in this with you ... I BUY my food from my farm and, mostly, have supported our farm and ourselves with money we had to invest from the sale of our prior business and outside income. 

It is not sustainable for me nor is it sustainable for my fellow farmers.

That's enough to chew on for now ... ruminate on that and next time we can discuss how our (or farmers' market) demands that local farms only sell their own products put an unreasonable strain on farm finances and forces many to duplicate spending on marketing.

So, go back and re-read that PASA report and note how "reselling other farms products" is one of the most profitable added enterprises" ... how many farmers' markets are "producer-only"?  How many market-goers look down on farms selling products produced by others as a way to survive (it's why I bring cheese to market).






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