I have often said that I am blessed because I get paid to do something I love. And I often put in more hours in my week than I get paid for in my pay check, but it is a balance. I also for the most part set my own schedule. Of course we have set office hours, and I have a desk and a chair I am supposed to be in during the work week. But I also have meetings and consultations outside those office walls. Because of my job, I have gotten to travel to places I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own. Have seen and experienced places I would not have done if I hadn’t had the job I do.
At the end of the day, I am fairly certain that I am paid for the work I do and the contributions I have made to my organization and community I live and work in. So it is rather distressing when many of the people I work with (yep I am talking about farmers) don’t feel they are paid or even that their customers could pay them what they are worth. So they end up settling for what they feel customers can afford, or that customers expect to pay. For someone who is trying to inspire farmers to raise good quality products for their customers that they as farmers can be proud of raising, growing or making, it is disheartening to hear the heavy sighs followed by such statements.
What has happened in American society that a large percentage of the population has little or no connection or understanding of the food that graces their tables? Of the 2.2 million farms in the US, 97 percent are owned and operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Granted farmers and ranchers make up just about 2 percent of the American population. But this is a hard-working 2 percent, as it takes 21 million workers or 15% of the total US workforce to produce process and sell the nation’s food and fiber. Farmers and ranchers only receive 16 cents of every dollar that is spent on food at home and away from home. The rest goes for costs beyond the farm gate: wages and materials for production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution. In 1980, farmers and ranchers received 31 cents.
Americans spend only six percent of total household expenditures on food; this is the lowest in the world. Some of the poorest countries in the world spend the bulk of their household income on food! Am I suggesting that Americans start spending 45% of their household expenditures on food, no rather I am suggesting that before complaining about the high price of food (which it isn’t) first consider what other things you spend your money on without flinching. Food is the smallest portion of overall household costs in the average household.
Buying local, regionally, or even American may seem a bit more expensive but these dollars are an investment in your community, region and country. American farmers and ranchers do a great job of producing food and fiber, the US exports nearly 40 percent of all agricultural products grown, raised and made annually ($115 billion worth of products).
It shouldn’t be too much to ask that farmers and ranchers be compensated for the effort they put in to produce the food and fiber that feed and clothe not only people in US but around the globe. Farmers should not be hanging their shaking their heads and sighing because they know people won’t pay them what they are worth. Many don’t feel they are valued by the very people they are feeding. Instead most farmers take the little they are offered and turn back to the barn, fields, pastures, orchards and woodlots to tend to their crops and animals, hoping maybe next year’s prices will be better, and Mother Nature will cooperate and they will have a bumper crop.
Well your farmer neighbors might let you off easy, but I am not. This coming year think about the farmers and ranchers who raised the food you are enjoying, because as the American Farmland Trust’s bumper sticker proclaims—No Farms, No Food.
Photo of locally raised hogs by Madalene Andoe.