Farmers markets are growing, but farmers’ incomes are not
It’s National Agriculture Day! What an appropriate day to celebrate the awesome work of our nation’s farmers! The awesome work they are so crappily compensated for, that is.
They may seem to be raking in the cash at all those new local farmers markets, but America’s food-growers — those producing fruits and veg, not soy and corn — aren’t having an easy go of it. NPR’s All Things Considered reports:
The market for locally grown food has seen dramatic growth over the last decade. Despite this boost in sales and popularity, evidence suggests that the economics behind the movement still don’t favor the farmer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has new programs to try to prop up small-scale operations, but many local farms only survive because they scrape by on below-market wages, or by doing without things like insurance.
Iowa State economist David Swenson says farmers trying to earn a living by selling their produce locally often face a losing battle. He calculated that if someone were producing 25 acres of fruits and vegetables — which would meet the produce needs of about 5,000 people — they wouldn’t be anywhere near well-off. “That basically sustained 1.34 jobs and only $35,000 in total labor income and that’s labor income to the producer as well as to any help,” Swenson told NPR.
Small may not always be better. But the answer isn’t to stop shopping at the farmers market — nor, maybe, is it to quit your job and run off to the countryside to grow apples.