We've been crunching a lot of numbers lately, projections for next year's sales, costs for equipment and general productions costs such as feed. And the results are in- it's expensive to grow good food. We already knew this, but with the drought in the mid west, and the constant rising of basics like electricity and fuel, the price for good, clean food isn't going to come down any time soon.
In fact, it's not just this farm who are shaking their heads and looking at innovative solutions to control the cost of growing poultry, eggs and veggies. Even Marketplace from APR took the topic on in a news story discussing the wide variation in the price of feed corn. They get one thing wrong though- they assume that the profits that industrial farmers (read: not us, small CSA farms) made were solely due to the fact that the crops that sold were hot commodities and sold for higher prices. While of course this is a factor, it also has to do with the government subsidized crop insurance that pays farmers when yields fail.
In theory, the government supporting farmers by protecting them from catastrophic loss during a drought year sounds good. But in practice, crop insurance only covers those farmers who grow massive amounts of GMO corn, soy, wheat, and a couple of other select crops. So... not so much farmers who grow your basic, day to day food- but the farmers with huge lobbies, giant bank accounts and acres and acres of row crops leaving the land devastated. And while those farmers are covered in their losses for the year, small producers who grow sustainable meat but are still affected by grain prices are left holding the bag in the next years. All of this is outlined in the Farm Bill- which ironically is set to expire at the same time as the dreaded 'fiscal cliff' negotiations but gets far less coverage. This is incredibly sad to me, since it will affect everyone, just as tax breaks will- but is much less esoteric- it's what we eat. Among the provisions set to expire this year without a new bill is funding for beginning farmers and ranchers- a dying breed in the American society. While it's true that many young people (including ourselves) are returning to the art of farms, the overall age of the American farmer keeps rising and the number of farmers keeps dwindling.
And this affect you, how? Well, if you eat- it affects you. And if you support a small farm, or a CSA, it affects you. While the government keeps subsidizing big corn and big ag, small farms struggle to keep their environmentally conscious products at a manageable price and keep the planet able to produce food for generations to come. So if you haven't already, do a little research on the farm bill, and know what is being decided. You can start here, on some thoughts regarding the future of farming. Knowing WHY your foods costs what it does it just as important as knowing WHO grows it.
But here's the thing- in all of this- We believe in farms. We believe that even though our food costs more, the benefits are worth it. I've seen the look on our customer's faces when they see our pastures, full of contented animals, and our crops growing tall. I can't offer 99 cent chicken, but I can offer chicken with flavor, and the dignity of a good life. As responsible farmers, we also are constantly seeking ways we can turn away from the models of farming that center on the 'cash crops'. We grow heritage chickens because they do a better job converting pasture then their grain heavy relatives. We pasture our turkeys so that they taste better AND because we don't rely so much on grain. Next year, we will be growing much of the feed we provide to our rabbits- who as a general rule don't need nearly as much commercial grain. We buy non-gmo feed from a smaller mill. And next year, we will be planting a 'livestock' garden, growing vegetables and crops specifically for our hogs and chickens, along with all of the 'uglies' they get tossed from the market garden. We are transitioning to drafts to keep out of the fossil fuel pit, and are constantly looking at ways to invest in renewable energy on farm.
Cheap food is paid for not just in the grocery store- it's paid for by a farm bill (your tax dollars at work) that doesn't look at the value of small agriculture in the same way as we do. And yes, I'm on a soap box. But being a farmer isn't always tales of the hard work, or the sweet victories. It's also about the big picture systems that keep the status quo, promote the destruction of valuable land, and keep good whole food prices high while keeping high fructose corn syrup cheap and accessible to the masses.
We all have budgets we need to keep, and choices to make. And no matter what your choice, if you're reading this you are at least thinking about it more than most. But maybe start to think about each of your food choices as a political act, and act in good taste. pun intended.