There is an article in the NYT that has gone fairly viral, especially if you travel in circles where this type of thing is a major topic of conversation. It's about one farmer's fiscal reality, and the challenges of trying to keep oneself afloat with agriculture as the primary source of income. It's a great read, and you should definitely take a minute to read through it.
The article contains things we have discussed out loud in our home, after a weekend at a Farmer's Market, or when a customer has again failed to pay an invoice or share on time, (or at all). We're both incredibly grateful for our respective college experiences, but we've also thought longingly about a life without a big circle of student debt attached to it. A student debt we don't feel we understood completely when we signed our names to it without a fully formed frontal lobe.
And, we're fairly fortunate in that our business has grown quickly, and has proven to be more often than not-- solvent. We have the privilege of having the education to write a business plan, being white, young, able-bodied and that Kim's career has allowed us to get the business up and running. We had the opportunity to lease land, I was able to do an apprenticeship. We have sought counsel, we have done online courses, we have read for days. These things have given us even the option of pursuing agriculture. Not everyone even can look at agriculture as an option, even if it's their dream.
Still, those moments, those deeply dark moments, where you know there is no way to deal with the budget shortfall other than just wait until the next opportunity to sell more product, be it an online promotion, or a market, or a CSA season. That's when you look at whether anything at all can be cut, if it's time to get another job (on top of the 60 hour min. you're doing on farm) or if you need to liquidate an asset like an unused set of tires or something. And the reality sets in that you don't know if you'll ever own land to run the business, and to live on. You don't know if you can make it through one more explanation of how your prices are fair, that the cost of food isn't so simple, and that you aren't just out to 'make money'.
And I also whole heartedly agree with friend and fellow farmer, Jenna, when she talks about the absolute, soul lifting, rewarding experience that farming is in her latest blog post in response to that same article.
In fifth grade, we all sat in a circle and our teacher went around and asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. When it got to me, I proudly announced "Farmer" and was a shade of magenta when the circle erupted into laughter and some "ewwws". I was honestly, shocked. I still can feel the eyes staring at me, I can feel my hands looking for something to do- pulling at my sleeves. I, in my socially awkward mind, hadn't realized that this was something to be ashamed of. And my aspirations remained shameful through high school, in pursuit of college, and, even in some of my romantic relationships.
I can't tell you how many people have shamed my agriculture passions, or assumed some kind of intellectual default in my chosen profession. I thankfully no longer shrink. I'm no longer a shy 5th grader. I'm intensely proud of the work we do, and perfectly capable of telling anyone that if they think farming is something to turn up one's nose at- perhaps they should quit eating.
And as aware of the benefits of farming as I am, my own schedule, the smell of fresh air- the freedom of my own destiny- I don't think that's enough. And I don't think it's solely my responsibility to take on all of the risk of farming, because that's what I 'chose' to do for a living. We all must hold responsibility for what we value in our food choices. If you are buying from our farm, you're our partner. We will work tirelessly for you, we will forgo years of vacations, we will be up late, we will get totally soaked and frozen. We will shovel shit. Actual Shit. But your end of the bargain is- you make sure we can pay the bills, you say that our kind of small farming is valuable and worth support.
I don't want to live in a country where it's farmers vs. consumers locked up in a battle over prices. I don't want to live in a country where only the biggest farmers get to live comfortably. I don't really want to participate in a financial economy that says that we deserve to suffer because we grow food. I do want to feel all of the beautiful, wonderful things that Jenna describes in her post, and I do feel those things. That's not where the story stops for me but it is often solace, and a job perk unmatched by many. I do want, desperately, for children to grow up to farmers. I want little 5th graders dreaming of mud and chickens to be supported in their quest.
I grew up to a be a farmer, perhaps significantly because I can't imagine anything else to be and feel whole. And I'm willing to sacrifice for that end. But, I guess I'm asking, why should farming in an ethical, small scale way have to be synonymous with sacrifice? What would it take for a conversation so broad and changing to happen in this country that we would lift up our small farmers, nurture them and ensure our own food security? When we will as a country decide that real food matters, for everyone? Not just for the wealthy, not just for the savvy, but for each person. That we all should push our plates away from us and sigh, bodies nourished and taste buds elated.
I'm not sure what it will take to change the perception of agriculture, and to really shift minds about food access for all. But I hope we'll be here when it does change, we'll still standing at the farmer's market, waiting to sell you a meal. And that somehow, we're helping create that change we want to see.