The Future

We know a young family who live outside a nearby city, trying to make it as full-time farmers. Recently their hometown newspaper did a feature story on them, emphasizing in the title of the article that the farm was “barely” surviving. The farmers responded with a blog post saying that while it is true that they’re having to live very frugally and that they realize they need to expand their business, they believe they are on track to achieve financial sustainability in 2016, which will be their 6th year in business.

These folks are a young couple with small children. They operate a large CSA, an on-farm farmstand, and are at five farmers markets weekly. I don’t know how they do it all.

As they said in their blog post, farmers don’t like talking about their finances. The reality is that unless you are an industrial-scale farm operator it is extremely difficult to make a living as a farmer these days. The median farm income in the U.S. is negative 869 dollars. Almost all farms in the U.S. require off-farm income to stay alive. Even on what the USDA calls “commercial” farms ($350,000 and up in gross receipts), nearly 25% of the farm income comes from off-farm jobs. And below the “commercial” scale farm income is almost always zero or  below, so all the income those families receive comes from off-farm. It is the norm for one or both spouses to work off-farm to earn the money (and get the “benefits”) needed to keep the farm going. No wonder you don’t hear much about the financial side of “sustainable” farming (it should be obvious why sustainable is in quotes).

We do a thorough end of year review of our farm operation every year in early January. We’ll be doing it again soon and we’ve already peeked at the numbers. Now in our fifth year, we’ve developed a solid and loyal customer base, we’ve been a part of improving our community’s food culture, we’ve helped a lot of people eat better and we produce nearly all of our own food. But are we economically viable as a business? Honestly, not yet. And that’s despite having advantages unavailable to most beginning farmers.

We’re friends with a nearby farm family trying to make it as full-time farmers. It’s a large family and the children pull their weight and more, as I did at their age. They work very hard and they’ve done a great job of developing a loyal customer base. I don’t know how they’re doing financially, but I know it’s challenging. They want their children to be able to earn their living as farmers. They want them to be able to go out into the world someday and have their own farm, their own house, the ability to send their children to college if they like. But those kinds of basic things, which most Americans take for granted these days, are only available to a tiny minority of the farmers in our movement–the ones who write books and inspire the rest of us. They’re not the norm.

My friend, the father in that large family, once told me something about this business that has stuck with me. If farmers price their products at below the cost of production, he said, then they are paying people to eat their food. Worse, when farmers choose to operate at a loss, by setting their prices too low, they hurt families like his, which is trying to make ends meet with the money they earn from farming. I took that to heart and we’ve tried to set our prices fairly. But the truth is we’re constrained by a system flooded with cheap industrial food. Our prices should be triple what they are, which would put them in line with what people paid for food a generation ago. Small family farms could survive with those prices. But very few people would pay them these days. So it doesn’t seem a realistic option to me.

It will be a shame if industrial food becomes the only available choice in our culture. If small diversified family farms cease to exist, we’ll have lost something very valuable.

We’ll be processing our data in a few weeks and determining our plan for 2016. We’ll still be growing food next year, even if we have to reevaluate our ultimate goals. We’re fortunate in that respect. Because even as more people continue to take up the hoe and join the movement, many small farmers will go under next year, unable to make the numbers work, regardless of how hard they work.

If this movement is going to succeed, it will take more than just growing superior food. We also have to educate the public on why good food matters, how to tell the real thing from the stuff being pedaled by impostors increasingly trying to steal our tiny piece of the pie, and, most of all, what excellent ethically-produced food truly costs.

I choose to remain optimistic that we can do that. There’s a lot at stake.

 

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50 comments on “The Future

  1. interesting read, I see the same thing locally, when there is belt tighting, money spent on food seemed to be one of the first chopping block, we have seen farmers markets close this past year, and I have watched a number of great csa close as well, so many folks pulling back, still willing to work to feed themselves and sell private to friends but have stopped marketing to the public in the same way. it will be interesting to see what the future holds

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    • Bill says:

      It will be. I’m encouraged that more people are prioritizing food, but I agree that many people (probably most) still prioritize less important things. We’re going to have to navigate through a lot of headwinds to see meaningful change in our food system.

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  2. MaryQuiContrary says:

    Today’s post really resonates with me, Bill. I have been shaking my head over this situation for many years. It baffles me that modern priorities seem to put the “latest, greatest, new and improved” electronic gadgets far ahead of a healthy diet. Why, when times are tough, do the majority of folks start by reducing their grocery budget? Why aren’t the superficial non-essentials the first things on the chopping block? I’ve participated in a new farmer’s market locally for four seasons now, and it has been educational to say the least! For every customer who seems to “get it” there are at least three more who want to quibble over the price “because homemade should be cheaper” or “I can get that (fill in the blank) at the supermarket for less’. By our shrieking insistence on more & more for less & less we have allowed – nay, abetted – the corruption of the one thing essential for our survival: access to good, healthy, health-giving food. The great majority of the population has not a single clue how keep themselves alive without the ‘help’ of supermarkets and restaurants; most of them can’t even cook their own food – never mind grow it. I believe this mind-boggling disconnect with something so necessary to living is what is mostly responsible for the paradox you describe, Bill. Allow me to illustrate: I spent most of the day this past Tuesday rendering lard from this autumn’s hog harvest; it was a messy, tedious, frustrating task. The result was eight 500 ml. mason jars full of creamy white lard, a winter’s supply of fat skins for the chickens and a container full of “cracklings” to experiment with…..and still fully half of the fat yet to process – once I recover from the trauma of this first attempt! I can buy a 1 lb. box of lard at the supermarket for $2.79…….so that makes the payoff of my entire day’s labour worth about $22.00! A colossal waste of time really, by today’s “time is money” standard. But wait….there is more to the equation than that: I “save” $2.00 a week (or approx. $40.00 total over the winter) not purchasing suet blocks for my hens and then there is the difference in the lard itself. Store bought lard is indeed cheap…. which means it is a by product of industrial hog production and will certainly contain anti-biotic and other drug residues and will carry the taint of ill-treated animals that my tongue won’t detect but my conscience will. My lard comes from hogs that grew slowly all summer and fall roaming their pasture, snoozing in the sun, rooting the ground and eating lots of garden and orchard produce. My lard will be packed with natural vitamin D – something in short supply here in my northern latitude and worth its weight in gold. I wouldn’t sell my lard at any price! I also think I gained some valuable experience that I can pass along to help the next generations who might actually need to know these almost lost arts in what looks likely to be a food-insecure future. I guess it wasn’t such a bad day’s pay after all! Certainly, buying lard at the supermarket is far more convenient but I think we don’t always realize that convenience comes with a pretty hefty price tag; it’s unaccounted for…….a dangerous hidden cost of our modern lifestyles. Participating in the production of our food is integral to a genuine appreciation of it. It’s a beautiful gift we’ve been given, and when we shun it for the sake of “convenience” we have indeed traded our birthrights for a mess of pottage.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking and insightful writing, Bill…….and thanks for allowing me the space to vent a little!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why use the lard for your hens? It’s a valuable food item in the home pantry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will be interested in why Mary does, but in my case, while I do grow sunflowers for their fat, and I feed winter squash, I do feed some of my homegrown and render lard to my birds, and the reason for me is that its the “poorest” an most available, I have duck fat, lamb tallow, beef tallow and I raise lard pigs (heritage) and there is no way for my household to use as much as I raise in a year, so I use a bit in winter to make my own winter bird blocks.

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      • MaryQuiContrary says:

        Thanks for the comment; I guess I didn’t explain myself clearly! I do use the lard for my own cooking…….what I saved for the hens was the pig skin with some fat still left on it after I had cut/scraped off all I could. As we live in a cold northern climate I like to supplement my hen’s diet with suet blocks all winter to help them stay warm; the henhouse isn’t heated. I think the lard is valuable indeed, especially now that I know how much effort it takes!……and because it’s got to be loaded with natural vitamin D, which us northerners are usually deficient in.

        Liked by 2 people

    • hi Mary, loved reading your rant 🙂 I have been rendering lard myself, Bill I hope its ok to link to my post, I want mary to see the photos, If you where like me, I got my first pigs lard in large stripes and then processed then, it was a very long process (but I still used the crockpot method,

      However I have since started getting it ground at the butcher and it makes It so much easier and I get more lard yield

      https://livingmydreamlifeonthefarm.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/rendering-lard-grinding-it-followup/

      now, with my lamb tallow, If I am making candles or tallow for pie making, I will take the time to twice render for a extra clean tallow but for the pork, I am very happy with the system I got working now. Have a good day

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      • Interesting, each area is different and each farmer is different. Our main fat is butter or ghee for cooking as grass is what grows here best, and a cow is the most economical for us to raise, whereas pigs need to be supplemented with off farm grains. The nice thing about the butter is that I don’t need to kill an animal to harvest the fat our family needs. It’s not very cold here in Western Oregon so I don’t worry about fats for our hens, they get garden spoils year round and any extra skim milk when we don’t have pigs I make into cheese for the hens.

        Leaf lard and kidney fat from the beef makes up the rest of our fats, and we use the other lard and tallow for soap making. I render my fats in the oven on low heat which seems to work the best for me, cleaning a crockpot after rendering would drive me nuts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • hi, I have been reading your blog for years now, climate and land amounts certainly play a factor in things I do.. many blessings, I grow sweet meats that’s to you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bill says:

        I’m glad for you to link to your excellent blog! I recommend it to everyone here.

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      • MaryQuiContrary says:

        Thanks! I checked out your blog (and subscribed!). Great photos! They helped reassure me that my own attempt wasn’t too far out of line. I did get the lard in long strips that I first had to cut into a more manageable size. As we do much of our own butchering, we have a 3/4 horsepower small professional grinder that I tried feeding the bigger chunks into………What a disaster! It didn’t really grind the fat, just pulverized it into a thick, goopy, slimy slop…….yuck! I didn’t do that for long as I was worried about the motor….so then decided to strip the fat away from the skin with a knife and chop it into approx. 1″ cubes. That was what made the process so arduous and very tough on my hands and fingers! Perhaps I should have left the skin on. I filled my largest stock pot and put it on the lowest possible setting on my electric range and it still took forever to get to liquid stage. I would have need 5 or 6 crock pots (I only have one!) to handle that volume of fat. As is my usual habit I jumped into this new venture with both feet and my eyes wide shut! This was actually the fat from 7 hogs that I decided would be a great beginner’s project! In the middle of it all, when I was beset by humungous doubts I called a friend with experience for some coaching who volunteered to come give me a hand when I’m ready to tackle the rest of it. In the meantime, my lovely jars of lard are gracing my pantry shelves and I admit to a certain glow of pride and achievement every time I look at them!……..can’t buy that at the supermarket at any price!!

        Liked by 1 person

    • mary do you have a blog? Where are you from, I was born abd raised in alberta, hubbys work saw us live for a number of years in nwt an Nu but we have been in the Ottawa, Ontario area for ten years..

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      • MaryQuiContrary says:

        Hi!…….fancy meeting another canuck here!! I hail from the Eastern Townships area of south-east Quebec and, no I don’t have blog………yet! I’m actually kind of a techno-dummy or maybe neo-luddite is a more acurate term since I haven’t bought in to all the gee whiz wonders of the tech world; I’m more attached to real reality than the virtual kind!

        Liked by 1 person

      • well if you ever make it to the montreal permaculture events, we might run into each other at some point, never can tell these days, if you do get a blog, do let me know.. and if you save seeds, maybe we could do a swap at some point 🙂

        drop me a note on my blog comments with a way to get in touch and I will keep private and we can have a chat 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      Bravo Mary! Well said. You’re welcome to vent like that here anytime you want. 🙂

      As a culture we spend less of our income on food than any other culture in history, even as we spend mountains of money on nonessential, relatively unimportant things. We get those same kind of comments at the market, although it seems we’re not getting them as much as we used to.

      Your lard example brings to mind potatoes. Think of all the work and effort required to grow and harvest them. But what do they cost at the store? I just checked our local paper and a 10 pound bag of Russet potatoes is $2.79. Less than 28 cents a pound. Obviously it would be a lot cheaper for us just to buy potatoes than spend all those hours tending ours. Never mind that those store-bought potatoes have been grown in giant mono-cultures requiring massive application of pesticides, and that those pesticides get absorbed by the roots, which happen to be the part of the plant we eat. But I can understand if someone is truly strapped and can’t afford to buy their potatoes from us. What I don’t understand is why so many people don’t buy potatoes at all. Instead they a bag of Doritos for $2.79. Grrr…

      Participating in the production of our food is integral to a genuine appreciation of it. It’s a beautiful gift we’ve been given, and when we shun it for the sake of “convenience” we have indeed traded our birthrights for a mess of pottage. Very well said Mary. I couldn’t agree more.

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      • Not to mention usually those cheap potatoes are sprayed with sprout inhibitors also, in addition to being sprayed to kill for harvesting instead of waiting for the plant to die back naturally. Cheap indeed! That doesn’t even count the pesticide applications during the growing season. Arggh. Your potatoes Bill make you rich indeed!

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      • Bill says:

        You’re right. I’d forgotten about the “no-sprout” spraying and the pre-harvest spraying. Potatoes have more pesticide residue per pound than any other vegetable. I remember being astonished when I learned that. I would have assumed that a vegetable growing underground would be less likely to be contaminated.

        We go out to our potato garden once or twice every day and pick off the Colorado potato beetles by hand. I also hill them up by hand. We spend many hours tending our potatoes (mainly Yukon Golds, which certainly aren’t the highest-yielding variety). We sell them for $2/pound and they are well worth it. We’ve been fortunate to sell out at that price because we have customers who understand and appreciate the difference between potatoes that cost $2/lb and potatoes that cost 28 cents a pound. Meanwhile most people are buying potato chips at $20/lb or fast food french fries.

        Bottom line: if we never sold another potato and if the grocery store was giving them away for free, I’d still grow my own.

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      • MaryQuiContrary says:

        Thanks, Bill! I’m really glad I found your blog! I got here because of Herrick Kimball; I have followed him for a while now and was intrigued with his blog on “Organic Wesley”, clicked on the link he provided and……voila! here we are. It’s so heartening to find folks who share the same agrarian mindset; there are mighty few of them on the ground where I live. You are quite right about the Doritos……but have you noticed that many people don’t seem to mind paying $8.00/lb. for potatoes as long as they come packaged as frozen french fries……or $14.00/lb. when they come in boxed ‘quick and easy scalloped potato’ mixes?! Grrrrr, indeed!

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      • Bill says:

        It’s all about “convenience.” I’m getting tired of hearing how it’s not possible for low income people to eat healthy food. Cut on the junk and it doesn’t take a lot of money to eat well.

        I’m a big fan of Herrick and his blog. I’m looking forward to the end of his hiatus. It made my day when he gave Organic Wesley such a great review.

        Glad you found your way here.

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  3. shoreacres says:

    I’ve been meaning to leave you a link or two for the big success story in our area. Clearly, part of what helps around here is that farming can be a year-round business. And, being willing to supplement their local produce with non-local (especially citrus and avocados from the Rio Grande Valley, etc) as well as adding things like pies, kids’ activities, etc., has helped.

    Here’s a bit of their history, and here’s their home page. Notice that they have what’s currently available as locally grown highlighted on that home page. People lurk, and pay attention. I tried to get Meyer lemons this year, but failed, because I didn’t check the page daily. They picked hundreds of bushels of lemons, and they were gone in 48 hours. The only thing to do was order from a lady in California — another small, specialized farmer who has a thriving online business. There will be more about her later. 😉

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    • Bill says:

      I’m glad there are success stories. We do some of those things too–we sell baked goods, we do agritourism with our farm stay. I’d be curious to know if they have off-farm income to supplement what they’re making on the farm. If not they are truly among the elite.

      Fried pies are a big hit in our market too. The guy across from us sells them and he usually sells out before he can even finish unloading his truck.

      I’m told that strawberries can be quite profitable. We grew them for a while but they’re very difficult to grow organically. I don’t know anyone here doing it on a commercial scale. I finally quit trying.

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      • shoreacres says:

        No off-farm income at all. The whole family — to the level of in-laws and cousins second removed — are involved.
        One change they’ve made is to revert to farm-only sales. They tried one of the farmers’ markets for a while, and I always bought from them there, but eventually they decided it wasn’t worth their while (for whatever reason) and I started driving back to the farm.

        One thing that makes a huge difference here with strawberries is the long season — often from January to June. There are generations who remember going to pick strawberries at Frobergs — the customer loyalty is remarkable. It’s fascinating to watch the fields, too. They do all the things you’ve talked about: rotating crops, letting fields lie fallow, etc.

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      • Bill says:

        That’s wonderful. As it should be. They’re rock stars.

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  4. valbjerke says:

    Both my husband and I work off farm – and I can’t see that changing any time soon. Every year we sit down and plot/plan/make changes to the coming farming year. The biggest roadblock we face to being ‘stay at home’ farmers is the fact that legally, the only food we can sell direct to the consumer – are eggs and vegetables. Anything with a pulse has to go through a government approved facility with enough documentation/tags to sink a boat. A fellow dropped by for a quick visit yesterday and mentioned he’d put a beef in his freezer this year – all said and done 3200.00 for six hundred pounds hanging weight. When you can go to a big box store and pay .99 – 3.50 a pound…..
    Many people would be happy to buy our beef/chickens/goats – but they have budgets too. The cost of food to feed our livestock varies greatly from year to year. I’ve paid as little as 35.00 for a round bale, this year it’s 110.00. I can’t quibble because hay farmers are – like us, charging what they have to charge. They can’t take a loss either.
    My kids (both in their thirties) live in cities, buy as much as they can from us, grow very small gardens, buy as local as they can. I wouldn’t wish farming on them for anything. I don’t want to see them struggle. My bosses stepson (also in his thirties) has been desperately looking for land because he wants to start farming – always picking my brain. I finally said to him “look – it’s not that you can’t succeed at farming. But you need to understand – it doesn’t matter if you’re a chicken farmer or a broccoli farmer – you must be prepared to work until you nearly drop. There will be no end to the work. Ever”
    I’m not trying to discourage him – but like so many these days – he has a very ‘Disney-esque’ idea of farming.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We never be able to have my little farm without hubby working off farm for a very good income, and yes, the way they limit me in my area on what can be sold, the hoops you need to jump though are many.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      You’re right Val. I think lots of people yearn for a more authentic life and see farming as a way to have it. But many of them don’t appreciate the amount of work and the very little money that come with the lifestyle. I’ll admit that blogs like mine may be part of the problem. We don’t talk about the negatives much, which is understandable but may give some people false impressions about what the life is like.

      Stupid laws hinder us too, but it sounds like you may have it even worse in Canada. We have to drive our pigs to a facility an hour away for processing in order to be able to legally sell the meat. Meanwhile there is a first-rate butcher with a first-rate facility five minutes from here. But because he doesn’t have a USDA inspector on site, we’re not allowed to use him–even if we disclose to our customers that the facility is not USDA inspected and they agree to that. Crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        Well put – as farmers we try not to dwell too much on the negatives – it’s counter-productive. Our slaughterhouse is plenty close enough – the biggest issue is a shortage of inspectors, and he does all livestock. So for us to get a date for our pigs, we literally have to phone for a date as soon as they’re born – and even at that we’ve had the date bumped by as much as a month longer because he simply can’t keep up. The profit margins next to disappear when you find yourself having to purchase another ton of grain in the dead of winter to keep feeding them. This year we couldn’t get a date at all – and ended up hauling them to a facility hours away. Like you, we have a fellow just down the road who used to slaughter ‘back in the day’ but he’s certainly not interested in getting caught doing anyone’s livestock but his own.
        Long and short of it, adaptability and being able to roll with the punches are critical skills needed for farming. I personally wouldn’t trade my lifestyle for anything else, but if people flat out ask me – I definitely don’t gloss it over. The countryside is littered with abandoned hopes and small farm dreams for a reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, wow, this subject really touched off a discussion this time around. I’ve always thought that small homestead type farmers are playing against a stacked deck. Not only can big time growers live on a smaller profit margin simply because of the volume, they get government subsidies as well. We have discussed the fact here in this blog that centralized growth of cheap food sustained by cheap petroleum based transportation can not be sustained. Some day in the near future the small local farm will be an important food source. In my down hill side of life, I don’t have to count on income from gardening and if I did, I’ve repeated said that I’d be starving. As all homestead small farming operations know, the success of the operation is to have many sources of income. The stock market would call it mutual funds. There’s nothing disheartening or considered a failure in my opinion if an outside job is needed to sustain the business. My Dad did it in the 1950s; my uncle did it all through his 60 years of farming; and I would have to do it if I was living on farming. The long term future is just to keep the local food source thriving.

    Have a great Fall produce harvest day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Dave, I think we’ve discussed before the fact that a generation ago a 150 acre farm could comfortably support a large family. Nowadays it takes a farm ten times that size (or more) to generate the same standard of living. Small farms are becoming dinosaurs.

      I still have hope that we’ll find a way to keep small family farms thriving and I’m convinced the solution is direct sales to informed consumers. But we have a long ways to go. The industrial system has just saturated our culture.

      It’s possible, maybe even likely, that the industrial system is unsustainable and we’ll eventually return to community-based food economies out of necessity. Whether that happens or not, I plan to keep growing food as long as I’m able.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Laurie Graves says:

    Despite the hardships, I think the movement is going to succeed. I am very optimistic about it. I’ve seen so much happening in Maine—Farmers’ Markets, CSAs, a wealth of young farmers. Generally I stay away from politics, but I am going to stick my neck out with the following statement. There is a great deal we could do as a society—aka government—to make life easier for farmers (and writers and artists and crafters, too). Affordable, universal health care would be the first place to start and a great help. (I am a huge fan of Obamacare but realize it’s just the tip of what we need.) No other wealthy country has such an uneven system of health care for its people. Second would be free or nearly free education at public universities. (Bernie Sanders is advocating for this.) It would be a huge relief to farmers (and other parents!) if they knew that their children could go to college and not be crippled financially. (A while back, a young woman from France, upon hearing the cost of college in the U.S., asked me, “What is the matter? Don’t people in the U.S. want their children to be educated?) There! I’ll stop. I could go on, but I think you get the point of this little tirade 😉

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    • Bill says:

      There are plenty of good reasons to be optimistic. But the financial side is what rarely gets talked about and farms need to be both ecologically sustainable and economically sustainable. Taxes and insurance are our biggest expenses. Even if we didn’t have to pay for health insurance we’d still have a big insurance nut to crack every year because of the necessity of farm insurance. Real estate taxes are also a burden on farms like ours. We’re being taxed on essentially the tools of our trade (our land).

      You’re right that it would free more people to farm if they didn’t have to worry about paying for health insurance and kids’ college. I remember thinking many years ago when I was still trapped in my office job that I would quit immediately if health insurance and college educations were free. Of course the rub is that those costs have to be paid by someone. As the old song goes, “there ain’t no free.”

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      • Laurie Graves says:

        No, “there ain’t no free,” but many hands make the task light. The bigger the pool that pays for such things as college and health care, the less the burden on individuals. And, let’s face it—some folks could pay a heck of a lot more than they are paying now. I have started to feel that in this country, the rich are quite a burden on the rest of us.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. avwalters says:

    It’s a sorry situation when “real” farming families cannot earn enough to make a decent living, because the populace relies on industrial farms to provide inexpensive, but adulterated food. Industrial farms can do this, not just because of the economies of scale, but because their corporate ownership takes full advantage of subsidies and tax breaks. So our tax dollars are use to strangle the healthiest form of farming, both for our population and for the planet. This we must change.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. BeeHappee says:

    Liked this, Bill. It breaks my heart seeing my CSA folks struggling all summer, hard work to barely break even, and then struggling to find a stream of income, a temporary job in winter. And yet something keeps them going. They, and the ones you mention, and all the folks ‘barely sustaining’ are truly an inspiration for me. I just checked out “Whose Names are Unknown” by Sanora Babb and looking forward to read it. Reminded me of your post.

    Back in the old country, where we mainly grew our own food, my dad used to complain how inefficient such system was. He thought that each person trying to grow a variety of vegetables and raising a number of animals for themselves was completely inefficient, and thus it would make more sense to specialize and then barter. These days we had reached the apogee of specialization and things are as inefficient as ever. I am happy to see some who are able to find some creative ways and avoid those extremes. When there is a will, there is a way, as they say. In the end, it is the spirit of people that will help it move forward, not the money.

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    • Bill says:

      There are lots of creative, innovative things happening in the alternative-ag world. I have hope that we’re going to find a way to be viable as we try to carve out a place in a system dominated by the industrial machine. But the start up costs for young farmers are so high, and it’s almost impossible to service debt on the income of a small farm, and the farmers who clear those hurdles have to face the reality that they won’t get vacations, won’t be able to save for retirement, won’t be able to save for their children’s education, etc. It’s a lot to ask of someone in exchange for long hard hours of labor. But even with that reality, I choose to believe the movement is going to win. The support you and your family give to those struggling hard-working farmers is vitally important. The movement would collapse tomorrow without people like you. And all your family gets in return is the best food in the world. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. CSAs are very popular here in Western Oregon, there are a handful that have been very successful for the last 20 years and many that start up and fail within about 5 years. Too many hours, land prices to high, and too much competition. There are only so many households that can afford to pay the high prices, and most do it to “support” the small farmer. These supporters still have to go to the store to buy what they want to eat beyond what the CSA farmer provides. As for farmers markets, the several that have only food items and are long running are successful while new start up markets to service neighborhoods with food deserts never make it beyond two years. Not enough customers, and what sadly too many of the buyers consider is weird food.

    A typical “sustainable” organic farm in my immediate area is only successful if they work the grant circuit, their answer to large corporate farms getting subsidies. It’s hard for others to compete who don’t want to be on the government dole to keep their farms competitive. I have no idea what the answer is, I don’t see big farm business going away anytime soon, and there is a huge need for better food, fixing it all seems insurmountable. I am thankful I am in a position to grow my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      You describe the situation well. I don’t have the answer either. But we’re trying to do our part to make sure people understand how important it is that an answer be found. From day one we made the decision that we are first and foremost homesteaders. We try to grow as much of our own food as possible and we help and encourage others to do the same. My hope was that we could sell our excess to get the money to pay our very modest bills. That is easier said than done but I’m not willing to admit defeat yet. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Joanna says:

    Certainly a lot of discussion. I hope we too can make it pay to homestead, but we have huge advantages of the lower costs of land taxes here in Latvia. Hopefully I will also have some off-farm income too – We’ll see

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  11. Zambian Lady says:

    I find it a shame that small scale farmers that work hard everyday can hardly make ends meet. A friend back home who lives on a ten acre smallholding was telling me that she makes more from her land than she does from her international organization job. Her dream is to be a full time farmer, so I suggested that she takes a year off work and sees how it works out, but she said she is afraid. Suppose, suppose, suppose….. I hope you do well in your endeavors.

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  12. Zambian Lady says:

    PS/ I meant she said ‘suppose this happened, suppose that happened, suppose I do not succeed.’ It would not be a problem because her husband has a very good stable job and she can go back to her job after a year. However, she is still afraid to venture out.

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    • Bill says:

      I understand that. Being risk adverse myself, I waited a LONG time before taking the plunge. I wanted to make sure we were financially secure first (whatever that means). I was miserable in the meantime, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t rush into it.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Here is a good article I just came across this morning about one of the more successful farms in Western Oregon and their direct marketing, aging and farming, and why Portland isn’t too serious about farmer’s markets.
    http://letumeat.com/farms-and-farmers/ayers-creek-leaving-hillsdale-farmers-market/

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    • Bill says:

      Good read. I can understand why they’re making that decision and don’t blame them. We host a monthly gathering of farmers/homesteaders. Our December gathering was last night and our discussion topic (following a potluck supper) was supposed to be year-end Q&A about things that worked/didn’t work on the farm this year. But almost the entire discussion turned out to be about finances after one of our friends said they probably won’t keep trying to make a go of their meat chicken operation. He and his wife both work full-time jobs off farm and they’ve been spending all their weekends raising and selling chickens–only to break even. So they’re probably throwing in the towel. Led to an interesting discussion of course. We’re going to follow up with a brainstorming session on how to develop a model that works.

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  14. Stacy says:

    It’s time for Americans to realize that what the food industry sells is not really food. High quality nourishment is something completely different, and I commend farmers like this family for trying to provide it in spite of the hardship. XO

    Like

  15. EllaDee says:

    I want small famers to be successful because I will never farm myself, so I need them. The first day after we moved to our house in the country I bought some beef steaks from a local farmer -the G.O.’ cousin- and they were amazing. The G.O. asked me if they were expensive. I shrugged, as I had no idea comparatively. I don’t buy supermarket meat which is the usual price benchmark. They were worth it. As in the city we eat well and waste nothing, so I consider whatever we buy & pay to be good value. But to do so, I put in quite a lot of buying, prep & cooking effort but nothing like the time & work famers put in.

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    • Bill says:

      You make an excellent point EllaDee. Non-farmers do need farmers. Real honest-to-goodness farmers who eat the same food they sell and who love the land they work. Sadly, those are increasingly rare these days. Wonderful that you’re already beginning to enjoy food raised in your new community. 🙂

      Like

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