More interesting to me than the article are the comments. One thing I love about NPR commenters is that they are usually well-reasoned comments even if I disagree with the comment. This article brings up several different issues. Subsidies, organic, conventional, local, niche markets, big ag, you name it. Many of these folks bring up many good points on both sides which is why I’m never sure exactly where I stand. As a young person trying to buy land it just doesn’t really work unless you have a hell of a down payment and stellar credit and even then the bank gets iffy on rural properties. In my own experience we had a place that they wouldn’t give us a loan on because the buildings weren’t painted. Really?! That was what they said though. That and the fact that it had barns/livestock facilities were all reasons they didn’t want to do conventional loans. Gee, wonder why folks can’t buy the big places for sale? They are there. At least in the area I’m at. But, there are many of us that don’t want a quarter section (160 acres) or bigger to farm. The cost of equipment is insane. I think little implement add-ons start in the 100K range. Uh, yeah. That isn’t going to happen for me.
So, we have high land prices, high equipment prices, and low food prices. The base economic model doesn’t really make sense to me. Now, as a consumer I don’t like paying the cost of the food either. I just flat-out can’t afford to pay the actual cost for the most part. Once in a while I splurge and get the good local meat but I can’t do that on a weekly basis. And no, I don’t have cable t.v. or fancy cars or lots of new clothes. I cook most of my food from scratch. Mostly out of necessity. Ingredients are cheaper and healthier than the packaged stuff. I grow my own garden because a packet of seed is a lot cheaper than buying the many pounds of tomatoes in the store. Yes, it involves work that I don’t always want to do. The fact that the once a month paycheck runs out before the month is up makes the work necessary. It also means that I don’t do a lot of shopping at the specialty markets or co-ops where the food is higher quality but also higher priced. It means I shop at the hated big box stores. Ugh. You think it is fun? No. Not fun in the least but it means I can make meals for the whole month and still pay the land bill and put clothes on my kids.
You know what it all boils down to? We all do what works for us in our own part of the country. Every area has a different cost of living. We do better now than we did in Montana and we are only on one income now. This means our child care costs have gone way down since I’m at home. We just couldn’t do that before. Now we can. Different part of the country. Besides changing where we live we’ve changed some of how we live. I bake most of our own bread and like I said cook mostly from scratch and do a lot of preserving. We do a lot less eating out too.
The whole point though is that I think everyone is just trying to make ends meet. Organic farmer, conventional farmer, niche market farmer near an urban center, the rural small family farm, or the urban backyard farmer or the in-town person. It doesn’t matter who you are, you try to make the best choices you can for your family. I know there are some people who don’t seem to know there are better options out there. That is why I like the people who are so driven to get the word out about growing your own food or buying organic and non-GMO and the likes. But I am also not going to condemn those folks who buy what they can with what little money they have. I get it. I’ve been on both sides after all. I used to be able to buy what I wanted when I wanted. Those days are gone but I feel our quality of life has gone up despite that. More money doesn’t always equal more happiness.
But to get back on the topic of farms more than money. Our banks and government regulations don’t make it easy to get into farming. There are the costs of the land itself, the equipment, and then the animals and the feeds. Because of the subsidies and other market nuances that I won’t even pretend to remotely understand, the ways to make money on the crops or livestock are seemingly more based on luck then any sort of economic sense. You would think that if you have a product to sell you could sell it. Not always. Like I say though, I don’t even pretend to understand these markets. I enjoy listening to the reports on the radio or reading about them in the paper but I can’t make heads or tails out of them. This seems to be another hurdle to getting into farming. How do you make money in a market that you don’t understand. I’m assuming a lot of this is taught in those ag classes at college. The ones I never took since I was busy taking aviation classes. Now I wouldn’t mind a few of those classes.
The other hurdle I see/experience is the fact that farming large or small-scale seems to be a bit of a “good ol’ boys” club that can be hard to break into. Not always and not everywhere but it is a bit. I’m not trying to be a farmer but I can see where the issues come about. My goal is to provide most of my family’s food and to make my hobby of spinning wool support itself. I still enjoy reading about the big and small farmers and I enjoy trying to understand the markets. Part of that stems from the fact that I live in an area that is largely supported by big ag. It is interesting to try to understand it.