It is unique how we use euphemisms to describe the human condition. Like "No good deed goes unpunished", means usually you sacrifice your good time for being dumped on and spend more time working even though you were trying to help. There is, "Don't let the screen door hit you on the way out," meaning you cannot get out of here fast enough for my comfort. Another lesser-known one is "Off farm income,” that's the euphemism for “works two jobs in order to pay all the bills associated with small farming and living”.
Off farm income is a category tracked by the USDA along with tons of other data associated with agriculture. However, when you look at the numbers in small farm income it screams anemia. As of 2009, small farm income as a percentage of total farm-household income is projected to be a whopping 8.7 percent. Down from the 11.1 percent it was in 2008. That means that for every dollar of income a farm brings in, 91 cents is from "off farm income". As in "farms and works another job to earn enough in order to sustain an existence".
Okay, so I am late to the party, but is this normal? I mean, I know it is reality but is this normal for any industry. Let alone an industry whose main function is to provide a basic form of human sustainability. Maslow's paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" points out the hierarchical needs of humans. The paper was accepted in academia in the forties and is still being taught today. After air and water, food is at the level that everything else in human life builds upon.
Food, water and air are what sustain human life. Would not small farmers producing food for human consumption be allowed to focus all their energies on producing that food in an environmentally sustainable way, be healthier then forcing them to use practices that are detrimental to the environment and humans because it saves time? Should not the person growing your food be able to spend the time learning new technology and methods in order to use and preserve scarce resources like soil and water? If the economics of the medical profession were such that outside employment was necessary in order to pay all living expenses our society would not stand for it. As a doctor, In order to ply your trade, you must earn ninety-one percent of your income doing something else besides the practice of medicine. That would never fly these days.
You can very easily be mired in the economics of this argument but my point is to explain yet another hurdle that small farms face as part of being a sustainable, safe and eco-friendly operation. Small farms, as defined by the USDA, are those farms with net-income of $1,000 to $250,000 in gross sales. Small farms represent about ninety percent of all farms in the United States but make up only twenty percent of all gross farm sales.
Within the small farm category, there are two sub-categories, those that make fewer than 10,000 dollars and those making 10,000 to 250,000 dollars in gross sales. Sixty plus percent of small farms makes less than 10,000 dollars in gross annual sales. Thirty percent of small farms fall into the other category of gross sales over 10,000 dollars.
I am not saying that farming is the only profession in which people have to work two jobs in order to maintain some standard of living. The term “standard of living” is very subjective when it comes to the individual consumer. Economic compensation has always been disproportionate when you look at the value added to society from a particular profession. Teaching comes to mind, for instance. We put the weight of the world on our future generations but the people that are there to teach and prepare them for that burden are grossly under-paid.
The men and women that risk their lives whether in the military, law enforcement or other hazardous jobs face the same inequities. On the other side are those people that can put together complex derivatives and manipulate hedge funds such that they topple the economic stability of an entire country and they are valued economically at grossly astounding figures. Money does not feed a nation food does.
There is no wonder small farming is so incredibly hard when you see those numbers. The deck is stacked against you from the start; it is an uphill battle that most people would not think of taking on. As I tell our staff, “you all are very unique people, first off very few people choose to work such a physically demanding job and of those that try most cannot do it". We have a great staff of hardworking conscientious people. They never cease to amaze me with their eagerness to learn, there ability to understand, ask deeper questions and how they carry themselves.
We also have a business plan, one portion is strategic the other dynamic. Our long-term goals quite simply are to be sustainable both environmentally and economically. Our dynamic goals are geared more towards revenue generation and expenditure controls. The two are symbiotic but it is the strategic plan that we have the greater concerns about. Without the ability to be totally, sustainable we are not going to be in business long. At least ninety percent of small farms face this dilemma. When you find out that only nine cents out of every dollar is earned from farm activities you start to question the sanity of why anyone would get into a business like this (see Who in Their Right Mind).
We work full-time and I can attest to those numbers about outside income. We are a small farm and the total income from farm related activities, in a given year, has not been enough to cover just farm expenses, let alone what living expenses there are. Yet we persist, because each year we do a fraction better in terms of revenue, knowledge, our customer base, our reputation and our ability to expand yet keep the food safe and tasty. For us, it is important to do the right thing, to not shy away from hard work or impossible tasks and to help those that need help because that was instilled in me when I grew up. Growing safe, fresh food is as much a part of me as “off farm income”.
Buy Local: From a farmer that grows it not hucksters claiming they do