Where does your grocery money go? Mostly not to the farmers
August 8th, 2012
01:00 PM ET
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Tracie McMillan adapted this essay in part from her reporting for The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. She is a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and a 2013 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan . You can follow her @TMMcMillan.

A few months ago, a small farmer in the Northeast approached me at a conference, intense and red-faced. How could I say that Americans shouldn’t pay more for their food?

She sold lettuce and beets to well-heeled women, their ears dangling gold and fingers sporting diamonds. Yet many of them balked at the prospect of paying an extra dollar per pound. To grow her food without extensive chemicals, and to sell her wares at market, she needed to fetch a higher price. Surely, couldn't these women could pay more?

Well, yes, I conceded, those women could probably afford to pay more. That doesn’t mean we have to. Because it’s not the farmers who get most of the money we spend on food. It’s everyone who's standing past the farm gate.

When we buy food, we think we are paying the farmer. This is true in a very basic economic sense: some portion of what we spend at the store does trickle back down to the hands that worked the land. Understandably, we think that if food costs more, it must be because the farmer is getting more for it.

There might be good reasons for prices to rise - the worst drought in a half-century, for instance — or there might be profiteering reasons for it — padding a supermarket’s bottom line. But the base assumption is that when we pay more, the farmer makes more.

The problem is, that is almost entirely untrue.

The breakdown

For every dollar we spend on food, only about 16 cents goes to the farmer. The other 84 cents go towards what economists call “marketing,” which refers not to commercials and advertising, but the entire chain that ensures food makes it from farm to plate.

Those 84 cents pay for the diesel and truck and driver to move the food from farm to processing plant or warehouse; the mill or the factory where food is processed, or the cost of storing it until it is sold. They also pay for the people who sell it wholesale or to grocers, the restaurant cooks who prepare it for us when we eat out, the satellite and databases to track shipments, and the workers, forklifts, warehouse and refrigeration at the grocery store.

Take, for instance, the humble onion. In 2008, shoppers paid about 67 cents for every pound of onions they bought, with about 13 cents going to the farm, meaning that the farm got 19 percent of what shoppers paid. (The workers who picked the onions got between 1 and 2 percent, or just about one penny per pound.)

Across all vegetables, the average share paid to farmers is more like 25 percent; fresh fruits pay an average of 30 percent to the farmer. All the rest of it went to distribution, logistics, overhead - everything that it takes to get food from farm to plate.

Distributing wealth

Today, nearly all our meals arrive in our neighborhoods via supermarkets (or supercenters, the term for operations like Walmart and Target that also sell groceries). Those two kinds of stores sell about 80 percent of our food. Walmart, the biggest supermarket in the country, sells roughly one-quarter of the food bought in the U.S., making it the largest grocer in our history (and that of the world).

But by selling food, supermarkets have also become a de facto infrastructure for distributing it — a fact not lost on Walmart executives.

“The misconception is that we're in the retail business," Jay Fitzsimmons, a senior vice president and treasurer for Walmart, told investors in 2003. But in reality, "We're in the distribution business.”

Bringing distribution in-house is a big part of why Walmart now ranks as America’s largest grocer. When the mega-retailer expanded into food in the late 1980s, it set off a wave of consolidation within the supermarket industry as competitors scrambled to match prices. To stay in the game, most had to follow Walmart’s example and bring distribution in-house, a feat that only mega-sized companies could readily afford.

The little guy takes a hit

Local mom-and-pop grocers went out of business, and struggling chains merged or got bought by bigger ones; giant chains correspondingly gained market share. By 1998, 49 of the 50 largest supermarkets in the country handled their own distribution — and saved from 25 to 60 percent on operations as a result.

When little grocers went out of business, so did small and mid-size farmers. The new crop of bigger food retail outlets needed bigger quantities of food — more than a single, smaller grower could provide. Some farmers (including MacArthur "Genius Grant" recipient Will Allen) abandoned supermarkets altogether and found other ways to sell their goods – usually direct marketing like farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture clubs.

But many simply went out of business; the number of mid-sized farmers dropped by about 13 percent from 1997 and 2007 — and their share of sales dropped by 39 percent. Meanwhile, the number of big farmers inched up by 7 percent, but their market share skyrocketed, and they went from selling us half our food to nearly three-quarters of it.

The important thing here is to look at why they’ve been so successful: they built, and therefore shrank the cost of, distribution networks.

Closing the gap

That’s actually part of what the red-faced farmer from the conference was talking about. She was selling at a farmer’s market in part because there is a dearth of infrastructure available to move food between small-to-midsized farms and plate. Infrastructure is one of the biggest and most expensive obstacles to expanding local agriculture.

And this is where it gets interesting: maybe the key to feeding America well, and from its own farms, is not to send everyone to the farmers market. Maybe it’s not joining CSAs. Maybe it’s coming up with a way to reduce the distribution costs for modest American farmers and grocers. Because if we can find some wiggle room in the 70 to 85 percent of the purchase price that goes to that, chances are there would be room to send a little more back to the farm.

And what that means — sorry for the wonkery here, but it has to be said — is coming up with an affordable infrastructure for modest American farmers and grocers so they have a fighting chance when competing against the giants.

How to keep the money down on the farm

As individual shoppers, making that happen can be tough. The easiest thing to do is prove that there’s a market for good, locally grown food in your community at an affordable price. This helps to prove to people in power — supermarket executives, government bureaucrats with budget lines — that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Patronizing farmers markets is one option; in-season produce tends to be affordable, in part because the middle-man has been removed from the equation. (One caveat: “affordable” is a loose term. During a lean and writerly year in Detroit I took a notepad with me to the farmer’s market for a week, jotted down prices, and compared them at a local market, so I knew when I was getting a good price and when I needed to make do with supermarket fare.)

Asking your local grocer where and how they get their produce — and suggesting that you’d like to see more from local growers — never hurts. (As a former supercenter produce worker, though, I cannot guarantee that it will help, either.)

The problem is that making good food easy and affordable is a challenge that won’t be solved by your shopping cart alone. There are some promising, larger efforts already underway: the emerging farm-to-cafeteria movement is a stealth infrastructure project, connecting small and midsize farmers with stable, institutional purchasers who can give them more economic stability than farmer’s markets. And some of the nation’s most lauded farmers markets are already part of a USDA project called Food Hubs, an interesting mix of public and private funding designed to link American farmers with retail and wholesale buyers and eaters.

Showing public support for those programs, helping them to succeed, and calling for better ones are the only way we’re likely to reach a better balance in that farm-marketing split — moving it, ideally, so that it lands a bit more on the farm, where it belongs.

Previously:

What every farmer wants to hear – 'Go USA'
Who are you calling 'rich'? A small farmer shares some hard data
Farmer in the drought – if you plant it, it might not come
No bull – start a conversation with a farmer



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soundoff (97 Responses)
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  3. Coach fitness

    It’s Defiantly coming up with a way to reduce the distribution costs for modest American farmers and grocers. Everyone is skimming
    off the top. That's why prices are where they are.

    January 29, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
  4. jeltez42

    @cs
    I have never had a food borne illness until I ate organic food. three times now I have had to be treated in a hospital.

    I will never buy organic again. Besides, you are fooling yourself if you think organics are GMO and chemical free.

    November 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
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    August 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  6. Our Tiny Earth

    By shopping at your local farmers markets, you're buying directly from your local farmers and skipping the middle mad entirely. We need to understand that if we want to maintain a stable economy, we need to act within our own communities.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  7. JE

    So many posts about farmers getting rich...you know which ones are getting rich? the ones who are getting subsidies for growing corn and soybeans...most of which is not going into food (that's a much bigger discussion). I have many friends who are sustainable farmers and have volunteered on my days off at their farms. 13 hour days of backbreaking labor means I will never complain about paying an extra buck or two for tomatoes. Is Walmart cheaper? Of course it is...because their prices don't account for the REAL cost of food. It doesn't account for the migrant laborers working long days at wages too low for anyone posting here to live on. It doesn't account for the fact that Walmart keeps its "full time" hourly workers below 40 hours a week so that they don't have to pay for health insurance...which means tax dollars/your insurance premiums are covering that (again another discussion). If everyone were paying prices that reflected the real cost of food bought at large grocery stores you wouldn't be complaining about the small farmers struggling to stay afloat by charging prices that accurately cover the cost of growing food. I'm not sure how people who likely think nothing of the price of pop and chips not to mention electronics, etc can complain about the cost of food that actually nurishes you grown by hardworking people. Support your local farmer, build or join a food co-op, help build a food hub but most of all read...learn...volunteer...do something to help you to understand the real cost of food and why bigger and cheaper isn't necessarily better.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  8. stasha

    Buying from a local farmer isn't inefficient and most local farmers that sell at farm stands shouldn't be marketing their wares for the prices they are, youre right. Almost all food now travels 1500 miles from farm to fork. That sounds like inefficiency to me. People really need to go back to localized and seasonal eating. Don't buy produce that is more than 100 miles from your house. I know a ton of people will say "OMG WTF is wrong with you no. I wont be able to have my bananas or olive oil" youre right you wont. But it is much more sustainable and much more environmentally friendly to eat this way that buying produce that was shipped from Chile because its september and you want some really exotic fruit that only comes from South America. The more people shop local the lower prices will go. Now don't get me wrong youll have some that will still charge ridiculous prices, just like it is with certain grocery stores.

    August 14, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  9. justaguy

    I thought the co-op concept that got established back in the 50s and 60s was supposed to give the little farmer a better position in the market place; by bringing together all the little famrers and giving them market power, if you will, on the same level as the big farms. Is that not working any more? Have the corporate farms found a way to neutralize the co-op concept?

    August 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  10. Joe Mama

    Wow if I buy something, most of the money doesn't end up at the very beginning of the process? Each player takes a cut?? No way! I'm so shocked at this! I'm outraged!

    August 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  11. something

    farmers markets are expensive, they have a good deal on like one thing so they can put something on their sign and the rest is 4 times the price as the store

    August 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  12. JGN

    A well written article with some good ideas about how best to revitalize the American small farmer; nothing happens overnight but perseverance and having direction really helps.
    And while it's true one cannot grow 'enough for an entire year' in a small container plot, you can definitely grow tomatoes in the summer and winter squash or lettuce in the early spring which can REDUCE your cost at market. However, since that was not what the article was about please support local grown foods, natural markets which tend to source more from local farmers, and definitely the farmers markets!

    August 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • BS

      Why? I can either buy expensive, inefficiently produced local food and support a local farmer, or I can buy cheaper food produced buy a larger, efficient farmer. Either way, I'm supporting a farmer. If you want a food system like we had in 1850, go for it. I'd rather have one that won't reduce yeilds, drive up prices, and cause people in poorer countries to starve.

      August 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  13. Henry

    Gardening!....Now that is something I know.....to live off of a garden is "time" consuming!....I have picked and froze about 15 gallons of blueberries, and given away about 6 gallons.....at a pick rate of about 1 hr/gallon....my daughter and I planted them 20 yrs ago and nutured them. Now figs are easy picking but you have to beat the birds, insects...and that means get up early, and then I have dried them 1000's of them....but.....still my main garden really grow on less than 70X20 and it is labor and then more labor.

    Bottom line is you have to love to work and sweat!!
    Peace! and NOWar

    August 10, 2012 at 6:04 am |
  14. Jeremy Johnson Jones

    I just read this entire article, and the inane comments that followed (for a laugh of course). Not one comment on here about the most obvious thing – why not grow your own? Why not preserve some food for the winter? Why not try saving some seeds from one year to the next? How about having a few chickens for eggs? This is all very easy, small urban homesteader type stuff and yet not one person here mentioned it. The chick with the gold earrings? She has enough money (and obviously enough time), but would rather go to the farmers market cuz its easier. People who don't have the money would rather complain about the quality of produce at Walmart than try and do anything about it on their own.

    I'm not saying don't support your local farmers. I'm saying, if you grow alot of your own food and realize the savings there, you can easily afford to spend more at a farm stand. And it will mean more to you, to be buying a high quality product that you now know just how much work it is to produce.

    Hey Kat Kinsman – if you want to talk to a small scale homeowner / suburban homesteader, let me know. More people should know and realize the merits of DIY, and self sufficiency. Especially in todays society. Drought in the midwest? Doesn't affect me. I grow most of my own food, and my chickens free range for their food so no worries about corn prices there.

    August 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Nunya

      Then you obviously don't live in an urban spot. Try having your own chickens and vegetables in Manhattan...

      August 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
      • Jeremy Johnson Jones

        Its a piece of cake – I think I read 3 blogs just this week regarding container gardening and how theres a ton of people who grow all they need in areas 6 ft x 6 ft. I mean seriously, such an ignorant thing to say. Now if you really don't have any space at all, I'd say thats a decision you've made personally. But you still have SOME window space, and its a challenge to many to try and make these types of areas work for growing food. Hell, if you grew just fresh herbs you could save yourself like anywhere between 1-3$ anytime you need to use them.

        Not to mention, Manhattan = tiny and expensive, where other boros have much more space and for much cheaper. All depends on your lifestyle and what you are looking to do.

        August 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
        • Nunya

          I grew up in small town midwest. My parents both were from farm families. We grew tons of stuff in large gardens. I know gardening. If you live in a truly urban area, you do not have the space required to grow any substantial portion of the food you consume during the course of a year. Container gardening is boutique – it does not grow enough to sustain anyone. And the large majority of the U.S. populace lives in urban areas rather than where they have the opportunity to garden to that degree.

          August 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
        • What?

          I'll make this real, real simple . . .

          There's no way in h _ _ _ anybody can grow enough food – of any kind – in a 6' x 6' plot to sustain them for a year. Period.

          August 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
        • the 99%

          You cant grow a "farm" in the nazi neighborhoods that have guidelines to how your home looks. Nearly all neighborhoods with new houses have a nazi association that will fine you if you are growing tomatoes instead of flowers.

          August 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
        • whorhay

          It isn't necessary to grown all of your food for a year in a 6 x 6 plot. But you can certainly supplement your regular needs with a plot that size. Especially if you focus on growing things that are typically high dollar purchases at the store. Herbs are a good choice because they are easy to grow, occupy little space, are very expensive if you want any kind of quality, and are much much better when they are fresh. Obviously growing a fruit tree is out of the question. But you could always do a couple hanging tomato plants mixed with some sweat peas.

          Basically you need to look at what you consume and figure out if any of those items could be grown at home in whole or in part.

          August 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
        • stasha

          Its funny ll these people complaining. Ive ready plent y of articles and blogs about people growing food in the city. And for many people they probably don't have the space to grow enough food to store for any amount of time but there are plenty of inner city and community gardens in the city and I'm almost positive that there are farmers markets in Brooklyn where youll pay less than you do at Whole Foods.

          August 14, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • MJ180

      We try, unfortunately the darn (not really the term I normally use) deer get most of what we plant.

      August 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
      • Ariel

        Shoot them! :O) Deer meat for free.

        August 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Dawn

      the poor can't grow there own because they live in apartments not all cities allow chicken and some require you kill them at the end of the season, tramatic for some. for people who own home yes they should try to grown something

      August 9, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I am all about folks growing their own, and I've currently got corn on my front stoop in Brooklyn, pumpkins on the roofdeck and herbs coming out of my ears. Sadly, it couldn't possibly keep my husband and me fed past the summer. I'm curious to know how you do it. Got a website or a way I can get in touch with you?

      August 10, 2012 at 12:38 am |
      • Jeremy Johnson Jones

        Its pretty obvious that noone is going to be able to produce an entire year's food supply on their stoop in brooklyn. If you read back through what I said, I was suggesting supplementing so that you can understand the true reason why they charge more money than your local supermarket. A small farmer puts in so much time and effort its ridiculous. And that will easily get people to realize why things cost more at a Farmer's Market.

        Not to mention, if you type in "urban gardening" you get about a million links to things like this: http://www.urbanfarming.org/welcome.html

        All I'm saying is, if you have enough desire to do something about the food you are eating, then you can do it, no matter where you live or how much space you have.

        Plus, the "subsistence" portion of my argument becomes moot for those who live in a city – part of the reason I do alot of this stuff is to make myself independent, so that I do not rely on others for alot of my day to day needs. Because of this, I feel better insulated in the case of some kind of major food crisis, terrorist attack, or some other type of disaster. If you live in a city, and something like that happens, you are at the mercy of the government to help you out, or else you're going to have to get out of the city.

        August 10, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • tmmcmillan

      I think one one of the most inspiring threads in the current food movement (such as it is) is the drive for self-sufficiency and self-determination when it come to our meals - and that's something you'll find among both liberals and right-wingers.

      August 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  15. Jake

    A union workforce would solve this problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • don't need union protection

      Unions create problems and solve nothing. Unions had a place in the workforce decades ago when people had to work 16 hour days. All unions do now is create tension, keep loser employees with high senority when companies cut back, and take extortion money fom members to "protect" their jobs. No thanks, unions suck.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
      • Nunya

        There still are some industries where unions could serve that same role of curtailing businesses abusing employees with expectations of 16 hour days.

        August 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
      • Dawn

        this is about farmers stay on topic

        August 9, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  16. Larry P

    I have a very small citrus farm, I break even or lose money every year, I have a private sector job to pay the bills, I work my a$$ off in the groves when I'm not at my job.......don't tell me or any other small farmer we're rich, you should walk a mile in our shoes.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  17. Phoebe0728

    I shop primarily at Whole Foods, but the best product I make sure to purchase is BANa rehydration drink. It was developed in Charleston, S.C. by the doctor...and a portion of the proceeds go to the Holling's Cancer Center. It is like an IV in a bottle, and I refuse to buy gatorade or Pedialyte after knowing what BANa can do for me and my family. EVERYONE I've introduced BANa drink to, loves it!!

    August 9, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Dawn

      story about farmers not as drinks stay on topic

      August 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  18. Consumer

    Why should there be a price premium over supermarket prices when farmers typically get 30 cents or less of supermarket prices? Shouldn't farmers be selling their products for less than supermarket prices? I like farmers market stuff but can't stomach to pay $7 for a pound of cherries. I think most of the time farmers are trying to make a killing when city folks come to shop.

    August 9, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Nunya

      Yes, I go to my farmer's market regularly, and I support local farmers there when they aren't charging more than they do at the grocery store. If the farmer really is getting only 16% of every dollar, then farmers at the market should be able to sell it far cheaper than grocery stores.

      August 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Dawn

      true i pay 15% more for food from a farmers market i understand both side of the debate

      August 9, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • stasha

      id rather pay the $7 for cherries than the 8.99 i paid the other day at shop rite.

      August 14, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • elsie

      Read the story again – it's not the same farmers. You can either have a huge automated farm, selling mass-produced food to the supermarkets through their own distribution chains, not getting much per unit but making money through volume; or you can be a small-to-medium farmer taking your produce directly to a farmers' market. This costs more to do and thus they charge more than that Walmart. There is no in-between anymore, you can be either high-end and monopolizing, or low-end and struggling. That was the whole point of the story, so I don't know why you'd ask this question after reading it.

      August 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  19. BobfromOhio

    I grew up in an agritocracy in Southeastern Missouri, where the bean was king. There was a clear divide between the haves (the farmers) and the have-nots (pretty much everyone else).

    August 9, 2012 at 3:27 am |
  20. Lila

    I feel guilty for writing this but I know where my fruits and veggies come from because I go to the same stands every week at my local farmers market. I have such a long relationship to the point I know when unique items like purple peppers will be available(last week yay).

    August 9, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Rational

      couple choices run through my head.
      1. Bring your own stuff (too much? then your out of luck, ask for a subsidy from the government. Go to #5)
      2. Sell at a farmer's market (can't sell your goods? go to #4/#5)
      3. Don't grow so much (create demand or lose opportunity to produce anyways)
      4. New career? (best choice, unless your in debt and to sell would be a even greater loss)
      5. Talk to your government representative/community? <– this one actually means you did something than settle for less

      This comment disgusted me.... It's a joke
      "She sold lettuce and beets to well-heeled women, their ears dangling gold and fingers sporting diamonds. Yet many of them balked at the prospect of paying an extra dollar per pound. To grow her food without extensive chemicals, and to sell her wares at market, she needed to fetch a higher price. Surely, couldn't these women could pay more?"

      This is [narrow minded] but I don't care not like these people are starving, I ain't about to give them an extra dollar for few cents worth of hurt.

      The reason why supermarkets can sell cheaper and get most of the demand, because they "market efficiently".

      August 9, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  21. Penny Nickels

    The farmer's in the black, the farmer's in the black,
    Hi, ho, the merry-o, the farmer's in the black.

    The farmer's getting rich, the farmer's getting rich,
    Hi, ho, the merry-o, the farmer's getting rich.

    We pay too much for food, we pay too much for food
    Hi, ho, the merry-o, we pay too much for food

    August 9, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Keith

      Only in your fairy tale world.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Not most of 'em for sure: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/07/27/who-are-you-calling-rich-a-small-farmer-shares-some-hard-data/

      August 9, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Larry P

      The CORPORATE farmer is getting rich.

      August 9, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Been There

      WRONG!

      Making a profit and getting rich are two different things. Any profit from crops is either invested into the business for the next crop or is used for the farmers themselves to eat and live, and have some type of life. Oh, buy you say land values are at record highs, so they are rich. I say only on paper. Why? because they are not cashing in on those values by selling the land. Most farmers do not care what their land is worth. Value goes up and down through years of normal business and economic cycles. They typically hang on that land for generations in order to continue the business as well as their family heritage. Oh buy you say the farmer is receiving $8 for his corn. Yes, right now that is true, but the input expenses to raise that bushel of corn, then payments on equipment to raise that corn, cost of either renting or payments of owning the land base, often take up anywhere from 75% to 90% of that $8, leaving only a small margin to live off of. Walk a mile in one's shoes before posting things like you just posted!!

      August 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Dawn

      its not the farmers fault but at the same time when they over charge at the farmers market they destroy their image that they are not doing well

      August 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  22. owerby

    My sons are working on a food anthropology project http://www.CostofChicken.com The main idea is to find out about the true cost of food around the world via a Crowdmap - a geo map of information on local food costs, including price, quality, and origin generated by people around the worl (mostly kids). What they learned over the last 8 months is that people didn't really know where their food comes from. Perhaps, if we knew more about our food, we could make better choices and support local, small farmers, while reducing the cost of our grocery bills... Check it out. Post some data. Learn what food costs in tha far North and the far East...

    August 9, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That's incredibly cool! How might I get in touch with them about this?

      August 9, 2012 at 9:52 am |
      • owerby

        I think it's easy to do through their web site. And thank you for liking their project! I am a proud mom!

        August 9, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  23. TheBob

    Farmers get FAT subsidies from the government, whether they need it or not, and sometimes whether they farm or not. I wouldn't feel too sorry for farmers. They do better than most of the rest of us.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Very, very few of the farmers do, but they hear that criticism a lot. Here's a response from one: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/07/27/who-are-you-calling-rich-a-small-farmer-shares-some-hard-data/

      August 9, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • rogere

      Wouldn't it be nice if we got rid of all subsidies and actually paid the amount that it cost to produce each crop? let the market decide who wants to eat what and at what price. In the end though we have to make sure that farmers stay in business because it is the only industry that we cannot do without particularly if you live in a city. One solution (that no one will like) is to set a minimum price that a grower receives for their produce. One that allows a farmer to survive regardless of weather events. I would rather see rich farmers than rich bankers.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:12 am |
      • tmmcmillan

        Hmmm, the market isn't going to magically produce a healthy food supply. There are things it does really well — rationalizing profit and cost, and pushing towards consolidation. And that's a big reason why we've lost nearly any public knowledge or power over distribution of our food: We've left it entirely to market forces, without putting anything in place to make sure good, fresh food is as accessible to the poor as to the affluent. I don't think we have to abolish the market, but it's certainly failed thus far when it comes to feeding us well.

        August 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Keith

      Just goes to show what you know about farming, NOTHING

      August 9, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  24. dyfts

    I dislike that she states she "During a lean and writerly year in Detroit I took a notepad with me to the farmer’s market for a week, jotted down prices, and compared them at a local market, so I knew when I was getting a good price and when I needed to make do with supermarket fare." I guess I can see how if you are tight on money, you cannot afford the extra 50 cents to buy from a farmer's market, but I generally consider that the food I am getting there is fresher than the supermarket, so worth the extra. Plus, I know I am helping a medium size farm rather than a large farm.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • tmmcmillan

      I think it's important to remember that a third of the American public lives in a household with an income of $35,000 or less — that's whole families, not just individuals. My sense if that if we want to have a conversation about how to build a food system that works for everyone, we've got to keep them in mind, too. Nearly everyone, of every income class, bristles at being told how to spend their money - and I think that goes double for struggling families who hear they're just not trying hard enough/not making the right decisions. I care a lot about farmers and agriculture, but I care a lot about people that need to eat well but don't have a very flexible budget for doing so.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Dawn

      she did undercover work that result in 2.75 plus tips and 6.95 a hour jobs so she had to price check
      the hard part is a lot of poor people no longer eat veggies or fruit. they eat bread and pasta and low quality meat(if they can afford it) because they can no longer afford anything and that hurts the farmers too

      August 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  25. mary

    Don't blame the truckers. They are just trying to make a living and pay the same prices everyone else does for groceries. All anyone's purchases come from somewhere, its the truckers that get them there for you.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  26. c s

    Good article about how the current system works. But there is really little that can be changed so that the small and medium farmer gets more money. As someone else commented, the amount of money going to the farmer has been about 20% for decades. Read a history book and read about how the farmers were being squeezed by the railroads over a hundred years ago. Small and medium farms should concentrate on organic food because it provides a higher sale price with better margins. Growing organic food requires more effort by the farmer and the big farms do not want to do it because they prefer to cater to their advantage which is big machinery and heavy chemical usage.

    I buy mostly organic food and usually pay about a 100% premium for it. Many people are opposed to it for political reasons which strikes me as absolutely crazy. They have listened to certain TV networks and consider organic food to be almost poisonous. I mean I can understand someone saying it is expensive but unhealthy? Before you say that I am making this up, it happens in my family. Even when I offer to give it to them free, they refuse it. It is really strange.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • xeno

      Interesting points. I've never heard of people thinking organic is poisonous. I can't even wrap my brain around that. That's sad, and frankly, highlights the larger problem of how and why people eat as they do in this country.

      August 8, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
      • elsie

        I worked in a large IT department and everybody's food but mine used to get stolen or sampled from the break room fridge. I found out that "the guys" were all suspicious of it because it was clearly labelled "organic." Seriously, thirty guys were sneaking other people's milk for their coffee, but they wouldn't touch mine because the carton said "organic." They didn't trust it. I even asked one of them and he replied "I don't know what they do to that stuff, I don't want my food tampered with." When I told them that organic meant they literally didn't do anything to it, he didn't believe me. This was at a large university. I just said "okay then" and decided to leave them unenlightened, as it meant nobody sneaking my food.

        August 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Dairy Farmer

      Organic means many things, I am a small dairy farmer who is not organic, for great reasons. Organic farming is excellent in some cases but in dairy, any cow that is sick, that should be given medication, such as Penicillin is often given tea or something equally ludicrous an ineffective as treatment. Would that cure pneumonia in a human, I think we all know the answer to that. Or in many cases animals are given no treatment at all and left to die, or being put down. I have literally witnessed hundreds of calves dying over the course of several years at neighboring organic dairy farms just because they had scours and there was no "organic" way of treating it. I do all I can to give my animals long happy healthy lives, people need to think more when they think about what "organic" really means. I choose to get paid less for my milk so I can give proper treatment, anyone thinking organic meats or animal byproducts are better, think again. Now if only CNN would run articles about that, or maybe about the required ethanol levels in gasoline using up the corn that should be used to feed cattle or make food products.

      August 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        "Now if only CNN would run articles about that, or maybe about the required ethanol levels in gasoline using up the corn that should be used to feed cattle or make food products."

        Why, we get some of our best articles from people we find in the comments. Tell me how to get in touch with you, and we'll talk. That's how we found Ryan Goodman who writes for us all the time.

        August 9, 2012 at 12:08 am |
        • Dairy Farmer

          Many stories seem very biased and opinionated on most news offerings, it makes sense that good ideas and stories would come from comments, most times the comments at the bottom of any given article are more entertaining than the articles themselves. You can get in touch with me via my twitter, https://twitter.com/DeathDealer425 I would post my email but spam bots would have a field day with that.

          August 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
      • Lila

        The public is concerned with synthetic hormones to produce more milk and farmers using too many antibiotics that's why organic milk is so popular. It would upset most consumers to know that cows that are really sick aren't getting proper medicine because it would ruin the "organic" label. In a perfect situation the public would trust the farmer to be conservative with antibiotics, but the trust isn't there. I do feel bad for the welfare of the cows, they should be treated when they are sick.

        August 9, 2012 at 12:18 am |
        • Diane

          There are no allowable levels of antibiotics in milk. Dairy cattle are not given antibiotics to produce more – only to treat problems. And then, there is required milk withdrawal times and all milk is tested for antibiotic residues before entering the food system. Posilac (rBST) maintains the milk producing cells in the udder at the levels found in early lactation – it doesn't result in changes in milk composition, taste nor does it "come through in the milk" because the hormone is naturally occurring in cattle but decreases over the course of the lactation. If you are really concerned about the quality of your milk you should probably be more concerned about pesticide and herbicide by products passing through the food system because of their use in conventional agriculture.

          August 9, 2012 at 12:45 am |
        • Lila

          i never said antibiotics were used to produce more milk, I wrote synthetic hormones are used to produce more milk. The concern with using too much antibiotics is that it could be passed to humans. Consumers choose to buy organic that doesn't have cows that were treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics because they don't want to take the chance. They want a healthier option. Like I said, I prefer sick cows be properly cared for, but keep in mind parents overdid antibiotics with their own kids with terrible results, their infections became resistant to antibiotics. I don't think farmers do it to be mean to the cows, but it can create the same result.

          August 9, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  27. joel nwaomu

    it is the same thing here in nigeria.i stay in agbor,delta state and have a farmer friend who is always complaining...

    August 8, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  28. abbydelabbey

    Small family farms struggle; it's the mega-corporate farms that do well. Farm subsidies really support the mega-corporate farms. From the minute the food leaves the small farm the corporations are in charge and that's where most of the dollar goes. Buy local, buy small farm.

    August 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  29. SlowMoneyFarm

    There are alternatives – for whatever food choice you have there is likely a farmer out there growing it. Organic, supplying the grocery store, farmer's markets, vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, meat...someone is making it available. Buying direct puts more in the farmer's pocket and may even save you money, or may not. Food choices are for all.

    August 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  30. Doug

    This isn't exactly earthshaking reporting. Farmers have always been "price takers" subject to what the market place will pay for their crop.. Long before Walmart or Costco came around, farmers were at the mercy of the marketplace. USDA has had this breakdown of what the average farmer makes per dollar food purchased in the grocery and it's been about 13-18 cents per dollar for decades. What the public doesn't realize that farming is a huge gamble and farmers are willing to take the risk. Today, with the drought, there's lots of uncertainty. Without rain, they're screwed.

    August 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I definitely think people know that the farmers don't get much. It's eye-opening for people to see exactly *how* little, though, and we wanted to empower people to make their own decisions.

      It's really easy, when you get your food from a grocery store, not to think about what and who got it there. That's what we're trying to work on here.

      August 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
      • Major Tom

        Farmers live high on the hog thanks to large subsidies from the government, at our expense.

        August 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
        • George

          That is such a straw argument. Some farmers, (more likely ranchers) get gov't subsidies, many do not. I've worked on dozens of small farms (under 250k/year) that received no subsidies, crop insurance, or govt grants (e.g. USDA high tunnel program) that are profitable, but not wealthy. Now I know you're thinking.. well geez if that farm is making 200k a year they MUST be wealthy by now. Hardly. Labor, insurance, inputs, marketing eat up most of that profit. The last farm I worked and co managed in Pennsylvania grossed 75,000/year and was losing money every year due to labor costs. It's expensive to employ people the RIGHT way, documented, insured, UC, SSI, etc etc.

          Most people think of "farmers" as those huge midwest farms, or CAFO, or large wide ranches w/ beef cattle everywhere. That's not most of us anymore. We are in our 30's, 40's, and 50's, starting over again from another career, or pooling resources to lease land and doing more direct sales, CSA, farmers market, farm to schools, co-op, food clubs, etc etc. The face of farming is changing, and it is NOT huge farms w/ 6 figure incomes from the gov't subsidies. It's your neighbors kid who went to college for agriculture and is working that 2 acre farm for vegetables, and another 20 leased for cattle...

          August 9, 2012 at 8:00 am |
      • MarkNM

        I am really surprised to have read so many of these comments, and have yet to see conversations about the value of food co-op efforts. Or the value of Fair Trade initiatives. Co-ops operate under guiding principles of sustainability, and helping to grow local economies. natural food co-ops, especially those in the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) work closely with national distributors, but focus strongly on supporting local and regional farmers, helping them trough marketing and collaborative efforts to receive the fairest price possible that will allow the co-op to be financially stable and responsible while ensuring the farmer/producer of that local or regional products (including meat, dairy, and vegetables) put more money in their pockets directly, and by being paid the true value of/for their food they go home and hire more people as they become more successful. When more of us stress to our grocers our interest in local and regional we will see more of it available on out local store shelves. And if you increase the local and regional you minimize shipping and transport costs which lets the farmer or producer be paid more! strongertogether.coop is worth some research if you are truly interested.

        August 10, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  31. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    That's why you shop your farmer's market. Pay the farmer, not the corporate CEO. Go local!

    August 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
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