Yesterday, on the way home from our first farmer’s market experience, my husband, The Farmer, said that if things keep going the way they have been, he will have to take on a part time job, come fall. My husband quit his full time job in mid-March. He had a good paying job. He always has had good paying, stable jobs, since we got married. So why did he quit? Because he’s had a passion, ever since I met him, to “do something that makes a difference.” He is an easy going guy and stays pretty even tempered even when he doesn’t like a situation…but he was having a hard time staying motivated at a desk job with lots of meaningless bureaucracy and red tape. He never met the end user of the product he worked on–so he never knew if what he was doing made any difference to anybody. That’s one reason he quit.
Another reason? A passion for real food. For 3 years now, we’ve been producing awesome food for our family and a small base of customers. He and I both wanted to expand that reach and make sure lots of people are getting good, healthy, farm-fresh food!
Before we jumped into this full-time farming thing, we pencilled out how much it would cost to do everything–what we’d need to invest in equipment, animals, etc., and what the profit would be. It all pencilled out….but we have not had nearly as many sales as we projected. It’s discouraging for us.
I write posts about the cost of raising real food, like this post about the cost of producing raw milk, and I get people saying that they think we should just do this because we love it, and that “everyone knows” that farmers don’t farm for the money….We do love it. But at the end of the day, we have to pay the mortgage, just like the rest of you. And a mortgage on a farm is often times more than the typical mortgage. Plus farmers often take out debt for large equipment, like $25,000 tractors (I had NO CLUE that tractors cost that much until we moved here and suddenly needed one! And every implement for a different job costs $500 to thousands more!). Do people expect that farmers are debt-free and rich and can just give away food, below cost? Or that farmers can survive at or below the poverty level, and that they just should because of the type of career that they’ve chosen?
I really appreciated this comment, from Small Footprint Family:
“I love how people think farmers, teacher and other people who do important, necessary work for society should just “do it for the love” and not for money. Would you ask a doctor or lawyer or computer programmer or a great winery to lower their prices, and just do it for the love? Would you forgo a salary at your job or business and just do it for the love?
Why should a doctor make $200 an hour, while the farmer goes out of business, unable to make ends meet? Arguably the farmer’s job is much more important, since the quality of her food will most likely keep you from needing the doctor in the first place!”
It’s true. It’s amazing, when we think about it, how much my husband got paid for a desk job, testing software and running meetings, telling other people to test software….And now he works SO hard (it is 10:20 pm and he just came in…he had the tractor going, moving feed, because the feed couldn’t be delivered until late tonight…He will wake up at 5 am and get ready to go milk and do animal chores…), and this is an IMPORTANT JOB and he makes so little.
I understand the complaints about the cost of food, from the consumer perspective. Our food is expensive….but we also don’t use any government subsidized feeds, at all. I replied to one complaint about my raw milk post with this:
“I think $30 per gallon is a lot, too, but there is a real cost to producing food that most consumers don’t even realize. All of the chicken, pork and turkey at the grocery store is fed government subsidized soy and corn–not healthy or even natural feeds for these animals–and yet very, very cheap. So the consumer has no clue what the real cost of meat is. The milk is the same way. We are capped at having 2 producing cows in Oregon. That’s all we can have, unless we pasteurize and become a commercial dairy operation. There are crazy laws that real-food-farmers have to deal with, and most consumers aren’t even aware how hard it is to produce and sell really good food. We do sell chicken and pork and turkey and duck and goose and beef. But this is part of what our farm offers, and it takes more than 2 hours every day out of our day, so it needs to make an income. Most farmers who raise food “right” are having to take on part time or even full time jobs and make farming a second priority. I think that is just *wrong* and so sad, and so I am trying to be a voice for those farmers. The fact of the matter is, a $3 gallon of milk isn’t sustainable for anyone. If consumers are going to complain about growth hormones, and feedlot operations, and icky food being fed to cows (as they should), they should also realize that $3 per gallon will put any farmer–no matter how big his operation is–in the hole, financially. Government subsidized soy and corn have ruined the consumer’s understanding of food costs. People who shop in grocery stores regularly do not have a realistic picture of how much food *actually* costs to raise, and unfortunately, farmers who are doing it right take a lot of flack for trying to make an income that’s even near or above the poverty level. Our bacon costs $11 per pound, and people think that is a lot–but my husband made $1 for every day he raised those pigs–that’s it. If he was making a decent wage raising hogs, nobody would buy our bacon. Either consumers decided that they’re going to pay real prices for real food, or we will all be stuck with the factory-farm model and a country that goes deeper in debt because of how much we “pretend” food costs.”
Note, our milk is not $30 per gallon, it’s $10. 🙂 But at $10, the wage my husband makes per hour for his labor is below the poverty line. We sell our chickens for $5.50 per pound, and with the non-gmo, soy-free, corn-free feed that we buy, and the fact that we don’t medicate our chickens with low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster (while creating super-bugs in humans), we don’t make a ton of profit on those chickens, either.
I apologize if this just seems like a big, complain-y post. 🙂 I know that there are people who believe in real food, it’s just that they’re not willing to prioritize it in their budget. And that’s frustrating for the people who jumped in, fully, to produce real food. We gave it all up–a big fancy house, a super nice black suburban with black leather seats (for a big red 12 passenger van that leaks rain on me and smells like hay, y’all!), stock options that were for retirement, a comfy, easy life, a job with good, steady pay, health insurance, a retirement plan, etc..and we have more debt than we’ve ever had in our life (and a home that is smaller/less beautiful than our last one)…and we did it because we are passionate about real food. We made sacrifices–BIG ones….So it’s just discouraging, seeing how hard it is to make a living at farming–in light of the sacrifices and hard work. That’s all.
Hi, my name is Brenda, and I’m a real food farmer….please come buy my food! 🙂