[permaculture] NYT morons at work: Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers - NYTimes.com

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Mon Aug 11 14:05:27 EDT 2014

Seems very shortsighted to me for the author to argue that the only legitimate yield from a piece of land, its residents, and their abilities should be food. For centuries, farmers have worked at other jobs during the off season. If there are grants available for farm non-profits, then set up a non-profit. If your farm can also be an educational center, tour site, or other multi-functional, multi-yield venue, what weird form of purism says you can only sell food?

I know small farms that gross $100,000 per acre. This guy's "woe is us" mentality is blinding him to other possibilities. Once again, the biggest limit to yield is the designer's mind.


> Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers - NYTimes.com
> http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/dont-let-your-children-grow-up-to-be-farmers.html?_r=1
> Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers
> NEW HAVEN — AT a farm-to-table dinner recently, I sat huddled in a corner
> with some other farmers, out of earshot of the foodies happily eating kale
> and freshly shucked oysters. We were comparing business models and profit
> margins, and it quickly became clear that all of us were working in the red.
> The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated
> small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we
> head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one
> percent <http://bit.ly/1oxxUsJ> of all farm households rely on multiple
> sources of income. Health care, paying for our kids’ college, preparing for
> retirement? Not happening. With the overwhelming majority of American
> farmers operating at a loss — the median farm income was negative $1,453 in
> 2012 <http://1.usa.gov/1oxCabT> — farmers can barely keep the chickens fed
> and the lights on.
> Others of us rely almost entirely on Department of Agriculture or
> foundation grants, not retail sales, to generate farm income. And young
> farmers, unable to afford land, are increasingly forced into neo-feudal
> relationships, working the fields of wealthy landowners. Little wonder
> the median
> age for farmers and ranchers <http://bit.ly/UYZu6D> is now 56.
> My experience proves the trend. To make ends meet as a farmer over the last
> decade, I’ve hustled wooden crafts to tourists on the streets of New York,
> driven lumber trucks, and worked part time for any nonprofit that could
> stomach the stink of mud on my boots. Laden with college debt and only
> intermittently able to afford health care, my partner and I have acquired a
> favorite pastime in our house: dreaming about having kids. It’s cheaper
> than the real thing.
> But what about the thousands of high-priced community-supported agriculture
> programs and farmers’ markets that have sprouted up around the country?
> Nope. These new venues were promising when they proliferated over a decade
> ago, but now, with so many programs to choose from, there is increasing
> pressure for farmers to reduce prices in cities like my hometown, New
> Haven. And while weekend farmers’ markets remain precious community spaces,
> sales volumes are often too low to translate into living wages for your
> much-loved small-scale farmer.
> Especially in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean
> buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit
> the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby
> farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at
> the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property
> taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers
> <http://onforb.es/WZl391> in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to
> “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as
> low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax
> breaks than tomatoes.
> On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the
> yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in
> Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the
> farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free
> market. Growing
> Power <http://bit.ly/1oxwoHh%5D> alone received over $6.8 million in grants
> over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens
> stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant
> <http://bit.ly/1sbXNhv> from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to
> compete with that?
> <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/dont-let-your-children-grow-up-to-be-farmers.html?_r=1#story-continues-4>
> As one grower told me, “When these nonprofit farms want a new tractor, they
> ask the board of directors, but we have to go begging to the bank.”
> And then there are the chefs. Restaurants bait their menus with homages to
> local food, attracting flocks of customers willing to pay 30 bucks a plate.
> But running a restaurant is a low-margin, cutthroat business, and chefs
> have to pay the bills, too. To do so, chefs often use a rule of thumb: Keep
> food costs to 30 percent of the price of the meal. But organic farming is
> an even higher-risk, higher-cost venture, so capping the farmer’s take to a
> small sliver of the plate ensures that working the land remains a beggar’s
> game.
> The food movement — led by celebrity chefs, advocacy journalists, students
> and NGOs — is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the
> actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how
> to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic
> inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system.
> Unlike our current small-bore campaigns, previous food movements of the
> 1880s, 1930s and 1970s were led by highly organized farmers’ organizations
> — like the American Agricultural Movement, National Farmers Union and
> Colored Farmers’ National Alliance — trailblazing new paths for the economy.
> They went toe to toe with Big Ag: crashing shareholder meetings; building
> co-ops and political parties; and lobbying for price stabilization. In the
> late 1970s, for example, small-scale family farmers organized a series of
> protests under the slogan “Parity Not Charity,” demanding a moratorium on
> foreclosures, as well as the stabilization of crop prices to ensure that
> farmers could make a living wage. They mobilized thousands of fellow
> farmers to direct action <http://bit.ly/XBGPj7>, including the 1979
> Tractorcade, where 900 tractors — some driven thousands of miles —
> descended on Washington to shut down the nation’s capital.
> It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has
> turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s
> time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan
> forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn
> farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care;
> and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. We need to take
> the lead in shaping a new food economy by building our own production hubs
> and distribution systems. And we need to support workers up and down the
> supply chain who are fighting for better wages so that their families can
> afford to buy the food we grow.
> But none of these demands will be met until we start our own organizations
> — as in generations past — and shape a vision of a new food economy that
> ensures that growing good food also means making a good living.
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