[permaculture] [might be spam] Re: NYT morons at work: Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers - NYTimes.com

Bob Waldrop bob at bobwaldrop.net
Mon Aug 11 20:12:58 EDT 2014

The Oklahoma Food Cooperative has about 100 active producers, of that 
number, 59 of them are growing food or raising poultry or livestock.  
About half our producers are women owned or women managed operations.

All of the "newer farmers" of our 59 have to have an off-farm job in 
order to support their "farming habit".  The only ones that don't have 
off-farm income are long-term established farmers, many of those are 
parents and their kids as the labor (older kids, often starting their 
own families).

Of course, this isn't necessarily restricted to organic or other forms 
of alternative agriculture.  Years ago, some farmers in southwest 
Oklahoma went in together and bought a bunch of Texas lottery tickets.  
They won.  One of them was interviewed by an Oklahoma City television 
station, and he was asked what he was going to do with his share of the 
winnings (several hundred thousand dollars).  He said, "Well, I reckon 
I'll just keep on farming until it is all gone."  Hoots of laughter were 
heard around the state, but it was kind of a bitter laughter.

I dated a girl in junior high and later in life was back home for a 
family event and we were catching up and I asked about her, and there 
was a sudden silence around the table.  Finally my grandfather cleared 
his throat and said, "Bobby Max, I forgot you used to date her.  Their 
family was losing their land to a foreclosure, and her mother committed 
suicide."  She laid herself down on the burning trash pile behind their 
house and burned and asphyxiated herself to death.  It was written up in 
the NY Times.  This was during one of the big waves of farmer 
bankruptcies over the last 30 years or so. I forget the numbers but that 
year I believe there were several hundred farmer suicides.

Sales here at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative have been declining slowly 
for two years.  We got started in 2003 and spent the next few years 
running to keep ahead of the demand, and then we topped out in 
2012-2013, having sold $5.8 million in locally grown and made food and 
non-food items in ten years, and it has been a slow downhill grind since 
then.  The three year drought certainly hasn't helped things at all.   
We have less vegetables for sale now than we had three years ago, but 
part of that is that when we got started, there were maybe 4 or 5 
farmers markets in Oklahoma County, now there are 30, so there are more 
places for farmers to sell their produce.

One of our more established farmers, who has been with us since our 
first year, called me up last year and asked, "Is it time to give up 
yet?"  My heart was chilled when I heard that from her because she's 
from a multi-generational farm family, all organic operations, certified 
Animal humane operations, certified naturally grown, produces a diverse 
mixture of crops and livestock/poultry for sale and everything is sold 
direct to the public. Plus she makes a line of body care and household 
cleaning products.  She has a traveling grocery store on an old school 
bus with a regular route, and she sells through us.  It's her and her 
family, at least one daughter and a son are involved with the food 
production.  If she is edging towards despair, I'm worried.  She appears 
to have gotten a second wind though and has now opened a store in one of 
our larger regional cities.  So I'm glad about that but I hear similar 
laments from other producers.

Alternative farming as we know it is hard and all the cards are stacked 
against these folks.   At one point I proposed to the producers that the 
Coop start a oklahomafoodbtob.coop to facilitate sales to businesses.  
Not a single coop producer was interested --

(1) They didn't want to sell what they had at a wholesale price. "That 
just means less money for us."
(2) They said there was zero chance the restaurants would actually pay 
us on time.

They set their own prices when they sell through the Coop, and each 
producer functions as his or her own brand.  Members order items from 
specific producers. The customers pay us a commission for buying through 
the Coop and the producers pay a commision for selling through the Coop, 
so the bottom line for our producers is that they get 77.5 cents out of 
every Coop grocery dollar, except for the sales tax.

Most of them had had very bad experiences with local chefs.  The Coop 
pays our producers when they bring in their orders, "same day payment" 
has always been our rule.  We can do that because (a) we have working 
capital built up from the sale of member shares, and (b) we pay the 
farmers the same day our customers pay us.  And our customers do pay us 
or they don't get their groceries.

So we ditched that idea.

It's not a surprise that it's an unsustainable system, and this is what 
it looks like when a system is accelerating towards collapse.

Bob Waldrop
Oklahoma City

So it's an unsustainable system out there.
On 8/11/2014 6:43 PM, John D'hondt wrote:
> There was a time in this country where you could support a family from a
> farm, but that is no longer the case because of the cheap food system
> which was intentionally setup to concentrate all the profits in the 
> system
> in the hands of the processors.
> Pete
> Exactly, in the 1930's a farm laborer could feed his family for a week 
> from the proceeds of one sheep fleece (just wool). I saw recently 
> sheep being sold for 25 cents per head.
> Prices for farm produce have been deliberately driven to near nothing 
> since 1945.
> John
> ---
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