Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The past few weeks, The Farmer has been milking cows for another farmer each weekday morning. The dairy farmer is dealing with a bad back, and can't do it himself. There are at least three other guys helping out, too, covering nights and weekends. It's hard to think about the sole proprietor being laid up in any line of work, but dairy farming is one of the most relentless jobs out there. We feel for our friend, who planned to work five or so more years before retiring. Now what? He waits for the results of tests...
The other day I read a New York Times op-ed piece titled "Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers," quite obviously a play on the country music song, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." The author got my attention early in the article when he said: "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn't making a living." And then he went on to share statistics from 2012 that show that the median annual farm income is negative $1,453. That means that half the farmers are making more than that, and half are making less.
That reminded me of conversations I've had with other farmers about whether or not they might need to take an off-farm job "to support the farm," or quit altogether.
Our dairy farmer friend has a wife that worked full-time for years. I hold a part-time job myself that allows us to take less from the farm in income. Many farmers work a day job and then come home to their second job.
Granted, most people can't seem to make enough to support a family on one income today. It's not just farmers that struggle with this. But the next time you ask someone how many acres they own and then gasp at the answer, remember that acres owned are not a measure of financial health. The next time I speak to you about farmland preservation and you go off about how farmers have everything handed to them, dig a little to get to the economic reality. And the next time you ask me if you can have a discount if you buy two bags of beans, watch me closely. You may see me swallow and pause just a bit as I remember the back-breaking time that both sets of our "retired" parents put in out in the field this summer.
In the meantime, it looks like two of us now have part-time jobs.