While this dynamic is offset simply by scale and large subsidy for the industrial farms, the impact on the family farmer is devastating. Earl Butz' policy of "Get Big Or Get Out" is definitely working to oust the family farmer.
If that is not enough, consider some of the tactics that are used on family farmers by the food processing giants. Blog for Rural America presents an examination of what happens to the farmers who actually raise the chickens in the closed loop of large-scale poultry operations. It is not pretty. The company owns the chicks and feed inputs, dictates the farmers' operations by contract, then controls the pricing at the end of the loop. When the company changes its demands, the farmers are on the hook for the debt — and some are losing their homes. (Thanks, Ethicurean). This type of business practice is not limited to the poultry industry either. Ultimately, the farmer is the one being squeezed and often from both sides.
Two of the family farmers that I purchase produce and meats from have second jobs to support their families and to be able to afford to continue farming. Farming is hard work and time-intensive during season for crops and year-round for livestock. There is something inherently wrong about these individuals having to work two jobs in order to "afford" to grow healthy food.
Additionally, because these farmers grow non-commodity crops like vegetables and fruits, they are not eligible for subsidy payments. Meanwhile some of the large-scale farmers with incomes in six figures are eligible for subsidy payments — that enable them to buy more land and grow in scale. It's a frustrating and unfair system that hurts the small family farms most.
Here is what you can do:
Buy meats, eggs, produce direct from your family farmers. This way, the farmer gets 100 percent of your food dollar. You can purchase direct from farmers in several ways:
- Join a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program. Information on what these are and how to find one is posted at Eat. Drink. Better.
- Buy from farmers who sell their own local produce and meats at the farmers market near you. You can find the nearest market using the search on Local Harvest.
- Go to the farmer direct. You can contact farmers to purchase meats, eggs and produce direct from the farm, bypassing the expense and time commitment doing sales at a farmers market. Sustainable Table has a search tool that will help you find a farmer by the product you are looking for.