To the Editor:
Re “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers” (Sunday Review, Aug. 10): As a full-time farmer, I was heartbroken by the article. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer, writes that for all its elitism, the local food movement isn’t paying the bills for its farmers. He laments that because he is laden with college debt, he and his partner can only dream of having children, since their meager farm income can’t possibly pay for health care, college for children or his retirement.
He laments the unfairness of competing with nonprofit farms, “hobby farms” run by wealthy people, and farmers’ markets with low sales volume. He says most farmers are staying in business with federal subsidies or foundation grants.
His solution? Forgive farmers their college debts, start programs to enable farmers to buy land, guarantee affordable health care and subsidize family farms instead of factory farms.
I’m happy to report that many young farmers are making a good financial go on their enterprises by following protocols completely the opposite of Mr. Smith’s assumptions and solutions.
Those of us doing well never go to Agriculture Department offices. We don’t fill out grant proposals. We don’t go to farmers’ markets. College is not helpful for many. We do internships, direct marketing and collaboration with accountants, marketers, equipment sharing, labor and distribution.
We view government help and programs, from health care to land acquisition, as bringing more harm than good and enjoy a can-do libertarian spirit. We don’t want subsidies for anybody, including ourselves.
Swoope, Va., Aug. 14, 2014
The writer is a lecturer and the author of “You Can Farm.”
To the Editor:
Bren Smith argues that “the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living” and expresses concern that these farmers can’t afford health care and other services.
While many smaller farms don’t make money, these farmers are generally doing well. They earn substantial off-farm income, and as a result, don’t look to their farms for their livelihoods.
Even farmers who provide little production are doing well. Based on the latest comparable data (2011), small farm households with yearly gross sales from their farms of less than $10,000 (59 percent of all farms) had an average income greater than the average American household. For more than a decade, the median farm household has earned more than the nonfarm household.
Parents should let their children grow up to be farmers, but as with any industry, there’s no guarantee that every business model is going to be profitable.
Washington, Aug. 13, 2014
The writer is a research fellow in agricultural policy at the Heritage Foundation.
To the Editor:
Bren Smith issues a clarion call for farmers to start their own organizations and set the agenda of the food movement. But making the economics of small-scale farming work will take more than that.
In my experience in starting farmers’ markets in New Haven, farmers want to focus on farming — and as Mr. Smith points out, theirs is challenging work.
The onus is better placed on all of us as eaters to support healthy, local food and the viability of the local farm economy through policy change aimed at the root causes of our unsustainable food system. We can vote with our forks and also at the ballot box, and elect policy makers who promote family farming.
As the food movement grows up, there will continue to be more of us who understand the issues on the ground and who can use the tools of law and policy to address them. Law schools across the country, including Yale, have been devoting resources to the study of food law in the service of doing just that. The future is bright.
New Haven, Aug. 12, 2014
The writer, a student at Yale Law School, is a co-founder of CitySeed, a nonprofit that operates neighborhood farmers’ markets and promotes policy change.
To the Editor:
Bren Smith got it right in advocating that small-scale farmers growing for local markets work to shift subsidies from factory farms to family farms, among other sensible measures.
I’m one of those struggling farmers selling fresh, nutritious produce for less than the cost of my labor, a form of self-exploitation fostered by the prevailing cheap food policies. We can’t change things alone.
Foodies are going to have to pay a lot more for sustainably produced food and join broad coalitions to make it affordable to the disadvantaged. Last Saturday, my customers were paying twice the going rate for unusual garlic varieties. It keeps me farming, just barely.
Santa Fe, N.M., Aug. 11, 2014