Can small farmers survive in today's economy? It may seem like the economy is unrelated to our human diet, but it couldn't be less true.
A few years ago, my gramma's neighbor stopped by the house when I was in town, and she was complaining about the taste of meat. She said, "These kids will never know what meat is supposed to taste like. There just aren't any good farms anymore."
I exchanged glances with my brother and rolled my eyes. You know the whole deal with Grandmas and "back in my day..."
It turns out that she had a point. When she was younger, before factory farms existed, animals were treated with dignity and were allowed to roam freely around the farm eating whatever they pleased. They ate what their instincts told them to, they had plenty of room to roam, and they were sick much less often. Consequently, the end product tasted better to consumers.
The farmers would pay for a veterinarian to visit the farm if one animal was sick and it would be less likely to spread to another animal.
These farmers worked hard, raising animals and feed, and raising food for humans. But, it is expensive to run a farm and if a problem arose and made the crops unsellable or all the animals die, it had the capacity to knock that farmer out of business. Making a huge profit became very hard for a small farmer.
Slowly, the smaller farmers were not able to deal with rising costs of feed, veterinarians, and other farm expenses, and they closed the farm. In the 1960s, there were about 1 million pig farms in the US, and 40 years later there were only 100,000.
Big companies were unable to get enough supplies from all these small farmers, and so they started opening their own farms. These larger farms allow the corporations to make huge profits, but it also started forcing prices down, making the smaller farm sell their products at an even lower cost. Eventually, the smaller farmers were forced out of business, which changed the economy forever.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service states that 2% of livestock farms raise 40% of all animals in the US. (“National Program 206: Manure and Byproduct Utilization Action Plan.” 2005)
Some estimates show even higher numbers. The President of the U.S. National Farmers' Union said in 2000 that in the U.S., four companies produce 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs and 50 percent of chickens.
Can Small Farmers Survive?
No, not exactly. The government subsidizes large factory farms, and guess where those government subsidies come from... our tax dollars! The large corporations own monopolies on their entire farming process, so that drives wages down and allows them to pay workers very low wages. Those workers are often undocumented immigrants who will agree to do such dangerous and undesirable work.
Also, if you factor in the health disadvantages of the food produced on factory farms, the price to the consumer is much higher. There are hugely expensive health risks such as heart disease and cancer that are directly related to eating animal products. Houses in the area of these farms are devalued as the air, land, and water pollution increases.
As a result, the economy is incredibly stressed from the factory farming industry. You may be wondering can small farmers survive? Not without our help. Never forget that you can make a difference with how you spend your dollars.