We all know that organic vegetables at the supermarket are more expensive compared to conventional produce. And yet despite a higher price tag—which one would assume benefits farmers—the truth is that many organic growers in California can barely scrape together a living.
“I grew 10 acres of organic vegetables, worked upward of 60 hours a week during the height of the season, and my total income last year was $2,451,” Jaclyn Moyer of South Fork Farm writes in Salon. Apparently, this is not unusual. An informal poll of Moyer’s colleagues found that most were turning meagre profits (if they were profiting at all) of a few thousand dollars. She also cites USDA data from 2012 that says the majority of American farmers rely on outside income (like a second job or a spouse’s salary) in order to survive.
It’s a tough truth for consumers to swallow. When we pay a premium for organic produce, we’re buying both a better product and a better story. We’re paying for the morale boost that comes with rejecting Big Ag’s cruel, polluting, and exploitative practices in favor of supporting small, local farmers who go about their honest work with respect and dignity.
Produce at the Hollywood Farmers Market. (Photo: Flickr/djjewelz)
And to an extent, we are doing that, and should feel good about it. But Moyer argues that our romanticized view of her job blinds us to its harsh realities; namely, as rewarding as her work is, she cannot make a living doing it.
It’s also not a message that the small scale agricultural industry wants to promote as it tries to attract younger people to combat an aging workforce. According to the L.A. Times, older farmers outnumber younger ones 6 to 1 in California. In 2012, the average age of all farmers in the state was 58—and it keeps on climbing.
An idyllic view of South Fork Farm. (Photo: Facebook/South Fork Farm)
The L.A. Times found that many younger people entering agriculture have idealistic, not financial, motivations; they want to improve our food systems through organic and sustainable growing practices. But without the government subsidies and credit access that large farms enjoy, they are often trading fiscal security for job satisfaction.
“We might be poor on paper, but farming allows for spending time with kids. My richness is life,” farmer Chris Vellez tells the Times. That kind of noble anti-capitalist sentiment is like music to a socially-conscious consumer’s ears. But after running a struggling business for years, Jaclyn Moyer is growing weary of hearing that she’s rich in other ways. She’d like us to take off the rose-tinted lens through which we view her life, and see both the good and the bad equally: