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The Value of a Farmer

October 29, 2010

You hear the argument that we don’t value education enough in this country and for proof, just turn to teacher salaries.  We seem to value litigators and medicators far more than we value educators.

I would like to point out that in the same way that we undervalue people who teach our children, we also undervalue people who feed us.  Education is pretty basic stuff, but hey, food is even more basic.  What is more important than the fuel we give our bodies?  If you’re struggling to answer that, I’ll help you.

Nothing.

There is nothing more important than feeding ourselves well.

Nothing.

It turns out, if you haven’t given it any thought, that the people who feed us are farmers.  Well, truthfully, for the past twenty or thirty years, the people who have fed us are profit-driven corporations.  And maybe you’ve noticed that isn’t working.  Our diabetes and heart disease rates have skyrocketed and studies link these problems to our consumption of highly-processed foods.

So if you actually want to eat food, you need a farmer.  It’s that simple.  And in the same way that we need to pay teachers a fair wage for all the hard and important work they do…perhaps even pay them a premium so as to attract high-quality educators, I would like to point out that we also need to pay farmers a premium wage.

A guy named John Vucetich was on NPR recently.  John is assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the Michigan Technological University. In a conversation with Jerome McDonnell about the meaning of “sustainability” he defined it this way, and I paraphrase:

“Sustainability is a balance of three things: human needs, ecosystem health and social justice.”

So let’s talk about sustainability within our foodshed.  We need to balance healthful food (human needs) with farming methods that don’t harm the environment (ecosystem health)…in fact, farming should nurture and improve the soil, not just avoid damage.  And the third leg in the balancing act is social justice.  Our farming methods should be socially just.  What does that mean?

I’ve met some wonderful farmers recently and it is very clear to me what the consumer can do to be socially just with respect to these amazing farmers.  We can pay them a premium wage.  We can ante up and show that we value what they do to feed us.  If you offer a respectable, encouraging wage you will attract quality teachers and they will stay in the profession.  If you pay a respectable, encouraging amount for your meat and produce and dairy, you will attract quality farmers and they will stay in the profession.  And in return you’ll get incredibly healthful food and environmentally sound farming practices.

Pay poorly and we’ll go back to eating fast food and junk food.

Our food is improving and we have the integrity of farmers like Jeremy House, Harry Carr, Jenny and Bob Borchardt, Peter Klein, and Terra Brockman to thank.  Why would you want to pay them less than they are worth?  Sit down with any one of them and you will be amazed at their dedication to healthful food.  Maybe you don’t “know your farmer”, but I do.  I know your farmer, and I am very impressed – these are bright folks who, frankly, are thinking more about your health than you are.  If you think they’re  “just farmers” you are sorely mistaken.  These are extremely thoughtful people who are careful to produce healthful foods that don’t harm the environment in the process.  They work incredibly long, grueling hours to do that for us.  Shouldn’t we offer them a premium salary for what they do?  Shouldn’t we, a society seeking sustainable balance, live up to our end of the bargain and satisfy the “social justice” part of professor Vucetich’s equation?

I think we should.

You?

__________________________________

Jeremy House, Meadow Haven Organic Farm

Harry Carr, Mint Creek Farm

Jenny and Bob Borchardt, Harvest Moon Organic Farm

Peter Klein, Seedling Fruit

Terra Brockman, Henry’s Farm

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