I appreciate the question about farmer income. These kinds of inquiries make
SANET very enjoyable and educational. I am looking forward to other comments.
The bottom line on the IRS Schedule F is a difficult way to measure income
for producers. My thoughts run from whimsy to reality. Sometimes I know I am
working for less than the legal minimum ( like during a winter when there is
no income) and sometimes I head for the field with a box and a knife and
holler rather loudly; " We be making lawyers wages today baby!"
1. Quantifying quality of life attributes derived from rural organic farm
propietorship is not possible- partiularly when one considers how many farm
kids are booking for the city while folks in early retirement yearn for
nature's rewards outside the last metropolitan freeway loop. Fresh air, low
noise and a generally lazy molecular mileu are priceless. As long as one isn't
treated to some organophosphate drift from an aircraft flying over the fields
upwind from you.
2. Truth be told that my farm subset ( back to the land-self sufficiency-
organic advocates now in their mid forties to sixties) tend to be voracious
readers. artisans, writers even public policy advocates. We travel and build
community, which are their own rewards. We acquire old ag books, tools,
implements and junk that we turn into utilitarian art pieces which provide
shelter, aid in harvest, provide inspiration and income. A four row planter
which we may purchase for 75 dollars has an actual field value to us many
times that figure. " Income" is thereby measured in terms of "a penny saved is
apenny earned.'" Also: "a planet saved is a planet valued." It doesn't all
boil down to the bottom line, but Jane's question focuses on income, which
translates into things we all have to deal with, like land payments,
insurance, utilities, and food....
3. Truth by told that the IRS wants us to claim as income all the food we
consume. Since one of the key motives for the small farm, organic and self
sustaining lifestyle is to grow and eat your own food, this is a serious
intrusion into our private affairs. As a corrolary, when one of us has
replaced a window pane, did you count as income those fees you didn't have to
pay to a professional glazier? When I change out the belts, filters and spark
plugs on a machine, am I now saving 12 dollars an hour, which I should count
as income? Of course, if it is an Izusu dealer, now you are "making"
And are those food costs at retail? Boy, am I rich. Organic eggs at
$2.79/dozen? Cilantro at $1.29 a bunch? Potatoes at .89 cents/lb ? Apples at
$1.89/lb? Please don't tell the gubment people I eat that good.
4. I never feel that I am not "working", because I am always being.
5. I try to keep from doing jobs that are easily quantifiable in terms of
dollar value, like transportation....nonetheless, if transportation is but one
part of a direct marketing gig, I am obligated to get the product there myself
when my presence is a factor in consistent sales and marketing benefits. I
sometimes considered writing up and photocopying an explanation of why my wife
was not at a particular farmers market on a given day. You take a key
marketing agent out of the mix, and that can upset consumer expectations.
5. Farmers are underpaid based on the value of their product and how little of
that value stays on-farm. Value added is where its at, but always attainable
because of location or time constraints, lack of expertise. At the Indiana
Horticultural Congress last week, I listened in to talk by a marketing
specialist and former Kroger executive, who said that the fresh fruit and
vegetable deal in the US was worth 100 billion dollars annually, but the farm
sales were only 25 billion. Therefore, marketing, handling and processing the
raw goods adds three times the value.
6. I have no savings to speak of, no portfolio, no 401K or Roth account. I
plan to work until I drop. Or be until I am not.
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