Even after farmers left the farm after WWII, farmers made up a fairly substantial part of the labor force. Many urban dwellers were connected to the farm through family. It was common to know a farmer; they were cousins, grandparents, or other relatives, who more often than not lived within a day’s drive of a city. Farms were diversified; they raised several animals that provided meat and milk for the family. The farms raised a bit of produce during the summer months, further diversifying the income stream as well as providing the sustenance for the family. Food was canned or preserved for the family. Excess was sold at tailgate or framers markets.
Tarheelbilly Farm doesn’t grow a ton of food for the local farmer’s market and community. We decided that it wasn’t financially workable to attempt to do so, and have focused on growing for our family and will sell the excess only after we’ve fed ourselves first. Why not feed the world? With so many going hungry in our community, why won’t we jump in and work voraciously to feed all of Southern Ohio? Why not compete?
The truth is, if we tried, we’d go broke trying to do so. An alarming small number of people who make their living as farmers (roughly 1% of the population of the US). Most farms are no longer able to support families as the sole source of income.
Source: USDA. Note: this information is compiled based upon US Census data. 2012 is the lastest date of compilation.
Farmers who grow for the commodity market face an even more difficult series of impossible choices in order to be profitable. (Commodity farms produce products that make up the backbone of the American food supply. Corn, soybeans, and wheat are some of the major commodity crops that the US produces. Beef, pork, etc. are also considered commodities.) The profit margins are so small that many farmers, even large ones, LOSE money or barely break even. Just three companies control over two-thirds of US soybean processing. Five control 85 percent of it. The picture isn’t much better in corn. With so few options for farmers to sell their products, they are at the mercy of tightly controlled market forces and are marginalized at every phase of the production process.