The Female Farmer Project™

documenting the rise of women in agriculture

ask a farmer: farmers earning a living wage

Originally published: June 13, 2014

The Female Farmer Project is fortunate to have a series of great conversations happening on our Facebook page.  The information and advice that is being shared is too valuable to let it slide further and further down on the page.  This series is hopefully a way to capture and preserve the advice, wisdom and conversation.  Thank you to all the farmers that contributed to this conversation!

The topic on Facebook centered around the true and honest cost of food production and farmers earning a living wage. You'll hear a lot of discussion about the how food was grown (organically!) or raised (ethically!) - but what about the farmer? Does anyone ask if farmer made enough money to actually feed themselves that week?  

So I asked the farmers, 

How do we create conversation about the cost of food and farmers earning a living wage?

Christina Miller: I am so glad you're tackling this topic because it's something I think about everyday as a new farmer trying to get our farm fulling running and financially sustainable. We had a neighbor comment that we must have been racking in the money because we sold pasture raised turkeys for 7/per pound but the reality is we only made after feed and the cost of the pullet 20-30 a bird depending on the size and that doesn't even take into account infrastructure costs like mortgage, irrigation, electricity. He was shocked because he doesn't realize most of the cost of conventional grocery store food is being subsidized by the government that subsidizes cheap feed to give to animals. For us we are finding the only way we will make ends meet is to sell in the city where people are more willing to pay for the real cost of food but also to diversify. We are focussing on pasture raised eggs and meat but we are also going to develop value added products from the veggies we grow and them some day add on farm stays once our family is a little older and we have more time.  I have also noticed this huge disparity at some markets where they are allowing large farms that are really mostly resale businesses and selling melons in June. We lucked out because most of the city farmers markets are run by an organization that has high standards for who is allowed to sell. They make you fill out an 8 page application to go into detail about what your farming practices are and to show you are growing everything your selling. I plan to eventually bring a copy of these standards to our local farmers market board to see if there is interest in implementing them. These types of challenges though will always be there and in this short amount of time that we have been doing this I have found social media to be a huge help. At first I started a blog to document our families journey starting a farm then we started a Facebook page which has been helpful reaching out to our farmers market customers sharing recipes and letting them know what we are bringing and also spelling out exactly what are farming practices are. I also have an Instagram which is mostly pictures of the farm but it's been a great way to talk to other farmers about what they are doing and there has been several times where I've had helpful conversations about the cost of food, when and where to market things, and different farm models.

Carla JaquetThis also wears on my mind... sustainability. 
We take on second jobs, forgo vacations, repair what's worn out, and continually attempt to problem solve for a solution. Ours has become a family project. What we all grow feeds many families but falls short in paying bills. Like Christina we've identified that we'll need to take our crops to the city in order to procure a price fitting our effort. But there's also a cost in leaving the farm for better markets. 
A former colleague once told me to remain solvent a small business must be diverse. He also shared that in today's society of never ending demands on people's time, we need to provide a one stop shop providing for needs, entertainment, and education all at once. So this year we're adding more perennial crops, practicing our craft so we can offer value added products in the future (needs), and planning more farm events (entertainment and education).

Amy Nicole Fiedler: I am a single mother and have intensively farmed 4 acres over the past 6 years. All but last year (rain) were lucrative enough for me to not work during the winter. I have a daughter in college right now and little debt. This is the first year I've ever owned a tractor. I mainly raise organic produce, but diversified into pastured pork production this year (with a grant) after last years catastrophic weather. Almost all of my help on the farm is from interns and volunteers from the local university. I also host as many workshops as possible to get the big jobs done. My markets include CSA, growers co-op that sells to restaurants and stores, farm produce stand that operates on the honor system, a multi farm CSA, and the farmers market. I believe it all comes down to keeping expense low (especially labor) and selling quality produce at top dollar to those who understand the benefits. It's an incredibly stressful lifestyle, with so much dependent on factors out of my control (weather!) But every year I keep coming back to it!

Linda Hatch Neunzig: It all ties back to the cost of farmland and the need for an off farm job to pay the mortgage. We work day jobs then come home and farm. The number of farmers that inherit the family farm are few and far between. As a woman farmer who bought the farm and has a good business you still can't pay the mortgage and raise children without an off farm job.

Glendale Shepherd: We are often asked why our sheep milk products are expensive. There are more than a few answers to this question; Sheep have a short lactation (7 months), they produce a relatively small amount of milk, and they require high quality feed year round. The cost of high quality, non GMO feed is very expensive, and this cost is by far the biggest factor.

Please add your thoughts to the comments below! 


Marion 2 years ago · 2 likes

Hi Audra, your question is really interesting. When I chose to change my job and lifestyle from office to greenhouse I didnt know it would be financially so hard. I am just starting so it is normal that I can't make a living out of it yet. But still, after evaluating our potencial and market price, this is gonna be quit a challenge. I was very far away from the agriculture world before, but now that I am inside, I cant believe the veggie prices when I go to the supermarket, it is crazy low, how do people live out of that?? 
So to answer your question so far we relie on french government subsidies because we are "creating a new company", they give us (for me and my husband) 650 Euros a month + rent subsidies 350 E, so total 1.000 Euros a month. This is french politics to help entrepreneurship, and it is quit good. Once we start earning money they will stop the subsidies. (or they will automaticly stop it if we didnt do anything after a year). 
But yes, we are truely considering taking another job part time (at least my husband) once the greenhouse will be ready to fully operate.
You asked also if we were creating another income, yes, next year we will have visitors coming to visit the aquatic greenhouse, and we will organise once a month a 2 days Hydroponic clases for those who want to start building their own hydroponic system. I think this would help a lot with the money and I hope it wont be too time consuming.

I apologise for my english and I hope my responses will help you with your survey ! 
I look forwar to read other testimonies :) - Marion

Christine 2 years ago · 1 like

I am so thankful to have stumbled across this. I am a young woman (soon to be mama, one month to go!) with an undying passion for farming. I have been interested in agriculture my whole life but I've only worked solely for farmers ( and female at that!) the last 2 years. I know it's what I am meant to do but getting there seems so impossible at times.

So, Thank You to the women who have shared already and to Audra for asking the question. It's such an important topic!

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