Thursday, July 16, 2009

A matter of life or death

Corina mentioned something in class last night. "People perform better if they believe that what they do matters." I know that at my job, I can get pretty down, usually because I get the feeling that it doesn't matter if the deadline is met, or even if I show up tomorrow. Do you know what the leading cause of death among US farmers is? It's suicide. (Gorelick, 2000) Put yourself in one of our local farmers' shoes. Sam takes his time to grow delicious, nutritious veggies. It takes him a whole year to produce that succulent offering at the farmer's market. He packs up his precious produce and drives into the city every Thursday and lays out his wares in an orderly fashion. Two scenarios could play out here:
  1. You, me, and the other guy all know that today is Sam's day. But we end up having a long day at work. It seems like a better idea to go out for happy hour, and then maybe end up staying until 9:00 because we're having in such a good time. The farmer's market closed at 7:00. Oh well, we can just pop by the grocery store on the way home and pick up some veggies from California, it's the same thing, right?
  2. You, me and the other guy have a long day at work. Instead of heading straight to the bar at 5:00, we go visit Sam instead. We chat with Sam and he puts a smile on our faces as we pick up the week's produce. we totally score because this week Sam has peaches that we've been waiting all year to bite into! Hey, while we're at it, he has some pie...sounds like dessert to me.
How does each of these options make Sam feel? How do they make us feel? Maybe one person or one day isn't a huge deal, but if week after week you pass him by, Sam will start to wonder if his farm is really worth it. If he decides it isn't, the best case is that another development pops up in Lancaster county, and I need another post to discuss those ramifications. I know what you're going to say, "A farmer grew the California produce too." This is true, but let's see some rough economic analysis. for argument's sake let's say that tomatoes, Sam's and the California farmer's, both cost us 50 cents. Sam's costs: growing the tomato, crates for transporting the tomatoes (which he will reuse), transport from Lancaster Count to Philadelphia County (~78 miles) in the farm truck, and dinner (a quiche from another stand at the market). California farmer's costs: growing the tomato, crates for transporting the tomatoes (that get recycled at the grocery store, not reused), transport from California to Philadelphia (~2875 miles) via tractor trailer, and the grocery store shelf space. My bet, although I'm no accountant, is that Sam keeps the bulk of those 50 cents, where the California farmer makes pennies. The California only gets that much profit if he's selling locally in San Francisco. Who is more likely to be able to support a family and a farm from those sales? Who feels like it's worth it to be a farmer? And to bring it all home...who needs farmers to stay in business? You, me, and that other guy...because we like to eat. Reference: Gorelick, S. 2000. Facing the Farm Crisis - poor economic health of farmers. The Ecologist, June 2000.

No comments:

Post a Comment