Over 100,000 family farms have disappeared in the last five years. Farm income is one half of what it was less than five years ago – the largest drop in income since the Great Depression.
Throughout our history, American farmers have stared down many grave challenges.
Today, we face the toughest of all: extinction.
Mega-corporations now control the food supply in America. They are also dismantling it. As food production moves to Third World countries, American farmers confront debt and foreclosure. We’ve lost over 100,000 American farms in only five years.
If this continues, we won’t be able to feed our own population — that’s a matter of national security. The American farm is under attack both domestically through government policy and through foreign powers not operating on a level playing field. The result is a rigged system that crushes the local farm — the backbone of America.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.” That’s a statement everyone should have a problem with. When “the big get bigger” in farming you lose choice, diversity and quality. When “the small go out” you lose economic strength, farm-to-table and sustainability.
Over 100,000 family farms have disappeared in the last five years. Farm income is one half of what it was less than five years ago — the largest drop in income since the Great Depression. Farm debt is a staggering $416 billion! Most family farms are not profitable today and face credit and solvency issues. The rural poverty rate is 27% higher than urban communities and climbing.
As farmers are forced into bankruptcy, their service providers, truckers, equipment dealers, packers, feed stores, etc. — literally the entire supply chain in their communities — is also threatened. As economic conditions deteriorate, the stresses on farm families impinge on rural health. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control study found that suicide rates for people working in agriculture are more than 50% higher than during the last farm crisis.
These alarming facts are no surprise — they are a direct result of policy failure. The result of policies designed to enrich corporations at the expense of America’s farmers and ranchers. America has witnessed a long descent from local food to local markets to an industrialized system eroding family farms. The American family farm will not survive, unless a comprehensive shift occurs in these policies that allows farmers to earn fair prices for their products.
As a consumer, there are important steps you can take to support your local farmers.
• Tell your produce manager you want American grown food; ask if you are unsure because of confusing labels.
• Take a picture of produce at your grocer and post on social media congratulations for stocking local. Let your friends know if they support local or imports.
• Shop farmers’ markets as often as you can
• Speak out online or at community meetings; spread the word to support American-grown foods.
The loss of the American family farm is a disaster we will all soon harvest if we don’t make a stand now. There’s power in numbers. Join hundreds of farmers and consumers uniting together to sound the alarm.
LAWTON “BUD” CHILES, TALLAHASSEE
Editor’s note: Chiles is the campaign director for American Grown, owner of Jubilee Orchards, an organic blueberry farm in Tallahassee, and son of the late Lawton Chiles, a former Florida governor and U.S. senator.