What's Wrong with the American Food System

Last week, we read a powerful and devastating blog post by Whitney Belprez, a family farmer who runs Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy in Michigan with her husband, Dan. In it, Belprez discusses the troubling dynamics of food pricing and farm subsidies, and how our unceasing desire for cheap and efficient production has squeezed out family farmers across the nation:

This week, Dean Foods gave notice to 140 small family dairy farms in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio that after May 31 of this year, there will be no truck to pick up their milk. Walmart, the largest buyer of Dean’s milk in the region, has vertically integrated and will now be processing their own milk. But not from those farms. Those farms are too small for Walmart to waste their time with. And now, Dean has no avenue to sell those farms’ milk. After years of low prices, it is, likely, the final nail in the coffin for those farms.

These are the guys who are up at work at 5 AM feeding calves, milking cows, and cleaning barns. Then after breakfast, they don their ties and head into town for their 9-5 “day job” before coming home for evening chores and starting the routine all over again.

Truly, over 85% of farms can’t support a family, financially, without added outside income, according to recent USDA surveys.

What was once the most common job in America, now can’t even support a single family.

In a typical year, dairy farmers get only 11 cents from every dollar spent on milk.

From that 11 cents they have to pay for their mortgage, feed, fuel, labor, insurance, equipment, and any debts they have on those items. What’s left to actually feed the farmer’s family?

The author goes on to talk about the detrimental effects of federal farm subsidies on small-scale family farms as subsidies have prioritized corporate commodity production. Read the full blog post here. It's well worth your time.

When local food systems are eliminated, we lose much more than just an enjoyable trip to the farmers market — we lose our very nourishment and resilience. Your town won't be strong without reliable and sustainable sources of local food.