What do Farmers Really do?


One of the startling features of the ongoing debate on the food system is how skewed the conversation is in the direction of the consumer. We hear a lot about food safety concerns, the right to know what is in the food, how it should be grown so that health concerns are addressed; but how many times do we hear from the people who are actually growing the food and who can provide a reality check on demands that sometimes seem to originate in the realm of fantasy. ( This rant is prompted by a tweet I saw where a consumer demanding safe food reportedly said that all farmers wanted was to dump some Roundup Ready on their fields and put their feet up!!).

For all those marching and demonstrating to make the rules about what food should be grown how many have actually worked on a farm? It is not fun and it is nothing similar to raising tomatoes in the back yard or even working on an allotment. Consider this information from the Cherokee Gothic blog:

“In 2011, the unemployment rate in North Carolina was quite high at 10.51%, which meant that there were more than 489,000 American workers in the state actively looking for a job. Of that group, only 268 were asked to be referred to manual labor jobs with the  North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA).  And of those 268, only 163 showed up for work.  This gets us to striking finding #2.  Of the Americans that did start work, only 7 finished the season.”

So even when faced with no other means of making money, people were unwilling to do farm work or did not have the stamina to actually cope with it. Or, consider that crops were left to rot in the fields in the aftermath of anti-immigration measures passed in Georgia and Alabama because there was no labor available for the harvest.

The reality is farm work is  demanding and exhausting and that there is a scarcity of people who want to work in the farm sector and the challenge is to make this an attractive area for younger people to choose to make a livelihood. Let us take a moment to reflect on what goes into growing the carrot that we reject because it has a little bit sticking out; or the corn fields that are burnt instead of feeding desperately hungry people simply because they were GM corn.

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