These are economically tragic times for America’s farmers. This year, the average on-farm income for a farm family will be -$1,400. Yes, negative. In other words, they’re paying to produce the nation’s food and fiber. And it’s been going on for decades, all the result of a food system, from production and processing to sales and regulations, that is dominated and controlled by a handful of integrated corporate behemoths. That control, coupled with an economic model centered on the devaluation of production (farming!), has spelled nothing but doom for farmers.
While it’s happening everywhere, we live amidst its damage in Vermont, seeing firsthand the impact commodity-priced dairy is having on our agriculture. It’s a horror, really, with thousands of farms lost in the last few decades, all squeezed and pinched and eventually forced to leave the only thing they knew—working the land. And again, it’s all the result of a cheap food model, dictated by the corporate few and allowed by a largely shrugging public.
There’s plenty of money in food. It’s just not getting to the farmers. Vermont’s dairy industry, for example, is dominated by two well-known corporate giants: Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery. Last year, Ben & Jerry’s grossed around $600 million and Cabot and its parent, Agri-Mark, grossed nearly a billion dollars. Both have bragged in financial reports about how well they’re doing, with increased executive pay and all kinds of bells and whistles for the office set. Ben & Jerry’s makes so much money that they have a foundation to give some of it away.
Lost in the largesse are the farmers producing the dairy for the ice cream and cheese. An average-sized Vermont dairy farm is losing more than $100,000 a year to produce the cheap commodity milk that in turn is making Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot a lot of money—$1.6 billion between them.