It's been about a decade since the last financial crisis, yet this industry has never been bigger. Legislation that was meant to better regulate its largest players has hurt its smaller ones, resulting in most of the industry's assets to be controlled by the top one percent. They've become too big to fail. I'm not referring to big banks, but the world of Big Agriculture.
As a public health practitioner who has worked with small-scale farmers in Rwanda and now as a small food business owner who sits at the intersection between our consumers and producers, I've been exposed to one of the most ecologically and economically intensive industries in the world, and throughout my work, I've witnessed a chilling irony. Our farmers, who feed our communities, cannot afford the very foods they grow. Today, a handful of corporations continue to consolidate the entire food supply chain, from the intellectual property of seeds to produce and livestock all the way to the financial institutions who lend to these farmers. And the recent results have been rising bankruptcies for family farms and little control for those who are just trying to survive in the industry. Left unchecked, we will head into another economic collapse, one very similar to the farm crisis of the 1980s, when commodity market prices crashed, interest rates doubled, and many farmers lost everything.
Fortunately, there's a very simple, three-part solution you can be part of right now to help us transform our food industry from the bottom up.
Step one: shop at your local farmers markets.
Buying from your local market and subscribing to a community-supported agricultural produce box, better known as a CSA, may be the single greatest purchasing decision you can make as a consumer today. Last year, American farmers made the least they have in almost three decades, because they now own fewer parts of the supply chain than ever before. Under exclusive contracts with Big Ag and big box stores, farmers are not offered a fair price for their goods. In fact, the average farmer in America makes less than 15 cents of every dollar on a product that you purchase at a store. On the other hand, farmers who sell their goods at a farmers market take home closer to 90 cents of every dollar. But beyond taking home a larger share, farmers use markets as an opportunity to cultivate the next generation of agriculturalists who shepherd our farmlands and our pastures. In our fight against climate change, we need them now more than ever to promote and preserve diverse land use.
When multigenerational farms are lost to Big Ag consolidation, our communities suffer in countless ways. Rural America has now jumped above the national average in violent crime. Three out four farmworkers surveyed have been directly impacted by our opioid epidemic. Now oftentimes disguised as accidents, farmer suicide is now on the rise.
Step two: shop at your local farmers markets.
Produce from a large retail store is harvested before it's ripe to travel more than a thousand miles before it ultimately sits on your shelf roughly two weeks later. Alternatively, because most farmers markets have proximity and production requirements, farmers travel less than 50 miles to offer you local produce with minimal packaging waste. With the advent of online grocers and trending meal kits, consumers are increasingly disconnected with their farmers and the economics of food production. Since the rise of the smartphone revolution, direct-to-consumer goods have stagnated.
While local and sustainable foods have been trending for almost a decade, terms like "healthy" and "natural" have no legal framework in the United States. Your best bet for fresh, nutrient-rich foods without the marketing jargon? Go to your farmers market. Buying local is not a new idea, but turning it into a habit in today's world still is. If we want to avoid the high costs of cheap food, protect our environment, rebuild our communities and save our farmers — literally — we're going to need to vote with our food purchases. The success of our food systems is directly attached to us. If we want to break up Big Ag's hold on our food supply chain, then we're going to need to connect with our farmers. We're going to need to rebuild relationships with the hands that feed us three times a day. Plus, two more for snacks. Come on.
With a government online database of more than 8,600 farmers markets across the country, you can easily find the nearest one to you. Just think of yourself as an investor in food, where your purchasing power helps create a more equitable society for everyone. Oh!
Almost forgot step three, which may surprise you: shop at your local farmers markets.