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Growing Food is Expensive {Week 15 CSA}

If you think buying food is expensive, you should see how much it costs to grow it.

Farming is rarely an endeavor one undertakes to get rich, but if we have any hope of filling the growing shortage of farmers, it's in all of our best interest to make it financially viable. Government subsidies aim to do that to a certain degree, except they really only support commodity farmers (think mega-farms of corn, wheat, and soy) while diversified vegetable farms are ineligible. Applied in this way, subsidies actually undermine the cost of healthy, whole foods by keeping the cost of commodities artificially lower than they would be if the farmers growing them were running a solvent business. Since processed foods rely heavily on these subsidized commodities, we have the unfortunate predicament where some of our unhealthiest foods are the most financially accessible while whole foods with real nutrition are deemed expensive and out of reach.

From a historical perspective, however, even with inflation and rising food costs, Americans spend less on food now than ever before. Between 1960 and 2000, the average share of Americans’ disposable personal income (DPI) spent on food fell from 17.0 percent to 9.9 percent and, before World War I, over 40 percent of the American budget was spent on food. Fast forward to 2022 and there are more categories than ever pulling on our budgets. Expensive smartphones, subscriptions galore, rising healthcare costs, and many more facets of modern life compete with basic necessities like vegetables, fruits, and proteins. As a small farm with a commitment to organic practices, living wages, and a fair education program, we're deeply aware of the cost of providing these kinds of basic necessities. Our 1.5-acre farm is highly productive, producing more than the average 10-acre vegetable farm in America. Our harvests, seeding, bed turnovers, and farm maintenance require a team of 7 employees to manage in peak season, which stands in stark contrast to the 1 farmer per 1000 acres seen on industrial mega-farms. As we continue to refine our skills in crop timing, pest management, and supporting natural soil fertility, our crop yields increase, creating more food, job opportunities, and revenue. In fact, on our tiny little postage stamp of a farm, we're on track to earn nearly $225k in revenue by the end of this year.

While that might sound surprising in the context of our farm's size and location, it becomes more reasonable when viewing it from our annual costs and farm investments. We're committed to fair exchanges for the energy our farm team brings out here each season, so it's no surprise that our largest annual expense goes towards paying the hands and hearts tending your food, costing about $90K each year. The purchase of seeds, beneficial insects, and soil micronutrients amounts to about $20K and we spend at least $30K each year on infrastructure repairs and upgrades to keep the farm resilient in the face of Sierra storms and an unpredictable climate. Growing food in our climate means lots of infrastructure, and our volatile weather means we have to occasionally heat our houses. Those costs add up quickly when we have cooler springs like this year, and can amount to 15-20k in a couple of months. Like any business, we also have the typical admin costs of our land lease, insurance, accounting, and service fees, which hover around $20K each year. As owner operators, we're typically left with about $45K to meet our own needs, which we've fortunately kept low by living in a tiny home, using alternative forms of health insurance, and enjoying the produce too ugly to bring to market. We didn't become farmers to get rich, but we did intend to make life richer. We're fortunate in ways too numerous to count and, in some regards, our situation is unique. Among other small-scale diversified vegetable farmers, though, it's more normal. In a recent visit to the 400-acre organic farm, Full Belly Farm, just northwest of Sacramento, we were inspired to see the owners happily living in their little farmhouse they bought nearly 50 years prior. These two are legends among organic farmers and helped bring the organic movement to California decades ago, and they're as humble and happy as you'd expect from people living close to the land. Farmers who value humanity and the earth beneath our feet are able to get by when they charge the actual cost of the food they grow. While we see a fair share of customers balk at our $4 bunches of carrots, we stand firm on that price knowing full well what it's going to pay for. We stand for the wages we offer, for the tedious nature of hand-scale farming without dousing our field (and beyond) with harmful chemicals, for not tilling our soil over and over again, and for a resilient farm model that leaves the land and humans better for it.

The problem is that very few of us know the real cost of food. The numbers listed at the grocery store don't reveal the effect that food's production had on the community it was grown in, the waterways that bleed into our oceans, nor the climate we're inching toward a brink of no escape. It also doesn't share the way it will serve or hinder our own biology, and if the price is right, many often don't care to know. The way we prioritize our spending is a reflection of our values and privilege. The question with food and farming, like so many of the issues of the hour, is whether we'll prioritize our future selves (and our future generations) above our need for fleeting pleasures and sabotaging distractions. It's just as author Micheal Pollan suggests, "But imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we're eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost." Perhaps then, we would value what matters more and buy less of what serves us little.

Our precious tomatoes in our most expensive greenhouse. Farming in the high country is inherently more costly than farming in more mild climates. We operate year-round courtesy of our 4 high tunnels (aka greenhouses) and two caterpillar tunnels. Our tomato high tunnel was an $80,000 investment, not including the cost to heat it when the tomatoes are planted in early spring. They taste sweeter when you know how much attention, love, and energy go into their fruition!


Inside Your Box This Week

Little Gem Lettuce

Sunflower Shoots

Aji Rico Pepper

Curly Kale








Recipes Worth Trying...

{click images to go to recipe}


For supporting our small organic farm.

For helping pave a way forward for regenerative agriculture.

For investing in young farmers.

For buying local.

We're honored to nourish you!


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