In the age of the modern supermarket, it is easy to be blown away by the seemingly endless choices we have down every aisle for every type of food. Unfortunately, most consumers are not aware that a large percentage of our pantry comes from just a few huge corporations. Even worse- people are unaware of how much of their food budget will never make it to local farmers or their communities. Let’s take a look at how our food supply has consolidated, what that has done to our agricultural towns, and how we might take back some money back in the hands of the people that deserve it.
The Backbone of the Community
Small farmers are, and always have been the backbone of our rural communities. They buy goods from local stores and suppliers while employing local people. The property taxes they pay help provide services like public schools and roads in rural towns.
In addition to the local tax benefits and spending, these local farmers create jobs. Growers that sell locally on average create 13 jobs, while growers that sell elsewhere create only 3. When we lose a farm- we lose an employer, a local tax payer, multiple jobs, which leads to businesses closing and eventually entire towns drying up.
How Did We Get Here?
After the New Deal of the 1940’s helped stabilize dust bowl era farmers, federal policy shifted toward the industrialization of the agriculture sector. The removal of these protections for farmers forced farmers to plant more, and in turn drove down commodity prices. This downward trend in income cause multiple lending crises where large numbers of small famers were unable to pay back loans for equipment and supplies. Unwilling to put farmer price floor protections back in place, the marching orders from USDA were “Get big, or Get out”
The result of all of these decisions is that the US has lost nearly 70% of all farms since 1900. Conversely, the average farm size in acres has reached all time highs.
This consolidation of cropland in the US is closely mirrored by the consolidation of meat processing and milling. These processing facilities are often owned by large foreign-owned corporations. Here’s a few examples
81% of beef is processed by Tyson, ConAgra, Cargill, Farmland.
80% of corn exports are handled by Cargill-Continental Grain, ADM, Zen Noh
80% of all soybean processing is handled by ADM, Cargill, Bunge, AGP.
On top of all of this, we see the consolidation of major grocery store brands. This gives consumers the illusion of choice, but ultimately funnels money back into the same corporate hands.
The Big Squeeze
Farmers are caught in the middle of a big squeeze. Marketing, distribution, and production costs are going up with their share of the profits decreasing. Meanwhile, the large food corporations are vertically integrating to control ever higher percentages of your food dollar. This sustained level of wealth extraction is draining income, jobs, and tax dollars from our communities.
What Can You Do?
It can be intimidating to do anything when there are multi-billion dollar companies standing in the way, but there are definitely things that you can do.
- Buy locally-sourced food as much as you are logistically and financially able. This can be purchasing food from a local produce stand or farmer’s market or eating at a restaurant that sources local ingredients.
- Support local organizations that are opposed to the unfair practices of corporate Ag. Some of our favorites are Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Farm Aid.
- Reach out to your local representative and let them know that you want Ag policies that will empower smaller farmers and break up the monopolies within the food supply. Find your representative here
Hopefully, this gives you some key insight on one of the issues that affect our rural areas. We hope to see you take more ownership in this conversation and use this as a way to find common ground.