It Seems Like Consumers Enjoy the Image of a Poor Farmer

Prairie Gleanings

Since when did profit become a dirty word in the consumer's lexicon?

Published on: June 22, 2010
When was the last time a consumer asked if your farm was profitable?

I'm sure you've been asked if you're a family farm, are you sustainable, do you use antibiotics, how do you protect the environment …. and the list goes on. But, when was the last time they cared about how you actually make enough money to continue through to next year?

If they did ask, what answer would they want to hear? For some reason, I doubt they'd want to hear that you were making a lot of money. Let's be honest, that sounds too much like factory farm speak. How dare you profit from your hard work.  

The reason I bring this up stems from a conversation with a family member about where they get their beef. They purchase from a small rancher, who raises them entirely on pasture and does not administer antibiotics. My first question was how much does he charge. The person responded that it was only $2.50 per pound, because "he's not in it for the money." In fact, they told me that he will often lose money on his beef.

I'm currently reading (and agreeing) with Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." As you can imagine, the statement made my knees go weak. Later, I found out beef production was only a hobby for this rancher. However, the implications from the conversation made me quite uneasy.

As more folks strive to consume food in a sustainable manner, please remind them that step one is turning a profit. I've long had reservations about Willie Nelson's Farm Aid program. I've heard too many people come away with the thought "it's a good program because farmers are poor and they need our help." My response is, "Not if they're doing their job efficiently."

In some cases, it seems this image of the poor farmer actually makes some consumers feel good. It makes me sick to think they view purchasing food in the same respect as giving to charity.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the size of a farm operation's profit solely determines whether it is good. Instead, I contend that consumers need to view profit as a good quality to have. After all, you could be the most environmentally-sound farmer in the world. But, if you're not going to be here tomorrow, what good are you doing?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Even Ayn Rand didn't agree with her own book. In her later years she collected every benefit from Medicare and Social Security she could. Taking a work of fiction as one's "expert" advice on how the world should work is beyond foolish - and sadly way too common. Putting your faith in her philosophy is no different than all the fools who have become devotees of "The Secret."

  2. Jennifer, Farm Aid says:

    This point is spot on: “the first step is turning a profit.” More avenues are opening up across the country that allow consumers to buy direct from family farmers, but we need policies that create opportunities for more small and mid-sized farmers to tap into these more profitable markets. Corporate consolidation in agriculture is squeezing mid-sized farmers off their land and the advice to these farmers is often, “get big or get out.” At Farm Aid, we know small and mid-sized farmers offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues our nation faces. Family farmers are economic engines for local communities (read our report Rebuilding America's Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems at, stewards of our environment, and growers of the fresh foods we all need to be healthy. Farm Aid's premise is not that farmers are poor and need our help, but that we all need farmers to help ourselves. It's not about charity, it's about growing a future of good food for all.

  3. RHiebert says:

    Read this and see if you agree: "This IS A GOOD DECENT MAN WHO TOOK THE TIME TO WRITE THIS AND HE SIGNED THE STATEMENT AND INCLUDED HIS CONTACT INFO: I'm sure those of you who aren't in the cattle business don't understand the issues here. But to those of us whose living depends on the cattle market, selling cattle, raising the best beef possible... This is frustrating. This will keep us from ever stopping there again, even for a drink. The original message is from the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association Canadian cattle producers are very passionate about this. McDonald's claims that there is not enough beef in Canada to support their restaurants. Well, we know that is not so. Our opinion is they are looking to save money at our expense. The sad thing of it is that the people of Canada are the ones who made McDonald's successful in the first place, but we are not good enough to provide beef. We personally are no longer eating at McDonald's, which I am sure does not make an impact, but if we pass this around maybe there will be an impact felt. Please pass it on. Just to add a note: All Canadians that sell cattle at a livestock auction barn have to sign a paper stating that we do NOT EVER feed our cattle any part of another animal. South Americans are not required to do this as of yet. McDonald's has announced that they are going to start importing much of their beef from South America . The problem is that South Americans aren't under the same regulations as Canadian beef producers, and the regulations they have are loosely controlled. They can spray numerous pesticides on their pastures that have been banned here at home because of residues found in the beef. They can also use various hormones and growth regulators that we can't. The Canadian public needs to be aware of this problem and that they may be putting themselves at risk from now on by eating at good old McDonald's. Canadian ranchers raise the highest quality beef in the world and this is what Canadians deserve to eat. Not beef from countries where quality is loosely controlled. Therefore, I am proposing a boycott of McDonald's until they see the light. I'm sorry but everything is not always about the bottom line, and when it comes to jeopardizing my family's health, that is where I draw the line. I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you? Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. Larry Latam Sylvia Van Oene R.N. Occupational Health Services (HSD) XL Foods Inc. Lakeside Packers Brooks , AB.

  4. d. crummett says:

    One listen to the Obama Administration's continual reference to the holiness of "non profits" and you can see where about 30% of this nation's thinking lies. Atlas indeed is shrugging, and I don't blame him!!! Dan