Last week, Bob Comis from Stonybrook Farm contributed a piece to the Ethicurean on why he thinks prices for meat raised on small, local farms is too high.
The next day, I read Joel Salatin’s annual newsletter to his on farm customers. Then I sent Joel an email, asking him to do a guest post for me expanding on what he wrote. This is Joel’s take on why local food is more expensive:
Many local and real food advocates chafe under commonly higher prices, not realizing that in fact, much of this higher price does not end up in the farmer’s pocket. It is rather siphoned off as regulatory expense to comply with asinine government regulations that either do not scale down to smaller producers and producers, or are outright capricious and inapplicable.
Last year, here at Polyface we entered the mandatory Workman’s Compensation (WC) world when we passed our third employee. This is a state mandated program administered by a private company. I’m not sure about all the arrangements, but there’s virtually no competition. After our insurance agent filled out all the paperwork he could, he set up a three-way phone interview so I could finish the loose ends. “Only 15 minutes,” he assured me. It took an hour and the questions were outrageous when applied to us.
Our interns and apprentices, who receive free room and board plus a modest stipend in return for their education, had to be treated like employees. On our farm, we integrate cattle, pigs, and poultry to such an extent that these different types of animals are in the same area and everyone handles chores for all of them. But in WC land, employees must be segregated between “Beef and Pork” or “Poultry.” They can’t mix. The risk actuarials are different so they must be separately categorized.
Of course, the risk to for cattle and hogs is bigger because they can hurt you, especially in a feedlot or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. We have neither. And poultry risk is assessed assuming a confinement fecal particulate fan whirring feed augering factory house. Ours are in little squatty pasture schooners, hand watered, hand fed, open air sunshine and dew-speckled pasture.
The real kicker was a delivery driver who takes frozen meat and eggs to the restaurants and home customers. Since we’re a farm, we can’t have such a delivery driver. The only delivery driver we can have is a live animal hauler–highest risk in the book. If we were a delivery service, we could have a low-risk delivery driver, but that’s impossible with a farm. Farms don’t have those kinds of employees.
Bottom line: our little farm operation is paying more than $10,000 a year for government-mandated Workman’s Comp using an assessment system written for Tyson and Cargill. It’s absurd. And immoral. Guess who pays that huge cost? The customer. In a thousand different ways, this scenario plays out across the local food movement, arbitrarily and capriciously prejudicing the price. And that, dear friends, is the main reason why local food is more expensive.