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The price of food

 
Lina Joana
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I'm curious, for those doing large scale farming - what SHOULD the price of food be for the consumer?
I'm sure most permies would agree that milk should not sell for $3 per gallon. Chicken should not sell for $1 a pound. It is simply not possible to produce a decent, healthy product at that price.
So, on the one hand, you have unsustainable cheap food. On the other side, though, you have Paul talking about the farmers who are getting $1000 per ham. That's not sustainable either on a large scale, though I applaud the folks who can pull it off. What is the middle ground?
I currently pay $14 for a gallon of raw milk in California. I don't eat meat, but my partner pays about $5 per pound for organic free range chicken at the farmers market. I'm ok with paying this much for good food. I've recently seen much higher prices: goats milk for $10 per quart, and the local co-op advertizing chickens for $37 per 3-4 pound bird. These prices seem a bit high to me - while I don't begrudge anyone their livelihood, if you make good food too expensive, it will never catch on on the larger scale, because people simply can't afford it.
Are the prices I'm currently paying still too low? What should the consumer's weekly food budget actually be? I'd love to hear different thoughts on this - how you price a product so that the farmer can make a living, while still putting it in a price range that has a shot at world domination!
 
Dave Burton
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As we have noted before on permies, the differences between organic and permaculture can be quite vast.

I would very interested in the price of food coming from Mark Shepard's Permaculture/ Restoration Agriculture Farm. With Geoff Lawton, he filmed a video going around his farm and explained that to make a better profit, he uses a system that he calls the STUN (Sheer Total Utter Neglect) technique. From the way he explained it, that technique seems like one of the most cost-efficient methods to use.
 
Thomas Partridge
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While I agree that you can't produce a sustainable and healthy product at $3.00 a gallon and $1.00 a pound for chicken, I will say that the other end of the spectrum seems a little high. From what I understand though, a lot of the costs that go into selling meat and milk on a small scale is all the licenses and such you have to have. I can grow a few bushels of carrots and sell them at the farmers market, but I can't even sell 10 lbs of chicken without being certified and all that.

Meat rabbit breeders run into this all the time since the setup and feed costs for rabbits make it so that you could make a profit on selling rabbit meat at $3.00 a pound, but to sell it directly to the consumer you need to spend a great deal of money and jump through a bunch of hoops.

I think with a garden or grow room to supplement a person's food, they shouldn't have to pay more than a $100.00 a person per month on food. We spend quite a bit less than that, but we also don't buy as much organic food as we should. The problem is that at a certain point it becomes far more cost effective to grow your own organic food than it does to buy it.
 
R Scott
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Charles Kleff wrote: The problem is that at a certain point it becomes far more cost effective to grow your own organic food than it does to buy it.


The problem is the solution. Victory gardens worked before, they are needed again.

Every raw milk producer I know can sell all they produce most of the year. The only reason they don't charge more is they feel guilty, they want those that NEED it for health reasons to be able to afford it.

Meat producers here can get a premium over store meat, but not much over the whole foods meat dept. We are in a place that has approved butchering facilities but they add a lot to the cost, beef being around 50 cents per pound for processing up to $3 a pound to process small animals like goat or lamb.


 
Lina Joana
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Growing your own food is certainly a good solution - if you have the land. I guess I was thinking more of apartment dwellers in cities who - though they might get a 4 by 4 plot in a community garden - are unlikely to be able to grow all their own veggies, much less keep animals.
The regulations are interesting. Finding away to ensure reasonable safety and cleanliness while keeping costs low is going to be an important part of the puzzle, I can see that.
 
Thomas Partridge
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Lina Joana wrote:Growing your own food is certainly a good solution - if you have the land. I guess I was thinking more of apartment dwellers in cities who - though they might get a 4 by 4 plot in a community garden - are unlikely to be able to grow all their own veggies, much less keep animals.
The regulations are interesting. Finding away to ensure reasonable safety and cleanliness while keeping costs low is going to be an important part of the puzzle, I can see that.


I agree that we need to come up with solutions for people who cannot afford land or and extra room to set up as a grow room. I think there are a few non-profits that work on creating more rooftop gardens, but in reality I can't see a way to make organic gardening cost effective in an urban setting. It is my hope that as time passes more and more work will be done remotely and as such there will not be nearly as much of a need for people to remain close to where they work.

I think the solution to the regulations problem is to have a weight or income threshold - i.e. you can butcher x number of pounds/kilograms for direct sale without being regulated. If you could only sell 1,000lbs of meat each year without being regulated, all of the big producers would still need to be regulated and the small backyard breeder could sell freshly butchered meat to the consumer.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The two problems that will need addressing in order for people to be able to buy good, healthful food verses growing their own are: production cost and regulations and permits. Currently it is very costly to be able to produce and sell raw milk and raw milk products. When you ad in the costs of the permits, inspections and the record keeping, to sell these products it becomes even more costly.

It is less costly to produce vegetable foods for sale. However it is still more costly than what the Factory farmer pays out.

Until the regulations are actually set up to help the small farmer rather than to hinder them it will remain far more costly to become a producer for sale than to become a producer for self consumption. Right now, if you aren't a huge farm, you simply can not be a commercial producer and operate in the black, the system is not set up for those people. The system is set up for the Tyson Foods type people, who have the financial ability to process tons of chickens and pork and have on site USDA Inspectors.

IF you watch the financial district, the legislative branches of state governments and the federal government, there are many signs of a coming collapse. When that collapse happens, The companies that are bound by the dollar will find themselves in real trouble to make ends meet. AT that point it will be the small farms, with their smaller dependence on big dollars that can rise to a level of becoming able to sell at lower prices because of the relaxation of regulations or the inability of government to police the current regulations. At the same time, people will not be able to afford to buy, also because of the collapse of the dollar. Values will be similar to the great depression or even worse than that era. This is coming, it is inevitable simply because it is impossible to continue on the path the USA is on for an indefinite period of time.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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On my farm, approximately half of the food that I grow has no dollar value attached to it. That would be food that I eat myself, and that I feed to my family, and that I give to the elderly and to parents with young children. That includes food that I save for the winter and donate to the food pantry. That includes food that is swapped on an ad-hoc basis: excess corn given to the chicken farmer, and perhaps some day the chicken farmer will have excess eggs to share with me. Honey that is gifted to someone that was just driving by my fields and saw the irrigation water malfunctioning and turned it off, or put the cow back into her pen.


I grow all of my own seeds. That saves me thousands of dollars a year. I haven't tried doing an accounting of the labor cost to do so, but there is no financial cost for seed.


I decided a long time ago that the price of food in the grocery stores is disconnected from reality... It does not properly account for the labor necessary to grow a crop. It does not account for the difference in quality between what I grow on my farm and what is available in the grocery store. A strawberry or a muskmelon grown on my farm is not even the same product as what the grocery stores have to offer. Sometimes it feels strange to sell strawberries for $4 per pint on the same day that the grocery stores are selling them for $1.88 per quart. But... There really is no comparison. They are different products. It goes both ways, sometimes I sell a cucumber for 20 cents when they are 50 cents at the grocery store.

When I first started farming, I kept a detailed journal. My hourly wage was around $2 per hour. One thing that helps me to price crops is to time how long it takes me to pick them... If I can pick a bushel of green beans per hour, then I aught to be charging $40 per bushel for them: $20 to pay myself for picking them, and about the same amount for planting, weeding, irrigation, and overhead. People are sympathetic to high prices if they are based on paying a decent wage to the farmer.

If I had my way, none of my vegetables would have a dollar amount attached to them. I much prefer living in a gifting economy.



 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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As to the regulations for poultry processing, that may be changing. My state has legislation going forward that basically allows the selling of any farm product to an "informed consumer". So I can slaughter a chicken and sell it to someone with no regulation. When regulation decreases permie farmers would have a better profit margin imo.
 
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