Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jen takes a farmer call

Farmers call our farmer hotline every day. Most of the hotline calls are difficult and you do your best with each one; but some stay with you.

I recently took a call from a farmer who’s doing everything right. She grows organically; she direct markets at an on-farm stand and at local farmers markets. She operates a CSA so her customers share the risk of putting seeds in the ground. Her farm operation is diversified; she sells raw product, processed product, and the farm “experience” for people looking to escape their city lives. But for all her innovation she’s in trouble.

Her husband had just had a major medical emergency and, being farmers, they didn’t have good health insurance coverage. So not only was this farmer out her best farm manager, she had to find a way to pay for hospital bills, prescriptions, and all the therapy her husband would need to get his health back. No matter how good you are at farming, you’re just one disaster away from everything you’ve worked for falling to pieces.

I pulled up all the resources I could for this farmer. Had she been in any other business, there would have been health insurance, disability insurance, any number of other coverages that might have helped. But when you’re a farmer and disaster strikes, you pull through sometimes by the skin of your teeth and some help from friends, family, your community. Farming is an amazing leap of faith… from the tiniest seed you plant in the ground to your year end balance sheet.

It seems to me that we should place more value in the people who sustain us through their work. Sure, all the professions that do good work are undervalued and underpaid; that seems to be a fact of life. But for farmers more than anyone else, business is a gamble and fringe benefits are hard to come by.

Although I wanted to, I couldn’t just magically make this farmer’s problems go away. I was able to provide her with some emergency Farm Aid funds to cover household expenses, like the cost of her husband’s prescriptions. Additionally, using our Farm Resource Network I connected her with some local groups that work with farmers.

I recently checked up on her and she’s doing all she can to make her business thrive as best possible, like she always has. In the back of my head, I’m still thinking of ways to solve her problem. But that’s a whole other entry...

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