There’s been a lot of hubbub about how farmers markets have become too expensivelately. This is not a new concept but it seems to have flared up recently. Kate Archdeacon from the Victorian Farmers Market Association (VFMA) composed this rebuttalto the above opinion piece published on goodfood.com.au. Now, let’s further unpack this persistent fallacy.

To begin with an example from the article, the author simply can’t justify spending $9 on 250 grams of butter, no matter how hand-churned and cultured it might be”.Now let me just say that hand churningbutter is hard work and if you’ve done it, then you probably wouldn’t question a $9 stick of butter, but let’s go deeper.

Many are aware that Australia’s dairy industry is in dire straits because of, among other things, the horrendously low price of milk. However, to reallydemonstrate this issue, let’s pretend a fair price for milk is $2.5/L. The fat content of milk is dependent on many factors but let’s be generous and say that from 6L of milk you could get 1L of cream. If you churned that cream into butter, it might yield about 500g. So, to produce 250g of butter, it might use $7.50 worth of milk. Then there’s the labour and overheads. Suddenly, $9 doesn’t seem so bad.

I’ve used the above reasoning as a rebuttal to the simplistic aforementioned article, however, debating the intricate finances of food production is beside the point. Food should not be cheap. Food should not be cheap.

Capitalist economics have commodified food and divorced it from it’s true value. Industrial food systems have used unethical practices to extract value from food while luring us into the belief that it should be cheap. These injustices might be in the form of environmental degradation, horrific animal welfare standards or underpaid workers.

Even in a privileged country like our own, the only reason that stick of butter is just $9 is because farmers are so passionate about what they do that they are willing to work for below the minimum wage. That’s not to say that farmers, especially those selling directly via farmers markets or Community Supported Agriculture, can’t make a decent income, but when that income is spread over the number of hours they put in, it starts to look less decent. I know few farms that don’t also make use of unpaid labour in the form of family, friends or volunteers.

All food costs ‘x’ to grow. Using economies of scale and efficiencies it can be grown more cheaply, but there is a limit. Where that limit is undercut, the cost is being externalised. Just because the consumer is not paying the whole cost, does not mean it is not being paid. Is it the soil, the animals, the ocean or the workers that pay that cost?

I entirely agree that wholefood should be accessible to people on low-incomes, however, it is food producers who make up a large portion of the world’s poor.‘Some of the most abject poverty in the world is concentrated in farming communities’1. Using the price of food as a lever, you can raise populations out of poverty. Lower income communities can then afford to pay themselves and their workers fairly. There is a myriad of creative solutions to make food accessible to all.

When we put food that is grown in ethical and ecologically-sound ways next to its industrial counter-part, it may seem expensive (I would argue this is a complete fallacy when it comes to plant foods, but it is certainly apparent with regards to animal products). If it is too expensive – eat less. To produce and consume the amount of meat we do now is only possible because of industrial agriculture and that model is driving climate catastrophe. Eat better meat, less.

Food production takes a lot of hard work and is always under threat of the whim of nature. Compared to last year, I had a low yield of apricots. It still cost me the same to grow them. I still have to wait another year until I can harvest them again. It was likely a confluence of natural factors and my own management, but I chose to increase the price of some crops to make up for it. It is challenging to demand a ‘high’ price for something but encouraging to see the same smiling faces at the market regardless. Small-scale agriculture is vital to our food sovereignty, so it is important that farmers remain financially viable. ‘In life, you might need a doctor, a lawyer and a policemxn once or twice, but a farmer, you’ll need three times a day’.

 

1http://www.fao.org/3/Y1860E/y1860e11.htm