Know Your Farmers (and Farmworkers)
We, in New York, are blessed with “old fashioned,” family farms that produce food that folks actually eat and that is actually good for them. New York farms produce dairy, apples and other fruits, and vegetables, primarily. Here are a few facts about farmers and farmworkers that can help frame the farm labor discussion.
The products produced on New York farms are among the most labor intensive, and, according to the USDA, based on Department of Labor research, hired farmworkers constitute about 33 percent of the farm workforce, with principal farmers, and their families, providing the remaining 66 percent. Typically, farms’ three greatest classes of annual expenditure are for labor, energy, and taxes and, according to Farm Credit East, ACA, which conducted a statistical analysis of USDA data, New York farms spend $13.82 on labor costs per $100 of farm production sold, compared to $8.88 per $100, nationally.
The nation’s agricultural sector, indeed, has done well in recent years, one of the bright spots in our economy during the Great Recession, but the larger commodity producing farms of the west and south, not the small and diversified farms of New York, were largely responsible for the strong market.
Clearly it is better to work on a farm that you own than it is to work on a farm that you do not own. New York farmers, principal, and younger family members, do much of the work on their farms, working beside hired farmworkers, and they are not getting rich, until they stop and sell the farm, ending the food and ending the jobs.
Nationally, according to the USDA, almost 75% of farmworkers are classified as “settled,” meaning they do not follow the harvest, changing regions with the seasons. Farmers tell me that many of their farmworkers have been working with them for more than five years. The USDA reports that, in 2012, 33,000 of 38,000 New York farmworkers worked on farms located in metropolitan areas, including the sort of farms that engage in direct marketing, such as operating Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) and attending farmers markets.
Many New York farmworkers have longstanding relationships with the farmers for whom they work and the communities in which they live.