The True Cost of Food – Fishing and Farming in the Red

Below are highlights from the Facebook Live Chat held August 29. 
View discussion HERE
Notes gathered by Brett Tolley, community organizer at NAMA 
(please add/comment below for anything that is missing)

Last week the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, the National Family Farm Coalition, and NAMA co-hosted our first Facebook ‘live chat’ to highlight the true cost of food and the fact that many fishermen and farmers are fishing and farming in the red.

Both family farmers and community based fishermen are NOT allowed to ask for a boat or farm price that reflects their real cost. For the majority of farmers and fishermen you are told how much you’re getting paid for your catch or crop. In the fishing world, add to it the cost of leasing the right to fish – or land in the case of farmers – and all the other direct and indirect expenses and we have a situation that we are hearing more and more about: fishing in the red and farming in the red.

Below is a general summary of ideas, links, videos, and more that folks shared during the Facebook chat. Overall, it was a fantastic conversation and we hope to do more in the future.

Thanks to all who participated!

Folks posted several links that helped tell the story of how over time, family farmers and fishers are getting paid a smaller percentage of the food dollar. We read that in 1956 the farmer received 8% of the price of a box of corn flakes, and then by 1979, the farmer received only 1.7% of the retail dollar. Today its getting even worse.


We discussed two strategy approaches to address the price issue as well as the larger problem at hand; a broken and unjust food system. Strategy #1, fix the systems that are stacked against family farmers and community based fishermen. And strategy #2, build upon the positive aspects of the local food movement.

Strategy #1
Weigh in on the Farm Bill and the upcoming fish-version of the farm bill called the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act (MSA). *see further action items below

Strategy #2
Build upon the creation of an alternative food system. Models such as CSAs, CSFs, farm/fish to school, and localizing the purchase power of institutional buyers like hospitals are increasing.

Post from FB Chat: “Foster a consumer movement that is loyal to a Fair Trade model, i.e. Fair Trade labels that include labor standards and decent pay for producers. With modern social media communications, it might be possible in the future to educate enough consumers to look for fair trade labels. The Domestic Fair Trade Network is a start in that direction. Another strategy is localizing the food distribution and connecting fisherfolk and farmers directly with consumers.” 

Potential hurdles include farmers and fishers fighting amongst themselves. Often times we see an unwillingness to speak out about price because we’ve become accustomed to selling for crumbs and believing that crumbs are better than nothing.

YouTube Video “Food Movement 
1985: Were you there? We Were”

Post from FB chat: “Consumer support is absolutely vital in this “David and Goliath Battle” between our nation’s farmers, fishermen, and food producers, and the “Food and Dairy Industry”! More consumers need to be informated that the INDUSTRY’s share of the $$$ in the middle needs to be shared fairly so farmers and fishermen can stay in business so consumers have a safe, adequate, secure, and affordable food supply!”

The Farm Bill expires on October 1, 2013 and there are many important programs that will be terminated or lose their funding. Farmers, fishers, and rural communities across the globe are impacted by these actions that threaten their food sovereignty. We need to stand up and make sure that more bad trade agreements aren’t negotiated and that fast-track, undemocratic processes for adopting trade policy must not be approved by our Congress. Read more at the National Family Farm Coalition site.

Post from FB chat about dairy pricing system: “The whole dairy pricing system needs to be
revisited so that dairy farmers are able to recover a price for their milk that
covers their cost of production; now dairy cooperatives acting much more like
corporations than cooperatives exert way too much control that hurts both dairy
farmers in the form of low prices and consumers in that much of what they pay
for milk at the grocery store fuels the profit levels of companies like Land O’
Lakes and Dairy farmers of America. We at NFFC are working to support a
different kind of dairy farm bill; one that is based on fair pricing. But for
this to work – we also need fair trade policies that limit the inflow of
imported dairy (dry powder) that displaces our markets and provides an even
cheaper substitute for milk products.”

Also discussed price floors and how we need to educated folks about the real affect and impact of farm subsidies. In a nutshell, subsidies don’t result in fair pay to family farmers. Read about two proposals here. And check out this video. 
YouTube Video on farm subsidies 
and price floor programs

Compared the MSA as like the Farm Bill but for fisheries. It gets revisited by congress every 10 years or so. The congressional discussion for the upcoming MSA reauthorization just began this past spring. Currently NAMA and allies are developing a platform/proposal. We invite folks to join our efforts and weigh-in during this lengthy and critical policy process.
See public testimony and read more here

Discussed the fisheries quota system, that in some cases is becoming a privatization scheme where quota is bought, sold, and traded similar to
the stock market. In the end this drives wages down for fishermen plus crew and
drives policy in the same direction as agribusiness did for farm land. 

Here is a great cartoon video that explains the policy with an easy-to-understand message:

Discussed how to ensure that low-income families can afford healthy and culturally appropriate foods and also ensure a fair price to farmers and fishers. Mentioned the SNAP program that also includes incentives to shop farmers’ markets.

Also mentioned direct marketing like CSAs and CSFs which can sometimes offer a win-win where people pay less for fresh seafood and fishermen get paid more. Cape Ann Fresh Catch is one example.

More restaurants are highlighting boat and captain names on menus. This implies that you are giving back directly to someone that worked hard to bring that food to the restaurant. We want to encourage and congratulate restaurants that are paying fair price and sourcing ethically but also must caution against other retailers and restaurants who are exploiting/green washing/blue washing terms like ‘local, organic, sustainable, etc.’ in order to increase profit margins and NOT pass on the added value to the fishermen.

Blog by John Peck that highlights the issue

“The primary objective of fair trade is to bring economic justice and workplace dignity to farmers and workers. It would seem odd, then, that the fair trade price for the sector’s flagship product – coffee – has been “stuck” at $1.26 per pound for over a dozen years now.”

Folks asked, “I’d like to join the movement, but I am a little unsure of where to start.” Here are some of the resources/petitions that were offered.