Week #2 – I was really hoping for that rain we were supposed to get over the weekend. Now we will be spending this next week irrigating everything until we can get more rain. I also had to take our rototiller all the way to Cedar Springs to get fixed. A seal for some very important bearings popped open and messed up some of the bearings, which resulted in some not good noises from the rototiller. So not the most positive way to start the week, but we’re pushing on.
Last week I was talking about how we did financially at the farm last year. We looked at the big numbers of our revenue and expenses. As I promised for this week I want to look at the labor expense category and discuss what I and a few other farmers were talking about this past winter.
To set the scene a little a group of urban growers, food activists, and food justice organizations have formed to call ourselves the Grand Rapids Urban Grower’s Group (GRUGG). We mainly meet in the winter when farmers have time for meetings and talking. This winter one topic was on financial sustainability of farming. We all shared what I shared with you last week, our numbers for the previous season. It was helpful to see where we spend money and figure out where some areas we could be try to be more efficient in. I was a little surprised when most farms were actually breaking even, but then we realized that this is because the easy expense to pull out of the equation is paying the farmer. So some farm’s employee expense was a small percent of their total expense. Farmers are working for free to make their farm financially viable.
So we wanted to find out what the average hourly wage was for farmers in the group. To find out your own average wage you add up the total spent on employee wages. This even included the money that was part of the farm business to pay for any housing or vehicles the family would benefit from. This was divided by the total number of hours spent working on the farm by all employees and volunteers. Then averaged all 7 of the participating farms and we got our result.
I asked you to guess what the number was last week, giving you the hint that the number was a biblical one. Well, it was appropriate since we are talking about money that the number was $6.66, the number of the beast! I am going to skip my thoughts on what this means theologically for today.
$6.66 is the average wage of a farm employee in Grand Rapids. This is a mix of farms big and small and that have been around for more than 10 years, new farms, and farms like us who have been around for around 5 years. This number is also similar to what others have found in other places of the country. So this isn’t a low or a high number nationally.
The more I’ve thought about this exercise that we did the more I don’t really care about the outcome. $6.66 is not much, but I don’t really do farming for money. I do need to be able to pay for things, but I didn’t get into farming because it pays well I did it because I am passionate about growing food and I enjoy growing food. Sure it would be nice to make more and work less, but I don’t think I would enjoy doing most other jobs.
I am also not trying to put guilt on anyone. I mainly share this to create awareness. As a group we talked about how to increase this number. One way is to just be better farmers and be more efficient. I feel like I’ve done an ok job of this. Our average wage for the Blandford farm was up in the $9.00 range. However, there are more areas that I think we can be more efficient to have the same quality product while working less hours.
Our goal for this season was to raise our average wage to $7.77 an hour then we’ll get to $12 an hour someday. We know we’ve reached the Promised Land when we all average $40 an hour just to continue to biblical numbering system.
Let me know if you have thoughts on this or any other questions about how we do things at the farm.