By Dr. Mercola
Using data from the Census Bureau, NPR made a map of the most common job in each state.1 The award for top job goes, overwhelmingly, to truck drivers… who knew? Truck driver was the most common job in 29 out of 50 states.
Part of the commonality has to do with the way the jobs are categorized by the government. The truck driver category includes all delivery people, which is an understandably large category.
Still, truck driving is resistant to both globalization and automation, which has protected it from much of the declines seen in other industries. As NPR pointed out, "A worker in China can't drive a truck in Ohio, and machines can't drive cars (yet)."2
It is beyond clear that technology will radically change this in the future, as self-driving cars and trucks will start to appear in the next five years, and in ten years most of these truck-driving jobs will no longer exist.
Other industries have not been so fortunate, like farming. In 1978, farmers (owners and tenants) and farm workers were the most common job in eight states. In 2014, that had dropped to two states… but the term "farmer" is no longer used… now we have "farm managers," which reflects the growing trend of "farms" turning into corporations.
Farmers, Once the Most Popular 'Job' in America, Now Make Up Less Than 1 Percent of the Population
The number of farmers in the US has been on the decline for a century. NPR explained this by saying that farming technology "keeps getting better, which means fewer and fewer people can grow more and more food." As the Worldwatch Institute put it:3
"For most of the past two centuries, the shift toward fewer farmers has generally been assumed to be a kind of progress. The substitution of high-powered diesel tractors for slow-moving women and men with hoes, or of large mechanized industrial farms for clusters of small 'old fashioned' farms, is typically seen as the way to a more abundant and affordable food supply.
Our urban-centered society has even come to view rural life, especially in the form of small family-owned businesses, as backwards or boring, fit only for people who wear overalls and go to bed early-far from the sophistication and dynamism of the city."
But is this really a form of progress? As the number of farmers is dwindling, demands for food have only increased – demands that are being met by the proliferation of industrial concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and, ostensibly, genetically modified (GM) foods. This isn't a problem unique to the US, either.
Agricultural jobs have declined in all industrial nations in the last five decades, in some cases by more than 80 percent.4 In the US, farmers were once the backbone of the country. Now they are more like a big toe. According to Worldwatch:5
"Look at the numbers, and you might think farmers are being singled out by some kind of virus:
- In Japan, more than half of all farmers are over 65 years old; in the United States, farmers over 65 outnumber those under 35 by three to one. (Upon retirement or death, many will pass the farm on to children who live in the city and have no interest in farming themselves.)
- In New Zealand, officials estimate that up to 6,000 dairy farms will disappear during the next 10 to 15 years--dropping the total number by nearly 40 percent.
- In Sweden, the number of farms going out of business in the next decade is expected to reach about 50 percent.
- In the United States, where the vast majority of people were farmers at the time of the American Revolution, fewer people are now full-time farmers (less than 1 percent of the population) than are full-time prisoners.
- In the U.S. states of Nebraska and Iowa, between a fifth and a third of farmers are expected to be out of business within two years."
Most US Farms Don't Make Enough Income to Cover Expenses
The most recent US Census states there are 2.2 million farms in the US. This sounds like a large number until you realize that in 1935, when the US had a population of just 127 million people, there were 6.8 million farms.
Further, the definition of a "farm" is "any establishment which produced and sold, or normally would have produced and sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the year."
So it's a pretty lenient definition. Moreover, it's estimated that farm production expenses average just over $109,000 per year per farm. But fewer than one in four US farms produce gross revenues in excess of $50,000. As noted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):6
"Clearly, many farms that meet the U.S. Census' definition would not produce sufficient income to meet farm family living expenses."
This explains why, by 2007, fewer than 188,000 of the 2.2 million farms accounted for more than half (63 percent) of sales of agricultural products.7 It is clear that most foods are produced on factory farms.
Even with major retailers, like Walmart, making claims of supporting "local" farms, small local farmers simply can't grow enough produce to meet Walmart's year-round demands. So much of its local produce may actually be coming from very large farms.
In some cases, already giant industrial meatpackers, dairy companies, and food processors actually merged simply to become large enough to supply Walmart. This consolidation has actually been blamed as one of the factors driving food prices up. Ironically, however, as food prices rise, farmers are getting paid less while the retailers… aka Walmart… are getting more:8
"Grocery prices have been rising faster than inflation and, while there are multiple factors driving up consumer costs, some economic research points to concentration in both food manufacturing and retailing as a leading culprit.
Farmers, meanwhile, are getting paid less and less. Take pork, for example. Between 1990 and 2009, the farmers' share of each dollar consumers spent on pork fell from 45 to 25 cents, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.
Pork processors picked up some of the difference, but the bulk of the gains went to Walmart and other supermarket chains, which are now pocketing 61 cents of each pork dollar, up from 45 cents in 1990.
Another USDA analysis found that big retailers have used their market power to shortchange farmers who grow apples, lettuce, and other types of produce, paying them less than what they would get in a competitive market, while also charging consumers inflated prices. In this way, Walmart has actually helped drive overall food prices up," Grist reported.
We Now Have More Prisoners Than Farmers…
It should be noted that in the US there are more prisoners than farmers. And where small family farms once dotted the rural countryside, most new prisons are now built in rural, and now often economically depressed, areas.
The prisons are heralded by economic development professionals as "economic engines," which have become a leading source of proposed economic growth in rural America.9 This, along with gambling casinos and CAFOs, are now keeping many rural communities going, but at what expense?
As Prison Policy pointed out, "Hundreds of small rural towns and several whole regions have become dependent on an industry which itself is dependent on the continuation of crime-producing conditions."10
CAFOs, meanwhile, are one of the largest sources of pollution in the US. Massive rivers of waste that pollute surrounding waterways with toxic bacteria and release noxious gasses into the air commonly stem from CAFOs' "waste lagoons."
CAFOs also serve as ideal breeding grounds for diseases ranging from influenza viruses to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which can infect the animals, farm workers, and the general public. CAFO waste also contributes to air pollution, and CAFO workers and neighboring residents alike report higher incidence of asthma, headaches, eye irritation, and nausea. According to the EPA, US states with high concentrations of CAFOs report 20-30 serious water-quality problems annually.11
One of the reasons so few Americans are aware of these issues is because of "ag-gag" laws, which legally prevents people from filming or photographing conditions on factory farms. Ag-gag laws are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg, and dairy industries to essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs.
Not surprisingly, the US government has a history of supporting these industrial CAFO operations, both by looking the other way when abuse or contamination occurs, and by directly subsidizing cheaply produced beef, and corn and soy used for feed. As it stands, 2 percent of US livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals,12 and these large, corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses.
The primary reason CAFOs are able to remain so "efficient," bringing in massive profits while selling their food for bottom-barrel prices, is because they substitute subsidized crops for pasture grazing. Factory farms use massive quantities of corn, soy and grain in their animal feed, all crops that they are often able to purchase at below cost because of government subsidies. Because of these subsidies, US farmers produce massive amounts of GM soy, GM corn, wheat, etc. -- rather than vegetables -- leading to a monoculture of foods that create a disease-promoting fast-food diet.
A New Generation of Farmers Are Paving the Way for Regenerative Agriculture
Our current food system is driven by policy and corporate control. And while those who promote it claim that it's the only way to feed an ever-growing population, it is in fact a highly unsustainable system. It may be financially profitable for a few large corporations, but it's driving the rest of us, including the last "real" farmers, into the poor-house. The film The Greenhorns demonstrates how we can collectively transform the current industrial monoculture, chemical-based agricultural paradigm into a healthier, more sustainable way of feeding ourselves and our neighbors, while restoring the health of our ailing planet.
"The Greenhorns documentary film... explores the lives of America's young farming community – its spirit, practices, and needs. It is the filmmaker's hope that by broadcasting the stories and voices of these young farmers, we can build the case for those considering a career in agriculture – to embolden them, to entice them, and to recruit them into farming.
The production of The Greenhorns is part of our grassroots nonprofit's larger campaign for agricultural reform... Today's young farmers are dynamic entrepreneurs, stewards of place. They are involved in local politics, partnering with others, inventing new social institutions, working with mentors, starting their careers as apprentices, borrowing money from the bank, putting in long hours, taking risks, innovating, experimenting... These young farmers have vision: a prosperous, satisfying, sustainable food system."
You can take part in the revolution in a number of ways. If you're a young person deciding on a career, consider organic sustainable farming. You may even consider it if you're looking for a mid-life change. At the very least, you can get personally involved in growing food for your own family. I have personally embraced this concept. So far, I've converted about 75 percent of the quarter-acre ornamental landscape around my home to an edible landscape.
I have put in about 300,000 pounds of woodchips as a large carbon input that will create magnificent topsoil, mycorrhizal fungi, and earthworms. I have 40 fruit trees including, bananas, papayas, figs, olives, loquats, oranges, limes, cherries, plums, peaches, mangos, tangerines, and kiwis. And once you integrate biological farming principles, you can get plant performances that are 200-400 percent greater than what you would typically get from a plant! All in a totally sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
Even apartment-dwellers or college dorm students can join the revolution by sprouting. You can also grow a wide variety of herbs, fruits, berries, and vegetables in pots. Hanging baskets are ideal for a wide variety of foods, such as strawberries, leafy greens, runner beans, pea shoots, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs. And instead of flowers, window boxes can hold herbs, greens, radishes, scallions, bush beans, strawberries, chard, and chilies, for example.
If you're not inclined to grow your own food, sourcing your foods from a local farmer is one of your best bets to ensure you're getting something wholesome. And, you'll be supporting the small farms – not the CAFOs -- in your area. Every state has a sustainable agriculture organization or biological farming organization that is the nucleus of the farmers in that state. You can also find an ever-increasing number of "eat local" and "buy local" directories in which local farms will be listed. The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods from real farmers in your local area:
- Local Harvest-- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets-- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
- Weston A. Price Foundation has local chapters around the US where you can find organic, grass-fed milk and other organic foods.