In January of this year, California’s Minimum Wage rose to $10 per hour, and just last week Governor Brown announced a deal with legislators to implement a further 50% increase in that wage over seven years. That move gave our state the brief honor of having the highest minimum wage in the country, until New York passed a similar deal a few days later.
Like many businesses, Terra Firma pays entry-level workers minimum wage, but when it is raised, almost everyone else on the farm gets a similar raise. Our payroll costs jumped almost 10% on January 2nd.
Happy and productive workers are the most important component of our success at Terra Firma. Growing organic vegetables and fruit takes lots of hard-working, experienced and knowledgeable people and they deserve fair compensation — as do farm owners.
Unfortunately, the prices for fresh produce have not risen along with increased labor costs in California. Many consumers seem to believe that produce prices should never go up. Of course I am not referring to Terra Firma subscribers and other enlightened shoppers.
As a whole, the fresh produce industry has kept prices for most items low by following a very common business formula: moving production to lower-wage countries. Mexico used to be the place where farmers grew summer crops during California’s winter; it has increasingly become the place where farmers go to grow all crops that are harvested by hand. Meanwhile, California’s farm landscape is now completely dominated by mechanically harvested crops like nuts, hay, winegrapes and canning tomatoes.
Organic produce requires even more hand-labor than conventional produce, making Mexico an increasingly popular location for large organic farms. While lots of lip service is given to “Locally Grown” food, a huge percentage of the conventional and organic produce in supermarkets in California and the rest of the U.S. now comes from overseas.
Farmers who do grow locally still must compete with the “market price” for the items they sell. This needs to change. The idea that a strawberry, or a tomato, or a summer squash — is “just a strawberry”, needs to change. A strawberry grown in California is not the same as a strawberry grown in Mexico.
We will soon be raising our subscription price to help us cover the increased cost of giving all our employees a 10% raise. And we also ask that you keep referring us to your friends, co-workers, family members and anyone else who will listen. When they buy organic produce at Costco, Walmart or even Whole Foods it does not guarantee that their dolllars are supporting local farms and communities, but subscribing to Terra Firma does.