Amidst all the bad news we’ve had since the start of 2021, I thought it might highlight a few positive trends that are unlikely to see much coverage in the press or on social media.
First and foremost: the vast majority of workers on farms in California got almost an 8% raise this year. That the third raise in three years of more than 5%. This raise is due mostly to California’s annual mandated minimum wage of one dollar per hour. This year it has gone from $13 to $14. But like many employers, Terra Firma is extending this 8% raise all the way up our pay scale.
From an objective perspective, this multi-year wage increase is an entirely appropriate acknowledgement that our economy and society have not provided enough economic reward to many of the people that we count on to provide us with food as well other important goods and services. These are the people that Covid 19 has allowed us as a society to see as Essential Workers.
The law that mandated an increase in wages was passed several years ago, when unemployment was low and few people even knew what a pandemic was. It was seen as a way to boost the income of Californians struggling to keep up with the cost of living. During Covid 19, a large percentage of those people have seen their jobs disappear — particularly in the food service industry. Even with the vaccine rollout this year, it’s an open question of whether and when many of those jobs will come back. And if they don’t, what will replace them?
Local food production is one of the few bright spots in the food sector right now. Demand for locally grown produce, meat, wine, beer and other farm goods has soared all across the U.S. during Covid. Corn mazes and u-pick farms featuring everything from apples to Christmas trees saw their best year ever as families flocked to social-distant outdoor activities. Our farm and others that were able to pivot to meet these demands increased both hiring and local spending with other businesses.
Over the last ten years, California agriculture has focused increasingly on supplying commodities for overseas markets, converting millions of acres to almost-entirely mechanized crops — mostly nuts. This conversion has partially been driven by our state’s wage mandates and regulation.
Like most pendulums, this one has swung back with a vengeance. Nut prices have now collapsed, due to a number of factors including Covid-based shipping problems.
For decades, federal farm support programs have focused almost entirely on commodity crops. Beginning this year, though, new programs are supporting farms that are providing unemployed people with free fruits and vegetables. And many farmers used their PPP loans to pivot to providing food for these programs, hiring additional staff or building infrastructure that allows them to distribute their products directly. The European Union has always provided this type of support for its small farmers.
Farms like Terra Firma provide many more jobs than commodity farms, on a per-acre or per-dollar-sold basis. Many in agriculture call this being “labor inefficient” — something to avoid. But looking at the glass from the other side, it’s called “Adding Value” — and not just in the traditional sense of adding value to the product. We are adding value to our community and region by providing both food and jobs. There’s no reason why the government should stop supporting farms like ours when Covid ends.
Thanks as always for your continued support,