Tag Archives: farming

Ripe for recession

Strawberries/Credit: Flickr/ClayIrving

Strawberries/Credit: Flickr/ClayIrving

Every Tuesday, I cook dinner with a friend of mine to save some money by cooking at home and improving our kitchen skills. This week is her turn at the stove, but I’m bringing strawberries for dessert. Why? Well, in the spirit of frugal cooking, imagine my excitement when I saw strawberries for 88 cents a pound at my local supermarket. I was pretty stoked, but with a little research learned that low prices for me means bad news for strawberry farmers as the height of the season approaches.

It’s the cold winter on the east coast that’s permitted Florida strawberries to flood the market, just as California’s growing season gets underway. Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal spoke with Plant City, Florida farmer Gary Wishnatzki about the surplus.

Typically in mid-February growers will plant in the same bed spring crop like melons, eggplant, tomatoes or cucumbers, but by late March the two crops begin to compete for room and at that point the grower will just come in and twist off the strawberry plants to give the spring crop room to grow. This year the extended cold slowed the strawberry harvest down.

Savings blog WalletPop also picked up on the strawberry bounty, reporting that prices in Ohio are also low, coming in at around $2.50 per pint. WalletPop even had some suggestions of what to make if you (like me) have found yourself with a fridge full of strawberries.

How can you take advantage of the deals being offered in local groceries? One of my favorites is freezer jam, which avoids all that messy pouring of wax caps. By the same process you can make a killer ice-cream topping by thinning down the mix.

One WalletPop writer took her bounty and managed to make strawberry tacos (or galettes, if you’re more Martha).

While strawberry prices have crashed this year, the cost of land to grow them on is still high. Why is that, if real estate prices in urban and industrial areas are still dropping due to the mortgage crisis? PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman found out why from agricultural economist Gerald Nelson:

Agricultural land is driven by future agricultural prices. And while we are off the highs of 2008, agricultural prices are still high and the expectation is that they will continue to be high.

Have you seen other unexpected deals on produce this season at your local store?

One house, one town, one lecture

A new film about the real estate crash, the story of a farm town in Montana, and a lecture about the cultures of the Great Depression all give very different but very clear pictures of the economy and how we got here — then and now.

The new feature-length documentary from filmmaker Leslie Cockburn was recently discussed on the Economy Project blog at the University of Missouri. But the film doesn’t focus on casinos like the ones in Las Vegas. Instead, this film looks at the entire economy as one American casino – the idea that the finance industry was gambling with peoples’ homes and bank accounts as you might put money in the slots.

One of the places that’s fallen short after all this gambling is Ronan, Montana, a farming town in rural Montana. Patchwork Nation blogger Carly Flando writes about how the town is having to explore other means of survival, now that the farming industry is suffering.

But for all the talk of new businesses and hospitals, David Sagmiller, the owner of Westland Feed, still sees the farms and ranches that surround Ronan as the foundation of the entire Mission Valley’s economy. The valley, which stretches north from Missoula, Mont., toward Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park, is known as one of the best seed potato areas in the state, and eight potato seed farmers live near Ronan.
“The community relies on agriculture,” he says. “The hospital would never get the community to survive. You can’t live off that.”
Rich Janssen, sitting sideways in a booth at the Ronan Café, agrees that agriculture is an important part of the community. However, the dynamics have changed.
“There’s a lot of government and school workers here, too,” he says. “It’s a blue-collar town with a little white collar mixed in.”

For more perspective on how we got here, a new lecture on WGBH’s Forum project from CUNY Professor Morris Dickstein recalls the Great Depression and its effect on culture. Will there be a similar impact 60 years from now?

video platform
video management
video solutions
free video player

Then and now

Crash of 1929/image: courtesy PBS

Crash of 1929/image: courtesty PBS

What is the relevance of the Great Depression to the situation we find ourselves in today? While we’re in a pretty bad recession, the U.S. isn’t close to the levels of poverty and displacement seen after the stock market crash of 1929, but there are lessons and similarities between the two events.

“I think the big question then and the big question now is whether the government can do anything to help us solve our problems.,” Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter said in an online interview for the PBS American Experience documentary “The 1930s.”

“The 1930s are an example of time when Americans felt like their government was looking out for them. Even if the Depression wasn’t ended for several years, FDR provided jobs and hope.”

There are similarities in the voices of people who lived through the Depression and people coping with the recession today. Interviews with dust bowl survivors and Hoover Dam workers, economists and newspaper delivery boys give a first-hand look at the Depression era.

Farming is a key industry that is facing frighteningly similar challenges as it did in the 1930s. The history of California farmworkers in the 1930s is chronicled in a 2007 report on PRX by Rachel Anne Goodman. She looks at how the Depression affected European immigrant workers in the Central Valley, including labor battles and unemployment issues among migrants.

Just this week. Emily Apel reported at KAZU in Monterrey that farmers are struggling to find decent health care.
“According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, only 23 percent of farmworkers were covered by some sort of health insurance in 2002.”

Today, Patchwork Nation’s Tractor Country map shows the economic climate across farm-rich areas.

From Detroit to Rochester to Jackson

What’s “Ruin Porn”? Who’s making a federal case out of apples? And with dismal job numbers released today, what’s it like for a renegade job hunter? The economic portrait being painted around the country is bleaker than it has been in a while, but stories from around the country make things look a little brighter.

Ruin Porn is the name being given to photographs from depressed Detroit of burned out buildings and deserted downtown areas. Stemming from a recent Time Magazine piece on Detroit, WNYC’s On the Media attests that photographers are becoming obsessed with getting these grim photos, making this look worse than they are.

A look at Michigan Public Radio’s Economy Project site gives a more overarching view of the ailing Motor City, including stories on balancing the state’s budget and progress on infrastructure projects from stimulus money.

Apple farmers in New York are facing pressure from the federal government over hiring undocumented workers for migrant work. NPR fellow Rachel Ward reports from WXXI in Rochester on farmers who say there just aren’t enough legal laborers to get the picking job done during apple season.

And at Mississippi Public Broadcasting, a new show called Job Hunter follows a young woman looking for an escape from the 9 to 5.

Reaping and sowing

The economy has put farmers in a tight spot, but there is good news out there, too.

NPR today reported on dairy farmers in California, the top dairy-producing state in the country. And while they may have funny commercials featuring talking cows, farmers like Joey Mendoza aren’t laughing.

“Mendoza says he’s squeezed between competition from mega-dairies, the high cost of feed and the dip in consumer demand. These days, he’s earning only about half of what it costs for him to produce each gallon of milk.”

From PBS NewsHour’s Patchwork Nation, there’s somewhat comforting news in Tractor Country, a key community the project is following. In Sioux City, Iowa, farmers are not feeling quite as despondent as Mendoza after a damp spring. Blogger Donald King wrote about the start of summer in farmland and shared his thoughts about the current climate.

“For areas like this, agriculture is totally wrapped up with the health of the economy. So it is as hard to ignore the state of the economy in Iowa as it is anywhere these days. I can report that at least in traditionally strong agricultural communities like Sioux Center and Orange City, Iowa, we are holding our own. Sure, everyone is behaving cautiously, spending is fairly flat, but no one is panicking, and unemployment is still below the national average.”

There’s also good news for the industry as a whole. This feature from earth-friendly web site Mother Nature Network features 40 Farmers Under 40 – many of whom are experimenting with new techniques of both growing and selling.