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MY WORD: Our food system does provide

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By Mary Courtney

I am writing in response to the letter to the editor ("Price of corn," Jan. 15) that talked of the minuscule monetary cost of actual corn (aka, a crop that is widely grown on farms in Shelby County) in a box of corn flakes and a few other items, which I dare to say are staples on many household grocery lists. If you read Mr. Wills' letter and followed his math all the way through – oh my goodness! – that equated to only 1.5 percent to 9 percent of what we spend on those food products goes back to the farmer. But take it one step further, that's the price to cover the farm's cost to raise and sell that corn with a calculated hope of a slim margin for profit...a profit that farm families count on to buy food for their families as well.

Often times as a young mother and farmer myself, I land in conversations regarding food prices and comparing quality of food. It's easy to get overwhelmed at the grocery, whether how your grocery cart is hitting your budget mark and you’re not even halfway through the aisles, or you are guilt-stricken about whether to pay double for that organic apple compared to the "regular" one. I get it. I want the best for our three children too – without spending what seems a fortune. 

As a bell pepper farmer I struggle with paying three to four times what I sell them to grocery stores for in the summer. When our vegetables leave our farm, they enter the food system pretty close to families' supper tables. As a "corn flake" farmer I do struggle with realizing the very small portion that goes back to the farmer. When you consider the wide array of items grown, farming methods and endless ways of marketing, the average U.S. farmer's share of the retail food dollar is less than 12 cents.

As frustrating as it may seem, our food system allows us choices and availability of food made with raw farm ingredients (even those teeny, easy-to-peel oranges grown hundreds of miles away). Despite the high prices and buying decisions we make, our grocery budget must cover substantial transportation, processing, and distribution expenses of food; expenses that incur after it leaves the farm's gravel driveway.

It’s pretty amazing to realize that even with the increasing cost of petroleum and adverse weather, the average American household spends 10 percent of our income on food, versus 18 to 25 percent around the world.

Have you ever read the bumper sticker, "No Farms = No Food"? How true it is. Yet, America's food and farming system is so vibrant with choices of how to farm and how to eat, it can be overwhelming.

This past month, I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with farmers across the country, from large hog operations, to a small herds-woman whose cows supply milk for mozzarella cheese, to a rancher's wife who is solo for three months since their mama cows are birthing out on the range. American farmers have one commonality, and that is passion, passion for what they raise and who they feed. 

Take a moment from reading the tabloids while waiting to check-out at the grocery or have a conversation over the heirloom tomato you purchase at the farmer's market this summer and be grateful for what choices we really have that are affordable....and safe....and many....and for who provides us with such.

Mary Courtney is a mother and farmer who lives in Shelby County.