— Molly Golski
By now you’ve probably heard the word agribusiness being thrown around when referring to the food industry and production. So what is an agribusiness? According to Merriam Webster, an agribusiness is defined as “the business or industry of farming or agriculture: farming thought of as a large business.” The issue with this is that products are produced with the idea that they are a commodity like oil rather than something that humans will be eating. The agribusinesses goals are not to produce the best product for consumption, but rather a product that will generate the most revenue for them.
Agribusinesses are so concerned with saving and making money that anyone working under the corporation is affected negatively. The farmers who grow the products for these large companies participate in a process called contract growing. The farmer signs a contract with the company which details how much product the company is willing to purchase and at what price. The farmer then must use their own money to subsidize a farm, pay for feed, fertilizer and other accessories as well as account for any loss of crop or animals that die. This almost always leaves the farmer in a considerable amount of debt and thus they are essentially forced to continue working for these corporations until their debt is paid.
Many of these farms hire workers to help manage to crops and livestock. These workers tend to be paid less than minimum wage, and many are not legal in the United States. Because of this they cannot complain about how much they are receiving for the amount of work being done. The documentary, Food Chains, does an excellent job revealing the practices of these large corporations. It follows the Immokalee tomato farmers in Florida and chronicles their struggles receiving enough pay. Almost “all of the workers who produce the produce live below poverty lines.” During the film, the workers union tries to meet with the company who runs them to discuss higher wages, but the company refuses to speak to them. One statistic claims that if companies paid one cent more per pound of produce it could help significantly raise the wage for workers emphasizing the lack of concern large corporations have for their workers. This practice is found through all agribusinesses.
Another aspect of agribusiness is the concept of monocropping. Monocropping is when only one crop is grown on a large field of land for many years. Monocrop farms reduce the need for labor (although the Immokalee farm was a monocrop farm) but heighten the need for pesticides and fertilizer. This depletes the soil of its nutrients because crops are not being rotated. The increase in pesticide use results in the degradation of biodiversity and has negative health effects on both workers and consumers. This increase also builds pesticide resistant crops which leads to more pesticides being used creating a never ending cycle.
By purchasing more local and sustainable foods you take away your funding for the exploitative businesses and instead propagate local farms and farmers. These farms are nearby and if you wanted to, you could make sure they are following proper practices yourselves by simply visiting the farms and speaking with them. You are supporting people with whom you could actually have a conversation. Not only that, but local food will be significantly fresher due to the small distance the produce and meat must travel. In addition, you would be supporting the local Charlottesville economy because the money you spend goes directly to the farmers who live in the Charlottesville community and will consequently be spending that money at other local businesses. Buying local rather than at commercial grocery stores has a much larger impact on the world than one would imagine and doing so is much easier than you would expect!
To learn more I recommend checking out these resources:
Food Chains- available on Netflix
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies by Seth M. Holmes
Meatonomics by David Robinson Simon
Also make sure to check out Greens to Grounds for a convenient way to access local foods!