Overrated Career: Farmer

Only a small percentage of the public is willing to pay what small-scale, organic farmers must charge.

By SHARE
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The Appeal: Ever more people romanticize becoming an organic/sustainable farmer. Typical rationale: "America is clamoring for sustainability, so people will buy my locally produced organic produce. It will enable me to live close to the earth, literally see the fruits of my labor, and when day is done, day is done. I'm not academically oriented, so farming is a way for me to make a good living without a college degree."

The Reality: Farming is a tough row to hoe. Only a small percentage of the public is willing to pay what small-scale, organic farmers must charge—often $2 for one fruit. Especially in our tight economy, people will choose a 50-cent supermarket fruit, and if they want organic, they'll reject the $2 family-farm-grown fruit that requires a special trip to the farmer's market for the 75-cent one that a corporate organic farm makes available at your supermarket.

Such corporations have economies of scale. For example, they are able to grow tomatoes organically in big, efficient hydroponic greenhouses, too expensive for most family farmers to afford.

And if you decide to grow nonorganically, you'll have to liberally use the very agrochemicals and genetically modified seed you had hoped to avoid.

And when day is done, your day will usually not be done. To hope to compete against corporate farms, you'll be tending your computer in the evenings, perhaps for more hours than you'll have tended the land.

Indeed, to survive, you'll likely have to hire workers to tend the field. With millions of migrant workers willing to do that for near minimum wage, that option will likely be irresistible. Your need to be penny-pinching may grow even further if the government, in tight times, reduces or eliminates farm subsidies.

And for the coup de grâce, you may indeed need a college degree, probably in agro-business, to teach you the business practices that corporations use to keep prices down.

Perhaps it's not surprising that the U.S. Department of Labor projects an 8.5 percent decline in the number of farmers between 2006 and 2016.

The Alternatives: Landscape installer, plant maintenance service, or nursery manager.