Last blog I rambled on quite a bit about two tomatoes. One that you personally bought as a start (lets say a mid sized one maybe $10 to buy) nurtured in your home garden and munched every last tomato that grew on it (lets say 10 pounds) blemished or not. You would find that to be a pretty good return for your $10 right? You don't measure how much water you put on or what the cost of that water was, you probably didn't fertilize it, and the little time it took you to care for you count as a healthy time outside to unwind. The farm grown tomato however was a much longer story. Months of prep work, care and tedious repetitive tasks. Each step in the process must be done carefully or the end product is damaged. I didn't mention either that when those tomatoes are finally ripe and beautifully red they are carefully picked, individually wiped down with a paper towel and then carefully packed in boxes so they are not damaged when transported to the market. If they are packed with stems on then each must be carefully arranged so that it doesn't damage the one next to it. If a tomato is damaged in transport then it is a loss- do you want to buy a tomato with a hole in it?
Look at this another way. Lets do some math here (I know you thought you left math behind in high school- work with me!).
Garlic. Garlic isn't cheap. The least expensive garlic at the market is $8 per pound it goes up to about $11 I think. A single large head of garlic we'll say is $1 (just to make the math easy) - is that 'Reasonable'?
Lets find out: Again for ease of math we will use approximate numbers. Lets assume that we are paying everybody from the farmer/owner down to the field hand $10 per hour (that's high I know, but easy math).
We will assume a 100 foot long bed that is three feet wide is planted with 150 rows (short way across the bed, 7 inches apart) of garlic 7 cloves per row . . . that gives you 1050 planted cloves of garlic. Now if you checked my math you know that my numbers don't add up- I rounded down the number of rows (100ft x 12inches = 1200inches/7inches = 171 rows x 7 cloves = 1200 cloves planted.) but didn't want to mess with germination rates and losses to voles and all that, so I took a chunk off up front and we will assume the rest are good!
Ok so we now have 1050 planted cloves of garlic . . . how did they get planted and how did they get from a full head of garlic to a clove? Remember that wonderful head of garlic you were looking at in the Market? Well at the end of the season many pounds of those are held back by the farmer to plant the next years crop. In this case it takes about 30 pounds to plant a bed -- that's $240 worth by the way. You've peeled garlic before right? Now imagine breaking apart and taking the loose wrap (not completely peeled in otherwords, but mostly) off 15 lbs of it! About 5 hours worth of work ($50).
Each 100 foot bed needs to be tilled, fertilized ($), composted and tilled again prior to planting. Lets be conservative and say two people working together can do that in 1 hour (2 hour total time = $20). It takes a single person working quickly about 1.5 hours to plant a full bed ($15). Each bed will need to be weeded throughout the season (thus the 7" spacing to allow for a hoe) careful to not damage the garlic. Giving one hour to weed each bed means 90 seconds per row of garlic (really fast) -- Lets say one worker does that 4 times during the season that is another 4 hours of work ($40). At some point the bed will need to be fertilized again and maybe mulched - another hour ($10). Mulch -- that is either purchased (more $$) or made on site (more $ in labor time) so we'll add in $10 for that. Then it has to be harvested - I'll assume it takes a bit longer to harvest than plant if for nothing else than it weighs a lot more taking it out of the field - we'll say 3 hours to harvest a bed ($30). Sometimes you can let the garlic dry in the field, sometimes you have to cart it to the hoop house and lay it out to dry - lets hope for the best and say we field dried it before carting it out of the field. Now that it is dry the roots and greens have to be trimmed and the heads put on trays in the hoop house to complete the curing process. Braids are a whole different story that we won't go into - we'll just look at loose heads here. Even at 30 seconds per head (really fast) that is nearly 9 hours of trimming time. Once it is dry the dirt must be hand rubbed gently off each head keeping on as much of the papery wrapper as possible (you don't want to buy dirty garlic) before it is bagged or boxed up to take to market. At 15 seconds per head (really fast) that would be a bit over 4 hours to clean ($40). This is just the list of things I can quantify . . . don't forget that there are other costs involved: the land itself; water; taxes, L&I etc for laborer; insurance; tiller; fuel; hoop house/barn; farmers market fees; transportation; marketing; containers (storage bins, bags etc); time (usually the farmers) monitoring the crop for readiness to harvest, the heads for dryness, doing the taxes or organic certification paperwork - the list goes on and on. Lets just say an additional $50 for the full season.
Garlic - $240
'Peel' garlic - $50
Till/fert/prep - $20
Plant - $15
weed - $40
Fert/mulch application - $10
The Fertilizer - $10
The Mulch - $10
Harvest - $30
Trimming - $90
Cleaning - $40
Other - $50
$595 per row (very rough estimate) to produce 1050 heads of garlic equals nearly .60¢ per head just to break even - maybe.
So the question becomes is a 40¢ 'profit' reasonable? Too much? Not enough?
Now think about this: Garlic is the most profitable crop grown on many local farms.
Many farmers net less than $30K per year and put in long physically demanding days, I would guess few if any see anywhere near the median income DSHS listed for 2013 of $42,960 per year (that was for a single person by the way - a couple would have needed to bring home $56,184). Most farm workers - field hands - harvesters - whatever name you give them, make minimum wage & farmers struggle to be able to afford to hire enough of them so that the farm owner doesn't have to put in 12 hour days.
So next time you walk up to a farmers market booth and question the price of the locally grown, organic, often hand tended produce . . . thank the farmer instead or grow your own!