Gas prices and inflation take a toll on small Minnesota farms

A woman speaks into a microphone outside.
40 Acre Co-op co-founder Angela Dawson speaks to a crowd at a Juneteenth celebration on the farm.
Courtesy of Angela Dawson

A gallon of gas in the US now averages about five dollars a gallon according to AAA. If you’ve driven a car recently, you are probably feeling it. Farmers are feeling it too. And owners of smaller farms have a unique challenge.

Angela Dawson is a fourth-generation farmer in Sandstone, Minn. and co-founder and president of 40 Acre Cooperative. She joined host Cathy Wurzer to talk more about the impact.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

How have gas prices affected your business so far?

Well, gas prices have really caused a lot of problems for us, not only in the area of transportation and trying to cut the deliveries and to our customers in the cities, but also just in the rise in prices of our commodities that we need to access and things that we need on the farm. Those prices are also being impacted because gas prices are going up.

You mentioned the Twin Cities. Can you tell us a little bit about your actual operation? What do you who your customers?

We're a small, organic sustainable farm and we have customers all along the Twin Cities. We have chicken eggs as our primary and organic hogs are our primary foods, but we also grow hemp seeds and hemp seed oil.

So you're doing a lot of travel?

There's a pretty broad network all the way from the northern part of Twin Cities, and our processor is located in Farmington. It's about a three hour check when we go and it takes up an entire tank of gas now, which is about $100 for one trip.

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We have to think a little bit more strategically about how we're going to organize our deliveries and we're having to cut back on trips to make just one day a week instead of two or three days a week. We're trying to shave costs where we can, but there really is going to be an impact on our bottom line if we don't serve our customers.

Is it a little easier, perhaps because you are a smaller and independent, compared to say some of your larger, corporate operations?

No. I would say that the smaller farms, and especially those of us who use organic and sustainable practices, are trying to be kind to the land and be neutral in our carbon footprint, so we bear a lot of the costs of any kind of economic changes or inflation that happens.

Minnesota is starting to pay more attention to the needs of its local farmers but I think the pandemic really taught us how much we really do rely on the local farmers for our food system and we need to find better ways to support us not just in crisis, but just in developing a healthy food system for all of our citizens.

Tell us a little bit about some of the unique mental health challenges that smaller farmers face.

I'm really glad that you brought that up, because I did hear a mention of that at a USDA meeting that I attended last week. I think for the most part we have not been responding properly to the amount of stress that farmers face. The CDC put out a study last year that said that farmers actually, by occupation, experienced more suicides than other occupations in the United States.

I think it has to do with the way that we have set up the system so that farmers get paid the least when it even comes to standard commodity prices. Then we also take on the burden of what's happening in the environment and the changes that are happening in the climate.

We really haven't found, as a society, that way to properly support these farmers. That's why I think that you see us having higher amounts of rates of suicide and other mental health issues because of those issues and and also just being isolated.

I'm really hoping that through this story and through the conversations that we're having here that we can be a little bit more mindful and intentional about how we work with our farmers in the state food system.

You have to deal with so much of uncertainty. How do you how do you personally try to navigate that?

I tell people that I'm a fourth generation farmer and I went to college first, unlike my predecessors. I say that I didn't choose farming that farming chose me. So it is a part of my passion.

I think when you have multiple generations of family and friends in farming, you know that there's a strong part of resilience that goes along with being in this occupation. We say resilience is a really important part of the way that we survived and also just the the way that we work with our natural environment, I find it very calming.

On our farm in particular, we like to set it up as an environment for people to come and get reprieve and relax and get away from the stresses of everyday living. Even though there is uncertainty naturally within farming, we have a whole entire multibillion dollar agricultural system that is set up that are supposed to be set up to support us during these times.

I guess what I'm saying is that I really need for us, even in the state and in the in the national picture, to really come through for farmers because farmers need our communities just as much as our communities need healthy farmers.

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