A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about an Arkansas farm family, Karen and Mitchell Crutchfield, who were being swindled out of their home and land by the indecency of Tyson Foods, Inc. and the Farm Credit of Western Arkansas. The tragic tale of the Crutchfields sadly epitomizes the plight of small farmers across the United States where the big food giants – the Tysons, Perdues, Smithfields and a small handful of others – treat their contract growers like serfs while increasingly monopolizing the meat production market.
That posting elicited a number of responses from readers who expressed outrage over Tyson’s mistreatment of the Crutchfields; some asked how they could help. Well, here’s a couple of ways. Next time you walk into a supermarket and you’ve got that package of Tyson chicken in your hand, think about the Crutchfields. Think about the contract grower who is getting less than 5 cents for that pound of chicken you’re about to buy. Then put it back and find an alternative: maybe local, organic, sustainably raised chicken instead. You might pay a little more because Perdue and Tyson have stacked the deck against sustainable operations, but its one way we can start to reform this industry and level the playing field for those growers who don’t want to work under the yolk of the giant meat companies.
And while we may not be able to save all the small farmers who are on the verge of collapse today because of the indecency of the big integrators, a small group of us are determined to help the Crutchfields keep their home. One way you can help is by sending a donation to the Crutchfields through Paypal. You can sign up (or log in) and send money to their account using the tab at the top navigation of the Paypal site (where it says “Send Money”) and enter the Crutchfield’s email address: [email protected]. For those who don’t use Paypal, you can send a small donation to the Crutchfields at:
Granny Creek Farm
P.O. Box 30
Hagarville, Arkansas 72839
It might be only one farm family out of the many who are struggling, but it’s a start. Every dollar given will be going in its entirety to help the Crutchfields get through a bankruptcy proceeding in a way that will enable them to keep their house. The Crutchfields deserve to spend these coming holidays and their retirement years in the home they built, on the land they’ve worked.
What’s happened to the Crutchfields is part of a widespread exploitation of the farmers who occupy the lower rungs in our current food production system. After growing chickens for Tyson for 25 years, the Crutchfields are on the verge of losing their home and land just because they were nearing retirement age and wanted to get out of Tyson’s and the Farm Credit’s vicious, unending cycle of upgrades and debt. Consider this: over the 25 years that the Crutchfields were under contract with Tyson they raised somewhere around 13,139,400 birds. That’s over 70 million pounds of chicken that this one family put onto the dinner plates of Americans, perhaps even yours. Back in 1987, when the Crutchfields began their work for Tyson, the store price per pound for whole birds was around 47.5 cents. The Crutchfields were paid 4 cents for each pound they raised – Tyson kept the rest. By 2012 the store price per pound of whole chicken had doubled, to around 93.5 cents. The Crutchfields contract price over that same time? That rose ¾ of a penny to 4.75 cents per pound. And that’s where the Crutchfield’s contract price stood last March when Tyson and the Farm Credit cut their feet out from under them for refusing to go another $300,000 in debt. These underpayments are just one way that a handful of companies like Tyson have improper control over our food systems – there are many more.
Tyson likes to pretend they care. They talk about core values and partnerships with their contract growers. The blog I posted two weeks ago even prompted a Tyson representative to invite me down to headquarters to take a tour, as if it matters what I might think of them. I responded by saying I’d be glad to come if the Crutchfields could come with me and we could discuss what really matters – finding a way to save the Crutchfields from losing their home. I didn’t hear back.