Living Wage: CSA Summer – ’15: Week #15 (EO-A)

Wednesday, September 16th– EO Group A

15 September, 2015 (12:00) | CSA Newsletter | By: cassie

Nickel & Dimed

A recent book I read (Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich) lit a fire in my brain.  Ehrenreich, a journalist, embarks on a journey to understand the plight of the working poor.  She does this in the best way possible – by dropping everything in her normal life, moving to a new town and trying to see if and how she can pay her bills on the wages of a low skill job.

Her experience depicts a poverty trap so depressing, so angering, so systemic – it makes me want to scream. It also makes me want to DO something about it… immediately.  And while maybe I can’t fix the myriad of issues with which the working poor struggle (especially not immediately), I can make sure I do right by those who work for me.

I was technically Crossroads’ first employee.  (Fun fact for those of you who don’t know – Mike started the farm 1.5 years before I joined him. We began dating in the fall of 2006 and decided to try working together that first summer we were together in 2007). I had worked part-time 3 seasons at 2 different farms prior to this, so I had some experience coming in.  I earned $7.25/hour.  As a farm employee, I considered this a fair wage, even though the living wage for that year was $10.58/hour.

Currently our pay range (including the end of season bonus) is from $11.50 to $14.50 per hour, dependent on experience and time with us. Mike and I consider this to be a very fair and competitive wage for farm labor. Yet each year have strived to move closer and closer to offering a living wage to all of our employees. As the need to reinvest in business infrastructure declines each year, it frees up more capital to go towards wages.

But are we up to $12.62/hour (the Living Wage for Madison) for everyone on the farm? Not yet.

And darn it, I want to be! Now! But of course, to do this makes food more expensive. And there are budgets, market forces, and the underlying societal view and value that food should be inexpensive.  By extension, if there is a belief that food should be cheap, then it means those who produce food, by working physically hard with their bodies, don’t deserve to make as much as those in other occupations.

So there’s that.

Nevertheless, this winter I plan to do some serious number crunching. Can we afford to make $12.83 (the projected 2016 Madison living wage rate) the minimum wage at Crossroads?

I sincerely hope and think we can. Will it depend on raising the price per CSA share? Probably. But considering that our lowest wage is already within striking distance of that living wage, I am optimistic we could swing this without sticker shock to you.

As a CSA member, how much more would you be willing to pay for your share if you knew the increase went to making sure the real people who do the hard work to produce your food earned a living wage (at a minimum)?

Mike and I are asking ourselves a related question… are we willing to earn less in order to meet this living wage bar? How much less? And what does it look like to “meet in the middle”, you and I, customer and owner, in order to achieve this goal?

We hope you’ll consider these questions along with us.

If you are interested in learning more about Madison’s living wage and how it’s calculated, check out this City of Madison fact sheet.

And if you’ve never read Nickel & Dimed, (especially if you employ others!) I encourage you to pick up a copy.

Cheers! And enjoy your veggies!

Sincerely,

Cassie, Mike, kiddos and crew