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When it comes to great tasting fruits and vegetables, you definitely cannot judge a book by its cover. But if some of the best tasting produce is less than perfect on the outside, why do consumers insist on buying only the most aesthetically pleasing?

This question is even more perplexing when you consider that more and more agricultural experts are telling us that the most beautiful fruits and vegetables aren’t always the healthiest or best tasting. In fact, in most cases, the only advantage of such produce is its ability to sell quickly.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately six billion pounds – or 20 percent – of produce that is grown in the United States is thrown away each year because of its appearance.

So who is to blame for this search for the perfect fruit or vegetable? There’s plenty to go around. First, the USDA stipulates that commercially grown fruits and vegetables must be 90 percent blemish-free. Next, marketers are always on the lookout to photograph only the most aesthetically-pleasing fruits. These camera-ready specimens are hard for the average piece of produce to live up to and set an unrealistically high standard for fruits and vegetables. Finally, a large portion of the blame must be put on consumers.

When shopping for produce, most consumers select food based on how it looks rather than how it smells or how it will taste. This means that many fruits and vegetables are rejected solely on appearance rather than on taste, quality, or ripeness.

Thankfully, there is a new trend toward average-looking fruits and vegetables. Experts are pushing the message that perfect on the outside doesn’t necessary mean better tasting. In fact, pull an apple straight off a tree and it might not look perfect but it sure tastes that way!

There are several companies working to minimize waste by delivering less than perfect fruit directly to consumers. Farmers and consumers can both benefit from doing business this way. Farmers will be able to sell crops that would normally be bound for the landfill and consumers will be able to purchase produce for much less than they would pay in the grocery store – without sacrificing quality or taste. Across the country, farmers list these types of transactions as something they are very interested in pursuing.

Selling less than perfect-looking produce to restaurants is another untapped market. After all, diners don’t care how round a tomato is before it is baked into a lasagna. They only care how it tastes. And as anyone who is willing to take a bite out of an imperfect piece of produce will tell you, it doesn’t have to look perfect to taste that way.

 

Farming can present a lot of obstacles. Thankfully, most farmers are adept at facing challenges head on and coming out stronger on the other side. It is important to note, however, that this skill takes years to hone.

So what about first-generation farmers who are just starting out and don’t have a strong support system? The following are some of the major challenges young, first-generation farmers list as major obstacles, along with some advice on how to best overcome these obstacles.

Challenge #1: Securing land to farm

The fact is, most farmers inherit land from their parents or grandparents. First-generation farmers, on the other hand, do not have this luxury. While new farmers may not have access to the best land or location, they should take what they can get – even if it miles away from where they had hoped to farm. After they have made some money and gained some experience they can look for greener pastures. They also should consider renting land to farm until they build up the equity to purchase land of their own.

Challenge #2: Large student loans

Young farmers who have accumulated a lot of debt may feel as if they have no other choice but to put off their agricultural dreams until their debt is paid off. Fortunately, there may be hope on the horizon in this regard. The National Coalition of Young Farmers is working to allow full-time farmers to make manageable student loan payments for 10 years, followed by forgiveness of the rest of the debt.

Challenge #3: Startup capital

Like any other new business venture, startup capital is necessary to get a new farming operation off the ground. Thankfully, the USDA and Land Grant system provide a variety of planning resources to assist beginning farmers. Several other nonprofits exist for the same purpose and provide tools and links for young farmers to purchase farmland and equipment.

Challenge #4: Lack of family support

Second and third-generation farmers are fortunate to have strong family and community support when starting out. Not only are their farms located in the center of strong farming communities, they have lots of people who are helping them succeed. A young farmer just starting out in agriculture may have no such support. Therefore, it is important for these young farmers to create their own support system. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition and other agencies and nonprofits offer immeasurable support and encouragement to young farmers. It is just a matter of doing the research and then reaching out to such groups.

Young farmers, unlike many other entrepreneurs, don’t usually go into farming to make the big bucks. Instead, they simply want to make a living farming the land. Thankfully, there are ways to help them do just that!

 

It wasn’t too long ago when the thought of renting out their biggest assets would have seemed out of the question to most farmers. But with farm profits dropping, many of these same farmers are more willing to give such rental agreements a try.

Enter FarmLink, a Kansas City, Mo., company that allows farmers to rent out their unused equipment to growers hundreds of miles away who have different peak harvest seasons.

In an article by Alan Bjerga in Bloomberg Businessweek, The Sharing Economy Comes to the Farm, FarmLink’s president for grower services, Jeff Dema, explains why this practice is becoming more popular.

It’s Airbnb for agriculture. Farmers are examining their bottom lines and wondering if $500,000 in the shed might be put to better use.

Some benefits of FarmLink’s service are that farmer cooperatives and agricultural retailers set rental terms. Further, FarmLink will transport the heavy equipment, once a huge obstacle to renting out farm equipment. FarmLink also will help with any secondary insurance that may be needed.

With commodity prices tanking and farm profits falling from a peak of $124 billion in 2013, farmers are eager for ways to squeeze more money out of their combines and other heavy equipment, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and maintain.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says while there is a growing effort to share farm equipment, the concept is not new. Contractors, custom harvest crews, and equipment-rental services already exist to help farmers in a pinch.

Although the concept may be appealing to some farmers, not everyone will be onboard with the program. After all, as the article states, allowing strangers to rent out such expensive equipment may still be a tough sell.

Planning for retirement can be a stressful and sometimes complicated proposition.  While most Americans look forward to the day when they can kick back and enjoy some much deserved relaxation, farmers face unique challenges when it comes to retirement.

When most people retire, they look forward to downsizing.  Often they move to a new, smaller home or even an apartment.  Farmers on the other hand are unable to simply sell their home and move to the city.  That’s because their house is usually on their farm and like everything else they have built up over the years, it is very much tied to the business side of the farm.

With life expectancies on the rise, farmers are at risk for a significant drop in their standard of living since savings can quickly run out.  That is why it is so important that farmers map out a precise retirement plan.  Although it can be an uncomfortable conversation, farmers must talk to their children about who can – and will – take over the farm operation after they have retired.  If they don’t have children, they must arrange for the sale of their entire farm or decide how to break it up into segments that they can sell off individually.

If the farm is a multi-generational business there must be some flexibility since many farmers will still look to proceeds from the farm to support them during their retirement years.  This means they don’t simply hand over the keys to the business and walk off into the sunset.Chances are that even in retirement a farmer will play some role in the farming operation.  Further, some of the farm’s assets will need to be sold or otherwise employed to provide a steady retirement income.

Farmers face other unique challenges when planning for retirement, as well.  The following are just a few of these challenges:

  • The income of farmers is much more variable than most professions or trades since each new year brings with it unique challenges such as unfavorable weather conditions or market fluctuations.  These factors often prevent farmers from consistently saving for retirement.
  • Many farmers do not consider retirement an option.  Farmers who have spent their whole life working the land from sunrise to well after sunset will not take kindly to being told they need to slow down.  When surveyed, many farmers say they don’t have a retirement plan in place because they don’t plan on retiring.
  • Rural communities where farmers live are less likely to provide access to social services for seniors.  This is due to the fact that rural communities are far from major cities or towns.

While most farmers have a hard time coming to terms with retirement, it is important that they understand that at some point they may not have a choice.  When and if this happens, the transition will be much easier with a plan already in place.

In the 1940s and 50s, despite the fact that tractors did not have cabs and there was no such thing as sunscreen, farmers were in many ways better protected than they are today from the sun’s damaging rays. Most farmers in those days wore light, long-sleeved shirts to protect themselves from the heat and bright sun. They also wore wide-brimmed straw hats to keep the sun off their neck and face. While all of these measures helped prevent skin cancer farmers did it for another reason – to keep cool.

Fast forward to today and the same methods that were used more than 50 years ago continue to make great sense. For instance, while today’s farmers prefer baseball hats, baseball hats do not protect the ears, nose, and neck as effectively as a wide-brimmed hat. Further, long-sleeved shirts and long pants – the normal outfit of yesterday’s farmers – are the best way to protect arms and legs against the sun’s harmful rays. This type of clothing actually keeps the body cooler than t-shirts, shorts, and baseball hats.

This information is particularly relevant given that farming is one of the most perilous jobs in the United States in terms of skin cancer risk. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the strongest and most damaging during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Since staying out of the sun during these hours is not possible for most farmers, it is important that preventative steps are taken. This is easier said than done, however, as continued research indicates that farmers do not take their risk of skin cancer as seriously as the general population. Given the time they spend outdoors it is easy to see why this attitude is extremely dangerous.

While no one would question why a farmer would resist being inside during peak daytime hours, there is no reason why they should bristle at protecting themselves with the proper clothing and applying sunscreen. However, less than one-fourth of U.S. farmers surveyed say that they use sunscreen. This statistic goes a long way toward explaining why the incidence of skin cancer is higher in farmers than the general population.

Education is one way to raise farmers’ awareness of skin cancer. To be effective, this education should point out that by ignoring the risks of skin cancer and delaying treatment, in most cases this will result in the need for increased medical intervention. This intervention is likely to keep farmers away from the farm for long periods of time – something they were trying to avoid in the first place.

Farming can sometimes be overwhelming. Marriage can be, too! Put farming and marriage together and you really have a challenge. However, ask most farming couples and they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade their lives for all the money in the world. It’s important that you put time and effort into your marriage but the demands of the farm can make that difficult. That’s because separating work and home life is not always easy. It also is difficult to forget about work when your work is all around you all of the time. Further, much about farming is driven by weather and many other unforeseen circumstances. Some jobs on the farm simply cannot wait until tomorrow.

So how do you strike the necessary balance between running your farm and keeping your marriage healthy and happy? Below are some tips for helping to keep your relationship going strong no matter what stresses you may be experiencing on the farm. Whether you incorporate all of these tips into your marriage or just one, you’ll be amazed at the difference small changes can make when it comes to the health of your marriage.

  1. Plan time together off the farm. This can be difficult but if you make your plans far in advance, it can be done. It’s amazing how just a few days alone together can make you appreciate one another and remind you why you fell in love in the first place! Try to go on a date night. Even if you can only do it once a month, it will give you something to look forward to between dates! Go to church together on Sundays, and maybe to breakfast afterward.
  2. Take time to talk things over when something is bothering you – but make sure the time is right. The right time is NOT when one of you is on the way out the door or late at night after a long or stressful day! Make sure you choose your words carefully, as well. A calm conversation will be much more productive than a screaming match!
  3. You both work hard to keep the farm running smoothly. It’s amazing how much it means to your spouse when you tell him or her that you appreciate all they do. Don’t assume the other person knows it, either! It’s amazing how many men will say that his wife should know he is working hard for her and their family, and vice versa. And even if your spouse does know that he or she is appreciated, it is still nice to hear!
  4. Check in on each other during the day. With cell phones, this is much easier than it was years ago. No matter how busy or stressed you are with the cattle, crops, or keeping the house, you need to make the time to touch base and say, “I love you and hope your day is going well.”
  5. Realize that you are in this together. If you start adopting the attitude that you need to take care of your needs first, chances are your spouse will adopt the same attitude. The more you help and nurture your spouse, the more your spouse will want to do the same for you.