Sausage Links

In this instance, you just might feel better when you see how the sausage is made.

No, this isn’t a story about what happened to the little piggy that went to market. It’s about what happens to your dollar once it leaves your hand at the grocery aisle or restaurant checkout.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that, on average, about 38.5 cents of every dollar Americans spend on food will pay for off-farm labor. Throw in about 8 cents for packaging, 4 cents for transportation, 3.5 cents for energy, 4 cents in advertising and some change for other normal costs of business.

In the end, you’re left with about 19 cents that goes back to the farmer.

And although it’s a relatively small portion, the state’s consumers may consider that 19 cents well spent.

From their favorite vendor at the farmers market to great-grandpa who used to plow with horses – it’s not hard to find an Ohioan who values knowing someone who connects them to their food.

So who exactly does your purchase impact?

About 1 million Ohioans are employed in the food and agriculture sector, which is a $93 billion economic engine and Ohio’s largest industry. Ohio also exported $2.68 billion in farm products last year, helping the state become the seventh largest exporter in the nation.

Of course there are also challenges. An increase in costs, a market downturn or new regulations that hamper one sector of the food system could be amplified as those impacts are felt by related businesses.

For example, North Star Hardware’s Stammen said a drop in livestock production “would change the number of equipment dealers significantly in this area and would change the array of products for sure.”

Stammen is well aware of tight margins and uncertainty in the market that farmers face. It’s part of the reason he said he is amazed when he walks into fully stocked grocery stores.

“It’s truly remarkable. We all take it for granted, me included,” he said of U.S. food production. “This country has an abundance of great farmers that put out a lot of product for the American people and we are so well taken care of.”

At the store
For this example, start by considering late Ohio cattleman and sausage-legend Bob Evans.

When you pick up a pack of sausage that bears his name at the grocery store, the obvious link takes you to the food and restaurant business that Evans started more than 60 years ago and has since become one of the states’s most recognized brands.

On the farm
Keep going and you’ll find some of your money was passed along to Cooper Farms. Once a small Ohio turkey farm, the company has been growing since 1938 and now provides turkeys and hogs for Bob Evans as well as several major retailers.

From Cooper Farms you can trace your dollar to the nearly 250 farming families it works with to raise livestock and poultry. Neil and Gina Boeckman started raising turkeys for Cooper Farms on their Mercer County farm in 1996 and shortly after added hogs to their farm.

Into the community
Seeds don’t plant themselves, however. So some of your dollar will also travel to places like North Star Hardware in western Ohio, which sells everything from planting and harvesting equipment, to grain storage bins to skid loaders that clean up manure.

“If your farming customers have a good year, they’ve got good crops, they’re going to spend the money,” said Jerry Stammen, whose family operates the 86-year-old business. “You can definitely tell when farmers have a good year and they’ve made some money because they will spend that money to improve their operation.”

He credits much of his businesses’ success to a vibrant local farming sector that includes a number of family livestock farms, which in turn support area crop growers.

“You can’t stay in business for 86 years without the support of the local farm community,” he said. “We need those farmers out there and those farmers need us.”

It starts with a seed
But perhaps it’s someone like Fred Pond in Van Wert County, who should come to mind the next time you take a bite of sausage.

After all, sausage comes from hogs, which eat grain meal, which comes from soybeans, which are grown from seeds, which Pond’s family has been producing since 1927.

“I love doing what I’m doing. I like working with local farmers,” said Pond, who relies on several area growers for his seeds. “We really like that we can keep it all local.”

At the same time, he said, it’s important for farmers to have nearby businesses that can produce seeds tailored to local conditions.