Save Your Local Farmer

"People are fed by the food industry,
which pays no attention to health,
and are treated by the health industry,
which pays no attention to food."
--Wendell Berry

On Saturday morning of October 6, Jane Levan tripped over the trailer hitch in the dark and went down hard, taking most of the impact on her right arm. For many of America's employed, this could have been a simple trip to the emergency room, paying a reasonable deductible (thanks to a steady salary with decent health insurance), taking a week or two of rest (thanks to sick days provided by company benefits), and then a return to work.* 

But being a small, independent chicken farmer with Dewberry Hills Farm (which employs herself, her husband, and two living wage crew members), she is also a member of the American uninsured -- not earning enough to afford the expensive monthly premiums of the self-employed, and earning too much to qualify for government benefits.

However, Jane is also extremely dedicated and strong in spirit, so she merely asked her husband Terry to pick up a sling. She popped some aspirin and went about her business, and she continued working in the fields, which is all physical labor in cold, heat, rain or shine.

By Monday morning, the swelling hadn't gone down and the pain was so fierce, she had no choice -- a friend drove her to St. David's Urgent Care. They told her that she either had to get surgery as soon as possible, or she would lose mobility in her right arm.

Jane was quoted $28,000 for the operating room costs alone -- not included the cost of the actual surgery. Because of her lower-income status (let's face it...small-scale chicken farming isn't on the top 10 list of lucrative careers) and her lack of insurance, she was able to talk down the price to $10,000, which is still an extraordinary amount for a couple who makes a living raising and selling chickens to the local community.

Not only is farming not lucrative -- it's also a dangerous profession. Jane and her husband Terry work with machinery, blades, and livestock on a daily basis, from sun up until sun down. Sometimes even past sunset, which is why Jane ended up tripping over the trailer hitch in the dark.

If Jane is not physically able to work, she has no sick days or vacation days to cover her time off needed to recover. Every day that Jane is not working, she loses money, going further into debt, in addition to the $10,000 she will owe for her medical expenses.

Why did Jane decide to become a chicken farmer?

"I am honored to grow healthy food for my community, and to provide it at an affordable price," she says. "I didn't go into this for the money."

Being without insurance wasn't a choice for Jane and Terry. They simply have never been able to afford it.

"As a start-up farm, every cent we have has gone into our business," explains Jane. Much of that money, of course, goes to meet the expensive permits and requirements set forth by state and federal regulations.

The Levans have taken care of others in the community beyond providing wholesome, locally raised food. They have donated to a local food bank through Greenling, they have donated to benefits and events such as the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Farm & Food Leadership Conference, and they have helped out fellow community members during times of need with free or discounted chicken.

As our appreciation grows for the value of local food to our health and our economy, and to the well-being of our community, we need to understand that it goes beyond "buying local" -- we need to recognize the struggles and challenges of small, independent farmers in America, simply to put the food we love on our tables.

We need to strengthen our local food system by strengthening our farmers. We hope you will chip in what you can to help Jane get out of this difficult situation, marking a beginning in our efforts to raise awareness for more responsible and affordable health care for our small farmers.

ANY CONTRIBUTION -- NO MATTER HOW SMALL -- HELPS. The more of us that pitch in, the faster we'll reach our goal. (The Levans only need help covering the cost of the operating room and the anaesthesiologist. They have the cost of the surgeon covered.)

Anything we raise over the $10,000 will be set aside to start an emergency medical fund for Central Texas small and independent farmers.

Thank you,
Alexandra Landeros
Local Food Supporter
Austin, Texas

p.s. I had stopped eating chicken altogether before I tasted a Dewberry Hills Farm chicken. I hated the taste and texture of chicken. Little did I realize the major difference between an industrially produced chicken versus a local, pasture-raised chicken. I have loved chicken once again since I purchased my first broiler from Jane over a year ago. And when I became unemployed at the beginning of the summer, Jane helped me out in my time of need. This is community.

(Photos by Jody Horton and Whitney Arostegui)

*We realize as well that there are also some people who have regular full-time jobs without health insurance. And we also don't have anything against those who do have health insurance. We think everyone should have access to affordable insurance!

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