‘Farmers Share’ Breakfast shows producers are last to profit

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Be prepared to stand in line as the Peoria County Farm Bureau Farmers Share of the Food Dollar Breakfast attracts more than 1,000 people. (Photo courtesy of Peoria County Farm Bureau)

In a nation awash with inflation, the price of breakfast at a restaurant or diner has become nearly untenable for some families and individuals with low or fixed incomes.

The retail value for two scrambled eggs, two pancakes with butter and syrup, two sausage patties, eight ounces of milk and eight ounces of orange juice was estimated at $12 in 2023.

However, the average “farm value” of those menu items was just $1.35, based on 2023 commodity prices.

The Peoria County Farm Bureau’s Farmers Share of the Food Dollar Breakfast, which returns for a 21st year to Peoria’s Expo Gardens on Saturday, March 9, was created to shed light on the food dollar discrepancy. In addition to providing a delicious, farm-fresh breakfast on the cheap, educational exhibits at the breakfast hall focusing on local agriculture offer perspective on the true factors behind higher consumer food costs: major post-pandemic increases in labor and transportation costs.

The Princeville Lions Club helps by cooking the sausage and pancakes. (Photo courtesy of Peoria County Farm Bureau)

“What really has increased is labor costs. The price of our breakfast this year has gone up 10 cents to $1.35 in the farm value, but the real price increases at the grocery store and the restaurants are (caused by) labor becoming quite expensive. There has also been an increase in the cost to get a farm product from the field to a grocery store or restaurant,” said Patrick Kirchhofer, PCFB manager.

In 2022, food inflation in the U.S. climbed to 9.9 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It increased another 5.8 percent in 2023. During this time, wages and labor increased by 4-5 percent, while transportation and shipping costs soared by as much as 15 percent. Meanwhile, the farmer’s share of the food dollar has increased by only 7.4 percent — raising the estimated cost of the meal from $1.25 last year to $1.35, which is the price of the 2024 Farmers Share Breakfast.

The retail value for two scrambled eggs, two pancakes with butter and syrup, two sausage patties, eight ounces of milk and eight ounces of orange juice was estimated at $12 in 2023. However, the average “farm value” of those menu items was just $1.35, based on 2023 commodity prices. (Photo courtesy of Peoria County Farm Bureau)

“I think the price of the first (Farmers Share) breakfast was 40 or 45 cents,” Kirchhofer said. “Definitely below 50 cents.”

The popular breakfast, which attracts as many as 1,700 hungry patrons each year, serves as a showcase for local agriculture and is an annual tradition for many families, regardless of their connection with the agriculture industry. The growth and popularity of the event has increased year-over-year at an even faster rate than U.S. economic inflation. Beginning 24 years ago at Dunlap High School, the breakfast was attended by around 250 farm bureau members. The following two years the breakfast was held in the downstairs auditorium of the PCFB, allowing only a few hundred diners to pass through the small venue.

A move to Peoria’s Knights of Columbus Hall on North Radnor Road helped boost attendance to around 500. Five years later, a final move to the Exhibit Hall at Expo Gardens, 1601 W. Northmoor, coincided with a huge increase in the event’s popularity. “We’ve had 1,500 to 1,700 people fairly consistently. We were down in 2023 to about 1,200, but of course we hadn’t had (the breakfast) for three years due to COVID,” said Kirchhofer, who estimates that event volunteers have served up at least 21,000 low-cost breakfasts over the 21-year history of the Farmers Share Breakfast.

There are plenty of beverage choices for the breakfast. (Photo courtesy of Peoria County Farm Bureau)

With the growth of the breakfast, farm bureau committee members realized an opportunity to bring the message of agriculture to a larger audience. Hosting the event in Expo Gardens’ large Exhibit Hall allowed more space for exhibits and activities, many of which are geared towards children and non-farming families.

Scaling up the size of the Farmers Share Breakfast required a large increase in the number of volunteers who plan, carry out and clean up after the event. Utilizing a combination of PCFB volunteers, local non-profit organizations, youth groups and school districts, the PCFB’s Public Relations Committee was able to successfully meet that challenge.

“We always have a lot of volunteers who come out and help. For instance, the Princeville Lions Club help by cooking the sausage and pancakes, and the Brimfield (High School) cheerleaders volunteer to keep the tables clean and bring out new placemats,” Kirchhofer said, adding that in addition to the extra volunteers, local producers donate the hogs for the breakfast, which are processed at a local meat locker free of charge.

This year, the PCFB’s Ag In the Classroom and Equine committees will be among local volunteers hosting the free activities. In addition, locally made items such as maple syrup, soy candles, goat milk products, wool items and honey will be available for purchase, as well as farm toys and farm bureau apparel to help the PCFB Foundation support students who pursue ag-related careers.

“This year we’re going to debut a pedal tractor course,” said Kirchhofer. “We’re going to have about four pedal tractors and set up some orange cones. It will be directed by our Young Leaders so the kids can burn off some energy. We’ll also have a ‘talking barn’ for the kids to check out.”

For the sixth year, the Farmer’s Share Breakfast is a largely “green event.” The plates, napkins, tableware, cups and placemats used for the breakfast will be composted by BetterEarth Compost, owned by PCFB farmer-member Paul Rosenbohm.

  • WHAT: 21st Farmers Share of the Food Dollar Breakfast
  • WHERE: Expo Gardens; 1601 W Northmoor Road, Peoria
  • WHEN: Serving 7-11 a.m.
  • PRICE: $1.35 per breakfast based on the “farm value” of products
  • WHAT TO KNOW: Be prepared to stand in line. Dress warmly for inclement weather as the line can extend outside the building.