We are excited to continue our powerful Food Justice Voices series in 2017 beginning with El Sueño Americano – The American Dream. Food Justice Voices is intended to amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots leaders that aren’t heard enough, while creating awareness and educating readers on various issues connected to hunger and poverty. El Sueño Americano is no different. In this piece, you’ll hear directly from Kathia Ramirez, organizer and Food Justice Coordinator at CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas) in New Jersey, along with farmworker members of CATA. Kathia is from Los Angeles, CA although her parents migrated from the State of Oaxaca, Mexico where they have a history of working the land. In this piece, Kathia discusses the immigrant farmworker experience in pursuing the American dream, the struggles they face and why the work for food justice is important on many levels.
“Here in the United States, food is produced more as quantity over quality. It is not about whether it is nutritious but rather if it looks "good" on the outside even though it might be tasteless or have been forced to grow in a short period of time. Our food system is dependent on pesticides and paying workers a low wage in order meet the demand for cheap food. This creates a vicious cycle because farmworkers are only able to afford cheap, processed food with little access to healthy, organic produce.” – Kathia Ramirez
Read, download and share this article today!
WhyHunger partner Community to Community Development (C2C) and the Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) just announced an important victory in their struggle against Driscoll’s Berries to achieve farmworker justice for the workers at Berry Farm. We congratulate them on this win and look forward to more!
Here is the announcement:
Today, 9/22, Edgar Franks, organizer with Community to Community Development (C2C), the support organization for Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) reported on historic next steps following the culimination of FUJ’s organizing campaign. The farmworkers at Sakuma Bros. Berry Farm voted in a historic secret ballot election to have Familias Unidas por la Justicia represent them in negotiations for a union contract – the vote represents years of organizing and signals a new era for farmworker justice.
Franks emphasized the historic nature of the win –
“FUJ represents over 500 Triqui, Mixteco, and Spanish speaking workers at Sakuma Bros. Berry, and is the first farmworker union led by indigenous workers. Despite hardships, workers have shattered stereotypes by organizing across languages and identity. This is revitalizing the worker movement in Washington state and beyond.”
This win ushers in a new era for farmworker justice internationally as Sakuma Bros., who supplies to Driscoll’s Berries, is the largest berry distributor in the world. What does the future hold for Driscoll’s suppliers worldwide?
Because FUJ has entered into a new negotiations process with Sakuma Bros. Berry, they have called for an end to their boycott of Driscolls and Sakuma products. Meanwhile, workers and consumers around the world have mobilized – including farm workers who supply to Driscolls in San Quintin, Mexico. As Familias Unidas por la Justicia doubles down in their union negotiations, C2C and other supporting organizations have stepped up to continue organizing and movement building in the food system to win justice for farm workers across the food chain in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, as Franks outlined:
“With limited resources, look what we’ve accomplished. We were able to support historic wins in the courtroom and a 77% majority union vote victory for FUJ. Imagine if you supported us.”
To continue the momentum towards a system wide change, those formerly participating in consumer actions and building the movement for farm worker justice in Washington State are asked to stay tuned for next steps by checking Community to Community’s Facebook page and Familias Unidas’ new website. What is most needed now is financial support to Community to Community Development.
Reposted with permission by CIW.
In NYC on Thursday, March 3rd at 4pm, be an ally and join dozens of Florida farmworkers as they kick off the 2016 Workers' Voice Tour to demand that Wendy's, the final fast food holdout, take responsibility for conditions in their supply chain and join the CIW's Fair Food Program — a proven, worker-designed solution to abuse in U.S. agriculture.
Consumer allies and farmworkers will begin with a huge rally in NYC on W 58th St between 8th and 9th Ave and then take the powerful, urgent message of farmworker justice straight to Wendy's doorstep with a major march to the Park Ave offices of Wendy's Chairman Nelson Peltz at Trian Partners, the investment firm that is also Wendy’s largest shareholder. Join us in the streets of Manhattan to sound the call for dignity and respect in the fields!
The upcoming tour builds on the #FairFoodNation’s three-year Wendy's campaign and responds to the corporation's continued refusal to join the Fair Food Program — as well as the recent release of the company's aspirational supplier Code of Conduct that critically excludes workers and their voices from the enforcement of worker protections in the fields. A commitment from Wendy’s, the final fast food holdout, to put its market power behind the Program is essential to guaranteeing farmworker rights in the fields of Florida and beyond. After NYC, farmworkers on the Workers' Voice Tour will continue to Wendy's headquarters in Columbus, OH, then to universities with active student boycotts in Louisville, KY and Gainesville, FL, and end up in Nelson Peltz's vacation town in Palm Beach, FL to further amplify workers' call for justice in the fields.
Farmers are “in” right now. With today’s trend towards local food and sustainable agriculture, farmers are making the news, appearing on lists of most influential people and changemakers. The farmers we hear most about seem to be in or near cities, often new to the field, raising vegetables, selling at farmers markets. We’ve read the articles about rooftop farmers in Brooklyn and vegetable farmers growing heirloom varieties for Berkeley restaurants. They all deserve the recognition; because farming is hard work any way you do it.
But there are a lot of farmers we do not often hear about. Most farmers are not growing vegetables for direct markets, and most of the food Americans eat doesn’t come from farmers markets. Corn and soybean acreage is 36 times that of vegetables, while the value of the top five commodities (corn, soybeans, animal products) is 200 times that of direct sale items. Most farmers, therefore, live far from cities, raise corn and soybeans and livestock, and sell into commodity markets, not farmers markets. And (surprise!) many of them are trying to change the system they’re in—by using fewer chemicals, or planting cover crops, or making the three-year transition to growing organically or looking for a local market for their product. Even bigger surprise: some of these rural commodity farmers are outspoken activists, organizing against policies and practices that hurt the land and their communities.
It’s one thing to advocate for a sustainable food system from Brooklyn or Berkeley, but quite another in a place where your neighbors may think you’re crazy for not using genetically modified seed or for restoring a few acres of native prairie; where any change you make could cost your livelihood or your relationships; where the herbicide salesman is your nephew and everywhere you turn you are reminded that you are “feeding the world.” But organizing and changemaking are also more urgent in the heartland, when the farms being sold off belonged to your friends, or you have to drive another hour for groceries because all the stores downtown closed, or your kids are getting sick from pesticide drift. To make change in the belly of the beast—in the places most of our food comes from and where agribusiness has a strong hold—takes conviction, hope and a willingness to risk being an outsider.
The US has a strong history of agrarian-led advocacy. There have been movements for what we now call sustainable agriculture for centuries; most led not by people in urban centers, but by rural farmers. In the 1890s, farmers across the country realized that the struggles they faced were more a result of economic and social policies than personal failings, and built a broad coalition and a strong movement, Populism and the People’s Party, to change the system.
Nearly a century later, skyrocketing debt payments and a drop in exports led to the 1980s farm crisis. Hundreds of thousands of farms went into foreclosure; with fewer farmers, rural businesses failed, downtowns vacated and rural communities withered. Throughout the crisis, farmers fought back, protesting at state houses and in Washington, fighting through the courts and in the court of popular opinion, using tractorcades and white crosses marking the loss of farms to call the nation’s attention to the countryside. A Supreme Court decision eventually stopped the foreclosures, but the crisis in farm country did not end, it changed to a slow burn.
In the last thirty years, farms have gotten increasingly larger, equipment and inputs more expensive, and dramatic consolidation has shrunk farmers’ market options. The prices farmers receive for their goods dropped precipitously following the removal of all price stabilizations in the 1996 farm bill, and a patchwork of subsidies and insurance has not made up the difference. Throughout the 1990s, the fight became about confined animal operations, or factory farms. Citizen action in states like Minnesota and Missouri kept these states from being completely overrun by factory farms then and continues to be critical in demanding state enforcement of factory farm rules. Grassroots organizations such as Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, (Minnesota) Land Stewardship Project, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils have rallied their farmer and rural members (along with urbanites) for decades on these and other fights, and continue to do so today. Through it all, there have also been the quiet farmers—those who may not have actively protested, but instead resisted by changing their own farming or land stewardship practices and influencing their neighbors to do the same.
The profiles in this series tell the stories of how three modern rural Midwestern farmers have carried on this legacy and are working to make change in their communities.
Denise O’Brien became an organic farmer in Iowa on her husband’s fourth generation family farm, and was soon a leader in the fight against the foreclosures of the farm crisis, focusing especially on the struggles of rural women. She has worked at many levels—grassroots advocacy, non-profits, national, international, in the soil—with common threads of feminism and caring for the land and her community running throughout.
Roger Allison raises livestock on a traditional small family farm in Missouri, and has been in the trenches fighting for small farmers for forty years. The organization he founded, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, continues to be one of the strongest grassroots voices in rural America.
Molly Breslin and her father John have been less active politically, but have created a cultural shift in their Illinois farming community as they have transitioned their family land from conventional corn and soybeans to organic heirloom grains and beans.
Leaders like these are working rural land and speaking out in small towns all across the country. Their stories have much to teach all of us working for a healthier and more just food system, whether we live in a city, in the country or somewhere in between. To learn where we have been, we must reconnect with the radical elements of this nation’s agricultural history; in shaping the future, we must listen to those carrying on that legacy.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we present these in-depth farmer profiles in a 3-part series and visit our digital storytelling website for more stories from grassroots leaders working to regain control of their communities' food.
About the Author Siena Chrisman has worked on sustainable food and farm issues for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in Civil Eats, Modern Farmer and Grist, among other outlets. Formerly an organizer and writer with WhyHunger, where she was director of the online Food Security Learning Center and manager of the Connect Blog, her current freelance research and writing focuses on commodity farmers, livestock and farm policy. Siena was raised on raw milk in rural Massachusetts, and now lives in Brooklyn.
To conclude Farmworker Awareness Week, I am happy to share my experience at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Parade and Concert for Fair Food. The annual action, held this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, was a gathering of thousands of allies, including WhyHunger, from across the country who stepped up to raise the consciousness of consumers and fight for the human rights of workers in the field.
Marching in CIW’s Parade and Concert for Fair Food was my first time participating in a protest and what I ultimately learned is that by exercising my rights, I was helping others gain theirs. My voice and presence, was helping others become visible. I heard directly from the farmworkers and learned about the terrible conditions that many have been subjected to. Being there, I became a part of the movement and as a fairly new employee, officially a part of WhyHunger’s rich legacy in fighting for social justice and strengthening grassroots organizations. And I left with a new understanding and reinvigoration for the unique work that we do, simply because it’s important. Those standing up for their rights need continued support. To create a just and sustainable food system, at the very least, the hardworking people who provide our tomatoes, blueberries, oranges, etc. rightly deserve to work in humane conditions. That’s all they’re asking for.
The parade kicked off on a warm, bright day at Bartlett Park with a diverse group of eager supporters armed with colorful banners and signs with statements demanding farm workers receive things like fair pay, worker breaks and freedom from sexual harassment. I immediately felt a sense of comradery amongst strangers, because we were there for one cause: farmworkers rights. The 3-mile walk was filled with chants such as “This is what democracy looks like!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “The people united, will never be defeated!” as we made planned stops in front of a Wendy’s and Publix locations, because so far they have refused to join the 13 retail food giants that have gotten behind CIW’s Fair Food Program to improve farmworkers’ wages and working conditions. The pressure must be kept on them to join the program because these companies have profited for decades from unchecked farm labor exploitation within their suppliers and changed is needed throughout the entire industry.
The day ended with a spectacular artistic and musical celebration that featured award-winning musicians and activists Ozomatli, La Santa Cecilia and Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics and a “mystica” theatrical performance by the Immokalee workers who used puppets, murals, music and narration to tell their historical story. A fitting end, because the movement for Fair Food has been driven by art and music rooted in cultural traditions to bring the message to life in a real and engaging manner. Each and every performer or speaker spoke passionately from the heart about the need for human rights and dignity in the fields. The power of music energized those present as we, the Fair Food Nation, work to expand the movement to impact the lives of tens of thousands more workers.
I’ll end with a quote that recently stood out for me by New York Times Op-Ed social justice columnist, Charles M. Blow, who said, “The life of a real movement is long and it has downs as well as ups. One measure of its merits is its resilience.” This is true. CIW first began organizing in 1993 and the movement has had downs and ups along the way, but it is resilient. CIW has remained driven, committed and focused on the cause and as a result, some recent wins include the Food Chains film being nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award and just this year major food retailer The Fresh Market signed the Fair Food Agreement. You can contribute to their future successes by taking action to support this movement in a number of ways:
Check out a slideshow from the event below.
WhyHunger is proud to release its first agroecology publication, “Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty into Action.” Agroecology is an agricultural method based on the traditional knowledge of those who cultivate the land and a way of life. We believe its practice is critical to addressing global hunger and increasing communities’ access to basic resources such as land, water and seeds. The publication is not a technical guide to agroecology, rather it shares the knowledge and perspectives of 10 social movement leaders that are working to “scale up” agroecology around the world. It also highlights the social, political, cultural, nutritional and spiritual meanings of agroecology from within communities that have been negatively impacted by the commodification of food.
“We envision this publication will serve as a tool for popular education among grassroots organizations in the United States and abroad,” said Alison Cohen, WhyHunger’s Senior Program Director.
Throughout this publication, grassroots organizers share how the practice of agroecology can transform societies and build a sustainable food future. Though not commonly understood in food systems predominantly controlled by industrial agriculture, WhyHunger and leading social movements around the world have long viewed agroecology as a way to improve climate change and achieve food sovereignty for those facing hunger around the globe.
“Agroecology is the only way to solve the problems of hunger and the climate crisis," said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) of Haiti.
By listening to the voices in this publication and gaining more insight about the collective struggle for justice around the world in the face of unsustainable farming practices, we hope there will be increased dialogue, awareness and support for the leaders and communities who are fighting to reclaim their rights and food systems.
Read, download and share the full publication here.
Join us in celebrating this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week, a national event that brings light to issues facing farmworkers and their families across the country. The annual event is organized by the Student Action for Farmworkers, a support organization that engages youth, students, and communities in increasing awareness of injustice in the agricultural system. The week of action began last Monday, March 24, and continues to next Monday, March 31, with events extending into early April. To find an event near you, check out the listings, follow the Farmworker Awareness Week Facebook page, or peruse #NFAW2014.
How can you get involved?
Support our partners at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking model for social responsibility based on a unique partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and participating buyers. Started in 2010, the program is a comprehensive, verifiable and sustainable approach to ensuring human rights, better wages and working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields. Visit the CIW website to learn how to take action and call on major tomato purchasers like Publix, Wendy's, Kroger and Ahold USA to join the Fair Food Program!
Urge the EPA to strengthen their proposed new farmworker safety rules. The safety standards, which were last updated in 1992, are meant to protect workers who use pesticides, but the rules do not go far enough. The proposed standards still allow children under 18 to use chemical pesticides and do not include the requirement to post medical emergency information or where and when pesticides should be applied. WhyHunger shared an article on these new rules in a recent blog post, and now there is an easy way to tell the EPA to make these rules more effective. Send a form letter to the EPA here.
This Wednesday, March 5, our friends at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their allies will embark on the ten-day, ten-city “Now is the Time” Tour to urge fast food giant Wendy’s and Florida-based grocery retailer Publix to join the Fair Food Program. Wendy’s is the last major U.S. fast food chain still holding out from joining the program, which guarantees human rights and a fair wage to farmworkers in Florida’s tomato industry. The tour will rally in Wendy’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, on March 8-9, and circle back to Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, on March 14-15. Following the landmark success of Walmart’s joining the Fair Food Program in January, the CIW tour will send the clear message that “now is the time” for these two retailers to join the most comprehensive Program for social responsibility in US agriculture and uphold the rights and dignity of farmworkers in their supply chain.
Running from March 5-15, the tour will stop in ten major cities for vigils, presentations, rallies and more. Check out the full schedule and register to attend an event on the CIW tour schedule page. Caravans from the Northeast region will depart on Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, to meet the tour at Wendy's flagship store in Columbus. See the caravan's Facebook event page to reserve a seat.
Our friends at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and allies around the country have been stepping up the pressure on recalcitrant fast food giant Wendy's, the last major fast food chain to hold out and refuse to join the CIW's groundbreaking Fair Food Program. In addition to rallies on Wendy's home turf of Ohio and a social media campaign featuring CIW supporters nationwide telling the company to get on board, Civil Eats published a letter last week signed by more than 75 food movement leaders urging the company "to act immediately to ensure that the rights and dignity of farmworkers who harvest the tomatoes sold in Wendy’s products nationwide be respected by committing [the] company to a social responsibility program that was recently heralded in The Washington Post as 'one of the great human rights success stories of our day.'"
The letter goes on:
By refusing to put its weight behind this program, Wendy’s is lagging behind its competitors as the only major fast food corporation in the US that has yet to become part of this proven approach to a more sustainable supply chain. What’s more, when you [Wendy's CEO], Mr. Brolick, helmed Taco Bell in 2005 as the company became the first Fair Food Program signatory, you stated at the time of the announcement, “We have indicated that any solution must be industry-wide… but we are willing to play a leadership role within our industry to be part of the solution. We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” Now, eight years later, Wendy’s is “the rest of the industry” that needs to join the Program. ...
Wendy’s promotes its sourcing of “honest ingredients” and its sustainable business practices, to which we as food justice advocates are also dedicated. But you must understand that today’s consumers expect and demand that farmworkers, whose work makes possible Wendy’s continued growth, also constitute an integral part of that vision. To portray your company as taking the necessary steps to uphold farmworker rights while doing no such thing–when a proven and verifiable solution exists–can only be described as disingenuous.
As Wendy’s looks to modernize its brand to position itself as “a cut above” their fast-food counterparts, it must understand that a new logo is insufficient to transform an old-fashioned approach to human rights. Only a true commitment to just treatment of workers in your supply chain can assure Wendy’s of smooth sailing in the 21st Century. We within the food justice movement urge you to seize this moment as an opportunity to uphold those values and act immediately to join with the CIW and the Florida tomato industry in building a better tomorrow.
Over 200 immigrant farmworkers have been on strike for almost a month at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington State, one of the nation's largest berry farms. The strike was initiated in protest of what was believed to be an unjust firing of a worker; the workers are now addressing other basic human rights issues as they craft their list of demands, including right to a fair wage, freedom from wage theft, and improvements to the expensive and substandard housing they are provided.
Under US law, farmworkers--one of the most marginalized and abused groups in the country--are prohibited from organizing to better their conditions, and are not protected from retaliation by employers if they decide to do so. In Washington, the farm owners have tried repeatedly to break the strike through intimidation and use of scabs, but so far these tactics haven't succeeded. The strike is organized entirely by the workers, who are mostly indigenous families from Oaxaca, Mexico; one recent report about their strategy says, "[t]he workers are still non-unionized but are in effect acting as a union and taking bold actions that are rarely seen in the trade union movement today," including translation of all interactions into the three languages the workers speak and building transparent democratic decision-making processes. WhyHunger's longtime friend and US Food Sovereignty Alliance co-founder Rosalinda Guillen and her colleagues from Community to Community Development have been working with the strikers for the last several weeks.Rosalinda says,
This is not just about the money, this is about something much more fundamental, this struggle is about dignity. This is what all of us as farm workers have also been asking for, the difference is they took a courageous action and risked all for their dignity. When is the last time we risked our comfort for dignity in a public and organized way?
At the workers' camp, writer Tomás Madrigal has been spending time with eight-year-old Marco. He writes,
Astute observers, after everyone goes home, the youth role play the behavior that was modeled by those who came to their camp from the outside. Whether that behavior was charity, disrespect, racism, or perhaps dignity. On my way out last night, I saw Marco and his friends play in the empty grass field at the entrance of their home, where an encampment had been erected earlier that day, the youth were waving picket signs that read "respect," pumping their fists and chanting "¡SI SE PUEDE!" -- "Yes we can!" This is what is at stake.