Thinking back to barely a year ago, Oscar Vasquez says things have changed on the Oxnard, California farm where he works picking strawberries. For so long, he felt as though he was treated like little more than a cog in the fruit production machine—necessary to his employer, but also very replaceable.
But now, since his farm adopted a new approach to working with its employees, he feels better about going to work each day. Vasquez and his coworkers care more about the quality of the produce they’re picking and, he adds through a translator, “A lot of workers are staying for the whole season, which is a sign that they feel good about the farm.” Read more
Here’s what caught our eye this week in food news:
1. Beating Monsanto in the Food Fight: Oregon Counties Vote to Ban GMO Crops (The Nation)
Josephine County and Jackson County, Oregon overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to prohibit the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in the counties. Farmers in the area grow both sugar beets and alfalfa, two crops that are said to be susceptible to contamination from the pollen of nearby GE plants. The bans were voted in by a two-to-one margin. As The Center for Food Safety put it in their blog: “In the absence of any meaningful government mandated restrictions to control contamination, bans such as those in Jackson and Josephine County are the only way for farmers to protect their crops from contamination.” Read more
Spring has been slow to arrive in New York this year, but warmer temperatures mean the re-invigoration of the city’s many farmers’ markets. This season, New Yorkers will shop at nearly 150 markets across the five boroughs. Some will surely chat with producers, asking questions about growing practices or ingredients. After reading Margaret Gray’s Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, I wondered: Will any of them ask about the people who grew, harvested, or transported their food? Read more
Are you struggling to stay up on the latest food politics stories? Take heart. Starting this week, Civil Eats will be rounding up a weekly list of important stories you might have missed. Read more
When Mario Vargas showed up at the Washington, D.C., offices of representatives from his home state of Ohio in July, he shared stories from farmworkers who are getting sick from pesticides. Joined by his daughter and girlfriend, they made the rounds talking about how it feels to inhale pesticides while pregnant, how farmworkers don’t know what their basic rights are, and how many workers are afraid to tell the truth about what is really going on in the fields. Read more
It’s a tolerable 40 degrees in Mount Dora, Florida, where 18-year-old Selena Zelaya is from. Instead of hanging out with friends or working at her part-time job at McDonald’s, Zelaya braved the freezing temperatures in DC to lobby on an issue close to her heart: Farmworker protections. It’s her second time lobbying in DC on this issue. Read more
Nobody told Reina Lemus de Zelaya that her job as a farmworker was hazardous not only to her health, but to her unborn child. So when Lemus de Zelaya was pregnant with one of her daughters, she continued working in the agricultural fields in Florida. Not only was she continually exposed to pesticides while pregnant, when her daughter was born she even brought her baby to the fields in a stroller. No one warned her to do otherwise. Read more
Not even a decade has passed since Sergio Arau filmed A Day Without a Mexican, but 2012 may go down in history as the Year of No Meals Without a Mexican because of labor shortages in American fields and orchards. Since mid-year, there have been a growing number of state and nation-wide reports indicating that hand-picked vegetables and fruits produced in the United States will be unusually scarce this year.
This is not merely because of widespread drought but also because of a paucity of Mexican-born farm laborers remaining in the U.S. Earlier this season, the American Farm Bureau Federation predicted a $5 to 9 billion dollar loss in this year’s harvest of annual vegetable crops requiring hand-picking, largely due to a shortage of farmworkers.
In fact, many states—from California to Ohio—have suffered severe reductions in planted and harvested acreages over the last five years as the economic downturn and heated nation-wide debate over immigration have sent many farmhands back to Latin America. Compared to other harvest seasons, a 30 to 40 percent shortage of skilled harvesters this year has been confirmed by California farming organizations, which note that peaches, cherries and other premium crops are going unpicked.
But now a new report—Hungry for Change: Borderlands Food and Water in the Balance—reminds Americans just how much of their entire food supply is dependent upon labor, expertise, ingenuity, seeds, seafood, and water originating in Mexico. The report, released last week by the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center, was prepared for discussion at the first-ever Border Food Summit to be held September 16-18 near Nogales, Arizona, the most important inland food port-of-entry in the world. Read more
Last weekend in Oakland, protesters slowly amassed, holding signs pleading that “if Chipotle loves small farms then they should also love their farmworkers.” Primarily students and young adults, the group quickly moved down the narrow pathways of the farmers’ market along Grand Avenue to accumulate more supporters. In the end, they convened at the newly opened Chipotle food chain along Lakeshore Avenue to form a picket line of protestors.
The Coalition for Immokolee Workers (CIW), in alliance with The Student Farmworker Alliance, Just Harvest, and Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida are coordinating protests in 25 cities this week as part of their plans for a National Day of Action. The CIW have been organizing since 1993 and their allies have been walking alongside them since 2001. Together, they are working with farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida on the Campaign for Fair Food, a grassroots farmworker-led campaign to change living and working conditions for those in the fields picking tomatoes. (Florida’s tomato industry is responsible for nearly all of the fresh tomatoes grown in the U.S. between November and June.)
The Campaign applies pressure to food corporations, like grocery stores and fast food chains, in order to get them to sign the Fair Food agreement stating that they will purchase from farms that abide by a set of quality of life and living wage standards for farmworkers. Basic asks include an increase of one penny per pound of tomatoes picked, respect for workers, business transparency, and an enforced code of conduct for agricultural suppliers. These are not drastic asks, rather a human dignity not previously offered and now demanded for by a worker-run movement. For example, tomato pickers haven’t seen a salary raise in over 30 years. Read more
There is more interest in food now than at any point in our nation’s history. We have more standards with which to make conscious food choices than ever before. Yet while people want to know where their food is grown, how it’s grown, and when it was harvested, no one is really asking any questions beginning with “who”. Despite this tremendous interest in food, there is almost no interest in the people that pick it.
When I discovered these contradictions in my own life, I realized that I needed to make a film that would discuss these issues. Read more