Who Picked Your Apple? | Civil Eats

Who Picked Your Apple?

When the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it took a step from Upton Sinclair’s Jungle to the workplace that you and I enjoy today. It’s been generations since the labor standard was raised, and now discussions of fairness and the workplace center around rising CEO payraising the minimum wage for fast food workers, and the union busting taking place in several states. But the sad fact is, in 2013, there is a class of workers that never stepped out of The Jungle and still lives under a set of protections not very different from the house of horrors Sinclair described.  

Right now, in New York, a farmworker—man, woman, or yes, child—can work 80-hours per week, with no days off, no overtime compensation, no disability, and no right to organize…and it’s perfectly legal. Almost every other worker is protected from such abuses under New York state law—except farmworkers.

Five months ago, we knew nothing about the struggles of farmworkers in our state. We were both good liberals who shopped local, raised an eyebrow at GMOs, and believed we understood the politics of food. Then we saw pictures of 12 people sharing one toilet and one bedroom. Then we heard from men who had worked years on end without a single day of rest, some of them for more than a decade.

We are still shocked to think that in a state where we discuss whether our schools can serve kids food from tin cans lined with BPA, where “chef-lebrity” is an actual word, and “farm to table” is the foodie-phrase du jour, we don’t ever talk about the horrid conditions under which our produce is picked and our cows are milked.

That’s why the RFK Young Leaders have officially launched *Except Farmworkers: A campaign of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights. Countless New Yorkers, along with individuals such as Michael Pollen, Ruth Reichl, Martin Sheen, and Eva Longoria, have joined us in this effort.

You can read more about the campaign at exceptfarmworkers.com.

newsmatch 2023 banner - donate to support civil eats

Photo: Farm workers picking green beans, by Shutterstock

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

Ian is director of digital strategy at Charitybuzz and co-founder of the RFK Young Leaders. Ian was founder and executive director of Glassbooth – a non-profit focused on civic education. In 2008, Glassbooth was named “Best Political Website of 2008” by CNET. Ian was formerly at dropping knowledge international (dki), an ambitious project connecting communities around the world to a knowledge commons. Before joining dki, Ian was an investment analyst at The Democracy Alliance, where he conducted due diligence on political organizations. Ian is a graduate of Tulane University and received honors in communications and English. Read more >

Sierra is the RFK Young Leaders Fellow at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, where she heads the RFK Young Leaders, a group of young professionals in NYC committed to empowering young human rights defenders. Sierra came to the RFK Center from The Asia Foundation, where she coordinated and reported on civic engagement programs. Prior to joining The Asia Foundation, Sierra worked in education: teaching in Vietnam, coordinating an after-school care program in California, and working at UNICEF in New York. Sierra received a B.A. with honors in Sociology from The Colorado College, and a M.S. in Social Policy from Columbia University. A native of California, she loves the mountains, the ocean, and New York City. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Maria A
    Slavery was never abolished.
  2. Julie Corwin
    Maria A. (comment on June 18) might just be right!

More from

Food and Farm Labor


Volunteers from DTE Energy pack prepackaged boxes for delivery to churches and homebound seniors at Focus: HOPE, a local agency located in Detroit, Michigan that operates the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in a client choice model so that participants can select the foods they want. (Photo credit: Preston Keres, USDA)

The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits?

In this week’s Field Report: A push to improve federal food purchasing heats up, the first food-focused COP kicks off, dust storms accelerate, and new evidence suggests that fair-trade certifications are failing to protect farmworkers.


With Season 2, ‘High on the Hog’ Deepens the Story of the Nation’s Black Food Traditions

Stephen Satterfield and Jessica B. Harris watching the sunset at the beach, in a still from Netflix's High on the Hog Season 2. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Building a Case for Investment in Regenerative Agriculture on Indigenous Farms

Jess Brewer gathers livestock at Brewer Ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Intertribal Agriculture Council, www.indianag.org)

Walmart and EDF Forged an Unlikely Partnership. 17 Years Later, What’s Changed?

Aerial view of cargo containers, semi trailers, industrial warehouse, storage building and loading docks, renewable energy plants, Bavaria, Germany

Relocalizing the Food System to Fight a ‘Farm-Free Future’