Foodies and farmworkers unite!

I was pleased to find this report in my virtual in-box this week:

Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States, by Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation and the United Farm Workers of America, March 2011.

It’s great to see farmworker issues getting some attention, but what really caught my eye was the fact that a foodie group and a farmworker group had co-authored the report together.

After spending years incrementally improving the environmental impacts and profitability of food production through organic agriculture and other labeling systems, foodies have become increasingly interested in improving the social conditions of food production too.  While this conversation has most often centered around how to make improvements in working conditions on organic farms, this new report takes a much broader view.  It analyzes working conditions for farmworkers nation-wide, as well as the scanty legal protections available to them.

One of the current debates in foodie circles centers on the pros and cons of trying to solve our food system’s problems with market-based tools: organic certification, fair-trade certification, buying local, etc.  Should we rely on voluntary improvements by individual farmers who can then charge more for their products to consumers willing and able to spend more?  Or should we focus instead on legislative solutions that require improvements by all farmers?  While foodies have mostly used market-based solutions in their work, farmworkers groups have focused largely on legislative solutions.

My reading of the report suggests that its authors are pursuing a middle path.  They hope that increasing the visibility of farmworker problems in this country will also increase consumer interest in purchasing food that is grown under safe, dignified working conditions.  Then, more farmers will want to participate in labeling programs that require improvements in working conditions. These increasingly popular labeling programs will then help generate more interest in and awareness about the problems facing farmworkers, helping legislative solutions become politically feasible.  I’ll be watching to see where this foodie/farmworker partnership will lead.

Here’s a few other items of interest that passed through my in-box last week:

3 thoughts on “Foodies and farmworkers unite!

      • well, imo, H-2A is a guestworker program with way too many problems (even after switching back from the 2008 Bush-Chao regulations), which continues to allow employer abuse without much oversight or enforcement. Would be better to get rid of it and pass AgJobs, despite some of the unfortunate compromises our side would have to accept (e.g., 3-5 years of indentured servitude to employers).

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