By E.C. Barrett
ITHACA – The majority of migrant farmworkers, an integral part of agricultural food production with an estimated 3 million member workforce nation-wide, receive the lowest wages in the country and don’t have access to basic workplace protections.
Organizers of a special Congo Square Market event, “From Farm to Table to Justice,” on Friday, November 18, want to spark a community conversation about farmworker rights and action steps that can be taken locally to support them. Dinner will be sold by local vendors starting at 5 p.m., and a screening of the 2014 documentary, “Food Chains,” at the Friends Meeting House, 120 Third St, starts at 6:30 p.m. A panel discussion led by local organizers will take place following the film.
The award-winning documentary looks at the condition of migrant farmworkers around the country, a group often subject to wage theft and physical and sexual violence in the workplace, with little to no resources to file complaints or have their grievances investigated. The film highlights the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization that has been working to improve the conditions of farmworkers in one form or another since it began in 1993 with migrant farmworkers on tomato farms in Immokalee, Florida.
Kate Cardona, community program coordinator at the Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, said the event’s organizers hope to bring together the local community to share a meal and get educated on a food justice issue that often struggles to get attention.
“Farmworkers were excluded from labor laws in the U.S. for many decades and all too often still encounter abusive labor practices,” Cardona said. “We want to learn together about how racism and labor exploitation have shaped the current situation for many migrant farmworkers in the U.S., as well as models nationally and locally that are working for justice in the fields, and action steps we can take as food consumers to support this work.”
In 2012, the CIW launched the Fair Food Program, a ground-breaking collaboration of farmworkers, farmers and retail buyers that has increased farmworker wages, safety and working conditions by making it difficult for farms with abusive practices to sell their tomatoes to many of the world’s largest retailers. In addition to increased wages, the FPP provides worker-to-worker education sessions on the new labor standards established in the program’s Fair Food Code of Conduct, and the Fair Food Standards Council, a third-party monitor established as part of the FPP, conducts regular audits and complaint investigation and resolution.
Cardona expects the event to appeal to the local community because there are already important conversations taking place around food and food sources.
“There are a lot of people locally who value where and how their food is produced, and who care about the rights of workers,” Cardona said. “However, in the food movement at large the massive contributions of migrant farmworkers often go unacknowledged, and their rights abused.”
In New York state, Cardona explained, particularly in the dairy industry, wage theft and hazardous working conditions are not uncommon.
“This is happening in our own Ithaca backyard,” she said. “We want to lift up the challenges and the victories of farmworkers and ask our community to take action to support the rights of those who bring food to our tables.”
Event organizers plan to have a follow-up event in the spring to discuss progress made toward any local action steps in support of farmworker rights. Event attendees are asked to make a $10 donation, but it is not required to attend. The event is presented in collaboration with the Congo Square Market, the Groundswell Center, New Roots Charter School, The Tompkins County Worker’s Rights Center, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Youth Farm Project, and Latino Civic Association.
More information about the event and its sponsors is available at newrootschool.org, multiculturalresourcecenter.org and www.youthfarmproject.org. For more information on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food, go to ciw-online.org.