We’re trying something new starting this month for our e-newsletter. Instead of a written farm update, we’re launching a video project that will show and tell about what’s going on with the farm and food justice at Stony Point Center. We’re calling it The Soil Report. It’s your direct source for what’s happening in the ground at our farm and on the ground with food justice in our area. We hope you enjoy seeing what we’ve been up to lately.
So instead of a summary of what the farm crew has been up to, we’re going to use this space for deeper reflections on farming, food justice, and faith. SPC’s farm is entering its fourth growing season this spring, and I am finding that with all of the energy we’ve put into creating a productive growing space over the last three years, the farm itself feels pretty established. It is clear to me that our growing edge this year is going to be in our food justice work, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share about how our community is living into that.
On March 3rd, members of the Community of Living Traditions marched in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and hundreds of their allies, as they kicked off their Workers’ Voice Tour in New York City. In case you haven’t heard of them before, the CIW is a group of farmworkers who pick tomatoes in the town of Immokalee, Florida. They have been fighting for fair wages, better working conditions, and the end of slavery and exploitation in the tomato fields of Florida for over two decades. And they’ve had enormous success. These organized farmworkers created the Fair Food Program, which has facilitated, among other things, each farmworker being paid an extra penny for every pound of tomatoes they pick—a payment that nearly doubles their wages and comes directly from the corporations buying the tomatoes from their employers. Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and even Wal-Mart have partnered with the CIW to increase farmworker wages and improve their working conditions.
The fast food corporation that is conspicuously missing from those listed above is Wendy’s. The CIW has been calling for Wendy’s to “come to the table” and agree to support workers in their supply chain for years. The Workers’ Voice Tour is the latest series of actions the CIW has organized to convince Wendy’s and Nelson Peltz (Wendy’s Chairman of the Board) to join the Fair Food Program. I was thrilled when I heard that the inaugural action of the Workers’ Voice Tour was going to be in New York, not only because I was excited to continue to support the work of the CIW, but because I could sense that the Community of Living Traditions was primed to take action as well.
Before I get into describing the March 3rd action, I should share about why I personally care so much about the work of the CIW. Four years ago, in March of 2012, I had the opportunity to participate in another CIW-organized action in Lakeland, Florida at the corporate headquarters of Publix Supermarket, which is the largest supermarket chain in Florida. The event was called the Fast for Fair Food and I was one of 20 allies fasting alongside 20 farmworkers for six days in front of Publix corporate headquarters. Before arriving in Florida, I had never met any of the members of the CIW and I wondered what kind of connection I might make with them based on the fact that we all worked in agriculture. As the week progressed and as I listened to them share about their struggle, I realized that my connection to them was not agricultural; it was a human connection. It became clear to me that their struggle was about human dignity. All of the things that I take for granted in the places I have worked throughout my life—paychecks delivered regularly, weekends off, vacation time, breaks from work (lunch, water, and bathroom), personal safety, and not being subjected to violence—these were all things the farmworkers were not granted. I learned they were being denied basic human rights on a daily basis, and had been for years. I am forever grateful for the members of the CIW for inviting me into their work, and I am continually inspired by their perseverance.
So as hundreds of people—students, people of faith, community organizers, national leaders, and local politicians—gathered near Columbus Circle in Manhattan on March 3rd with the farmworkers for the Workers’ Voice Tour, I was thrilled that our community, the Community of Living Traditions, was there, too. We watched the CIW perform a “popular theater” piece that demonstrated Wendy’s role in worker exploitation. We held colorful artwork that read: “Dignity/Dignidad,” “Liberty/Libertad,” and “Justice/Justicia.” We marched. We chanted. We listened to the farmworkers and responded to their call to be in solidarity. It was an honor to do this as a community. And when the CIW announced a national boycott of Wendy’s, we supported them.
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of attending the annual Just Food NYC Conference. In the afternoon I listened to a panel that included farmworkers from New York along with community organizers and food service workers who are all engaged in struggles similar to those faced by the CIW. One point that each worker and organizer emphasized was the importance of acting in solidarity with workers who are being exploited by participating in direct actions and public demonstrations that are organized by workers themselves.
While I’m not sure when the next chance to stand with the CIW will be, people living in New York and the surrounding area will have the opportunity to join New York farmworkers in May as they march from Long Island to Albany to gain support for their struggle for justice and human rights. The March for Farmworker Justice sponsored by Rural and Migrant Ministry, another organization that has supported farmworkers organizing, begins on May 15 and ends on June 1. Farmworkers and allies will march a total of 200 miles, and everyone is invited to march in solidarity with them as they pass through your town or city. Click on the link above to learn more about the event, see the route, and find out when they will be near you.
The struggle for justice continues. We hope to see you on the ground.