How to Support the Farmworkers at the Center of Our Food System

    October 21, 2019

When making decisions about our food, there are many important pieces to consider. Was this chicken raised with high-level animal welfare conditions in mind? Does this apple have pesticide residues? Did this lettuce come from Maryland or California? While these are all important pieces to consider, much of the conversation about our food focuses on where and how it is grown and less on who was involved in getting it onto your plate.

Vital to our food system are the often-overlooked food service employees and farmworkers. Low wages and unfair contractual obligations devalue, both culturally and economically, a job that is critical to feeding the world. In order to ensure the economic and ecological sustainability of our food system, we need to value the workers that are at the center of it. Here are a few ways that we, as empowered consumers, can do just that: 

Look for Labels

While the land of food labeling can feel confusing, daunting, and ever-growing, they are also an important way for us to understand what goes into the food we’re buying. The Agricultural Justice Project has added a label to the line-up that goes beyond many certifications in terms of support for fair labor. At its core, Food Justice Certified is committed to transparency and fair treatment of food and farmworkers. 

Another label pulled together by stakeholders including Patagonia, the Rodale Institute, and Dr. Bronner’s is Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). Despite the name, this label isn’t just focused on soil health. Thanks to a nudge from the Agricultural Justice Project, the label, currently still in a pilot program, now includes farmer and farmworker rights in their social fairness pillar.

Support Farmworker Advocacy Organizations

Right here in Maryland, you can connect with organizations like CATA – El Comité de Apoyo a Trabajadores Agrícolas/The Farmworkers’ Support Committee to learn more about how you can get involved. CATA was founded by migrant farmworkers in the 1970s and aims to improve working and living conditions for these communities.

Talk to your Farmer

The ever-popular “know your farmer, know your food” expression isn’t just about learning what kind of squash would work best in a warm, fall soup. It’s also about taking an interest in their labor practices. When you buy from a farmer, you’re supporting the values they promote when they grow their food. By asking this question, you can make sure they know that their on-farm labor practices are an important value to you, their customer.


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