Dear Governor Crist,

I am a 1978 graduate of Florida State University, a registered dietitian and a journalist. I write and speak nationally about the connection between public health and our food system. I teach my patients, clients and national audiences to question where their food comes from, who produced it, and under what conditions. Then I advise them to vote accordingly with their food dollars — to support food that is healthful, does not harm the environment in its production, and is fair and just to all involved in the food system, from the farm worker to the end consumer.

Perhaps like me, your mother taught you to try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. I hope you will try very hard to imagine life as a Florida agricultural worker. When you order your sandwich, I hope you will look at the tomato slice and wonder about the living conditions of the human hand that picked the tomato for you to enjoy.

Think about it: the Immokalee tomato pickers/agricultural workers have not received a pay increase in 30 years. Can you imagine?

After toiling under the brutal Florida sun, they return to living conditions that surely violate public health standards in the rest of the U.S. Have you visited their homes? Can you imagine sleeping in their beds?

To be honest, while visiting Immokalee this past week, I did not feel like I was in the United States. I felt like I was in a third world country. I wondered about the quality of the water, the affects of the pesticides used on the tomatoes and citrus and the horrific birth defects that result after repeated exposure to harmful chemicals. That one case of slavery exists in the United States is too much.

Governor Crist, I have devoted my 30+ year career to public health. You have devoted yours to public service. For this reason, I can’t understand how and why your office would not take action to end the atrocities in Immokalee. At the very least, meet with your fellow human beings, visit their community, and demand that the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange renounce its opposition to the penny per pound agreement so that these hard working laborers can receive a fair wage.

I’m sorry to say, that I for one cannot in good conscience buy tomatoes with blood on them. Nor can I visit your state as a tourist knowing that the governor condones such abuses by not taking action.

I beg you to show American citizens that you care about humanity, our shared planet and future generations.

In the years remaining in my life, I have chosen to work to leave the earth a better place. I hope you can find similar peace of mind.

Please keep me informed of the progress you make in Florida with agricultural workers. It will be my pleasure to inform my local and national audiences that you are doing the right thing. Protect your state from a tarnished image, and make your mother proud.


Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.