’09 Food Justice Delegation

photos by JJ Tiziou
March 4, 2009

[For a special treat, check out this animated recap from the day,
a rapid-fire animation of hundreds of photos by JJ Tiziou!]

The day-long visit, hosted by Just Harvest USA, started early on Wednesday, as the delegation participants gathered with CIW members well before dawn at the CIW’s community center for a brief orientation. By the looks of it, the early hour posed a challenge for most of the participants, who braced themselves with some strong coffee to face the pre-dawn cold. Most, that is, with the exception of one wide-eyed little fella, who seemed perfectly accustomed to being up at all hours of the night….

5:30 am… time to hit the parking lot, where hundreds of people had already gathered in search of a day’s work.

CIW members interpreted the arcane rules of the daily scramble for a job in Immokalee for the members of the delegation. The uncertainty of employment and humiliation faced by workers pleading for the chance at a day of backbreaking labor for $50 was sobering.

Then, as the day broke, it was on to the fields, where the delegation secured a front-row seat…

… to witness the punishing work of picking the country’s tomatoes — bucket by bucket, at 45 cents per 32lb-bucket — firsthand.

After returning to the CIW, the delegation participants got a chance to talk one-on-one with CIW members …

… before beginning a roundtable session where CIW members gave a broad overview of their organizing program in the community, and the delegation got a chance to process some of what they saw in the parking lot and the fields that morning.

By the time the jam-packed agenda called for a walking tour of the community and of farmworker living conditions, many delegation members had started to feel the weight of the early morning wake up call. But the harsh reality of Immokalee’s farmworker housing woke them — and the accompanying media — right back up again.

Overcrowded, overpriced, with mattresses one on top of the other in the common living space…

… and bathrooms in an unimaginable state of disrepair, the housing — which runs anywhere from $1,200 to well over $2,000 per month — blew away the delegation, many of whom were veterans of grassroots movements and accustomed to the harsh living conditions of poor communities here and overseas.

The day continued back at the CIW center with a standing room only press conference, which drew radio and newspaper reporters, students and faith allies, and even some members of Southwest Florida’s own burgeoning Slow Food chapter. Click on the links below for some of the reports from the event:

At the press conference (kindly emceed by LaDonna Redmond, above, of the Institute for Community Resource Development) delegation members showed why they are all — from authors to family farmers, new media activists and community organizers — such widely-respected leaders in the sustainable food movement.

Gerardo Reyes (middle) of the CIW kicked off the discussion with a reflection on why society has mobilized to eradicate food-borne illness while food-borne injustice, like the plague of modern-day slavery in Florida’s fields, is largely ignored. He was followed by Josh Viertel (left) of Slow Food USA, who framed the day’s message by describing the many accomplishments of the growing sustainable food movement before concluding, “But we have completely missed the boat on work. Farmworkers need to be a part of this movement.”

Authors/activists Raj Patel (“Stuffed and Starved”) and Francis Moore Lappe (“Diet for a Small Planet”) were next up.

Raj Patel spoke briefly of his work, part of which is spent in research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and then raised many an eyebrow in the crowd when he said, “Walking around here I am reminded by the living conditions of some of the conditions in South Africa under apartheid… except, of course, in South Africa the conditions were better.” He went on to explain that perhaps the most striking similarity between South Africa and Southwest Florida was how both societies made such an effort at “separating rich from poor, and trying to forget that we live in one world.”

Francis Moore Lappe followed up on that theme with a powerful metaphor capturing the current economic crisis and its causes, in particular the growing concentration of wealth and the dangerous divide between rich and poor, saying, “I see the world today as this great storm where the big trees are falling and we can see the roots that we couldn’t see before. Coming here I see one big root, and it is embodied in real lives.” She added, “And the root of the solution is here as well, the solution is real democracy, coming together through, as the workers told us this morning, ‘C + C = C‘, Consciousness plus Commitment… equals Change.”

The press conference ended on a spontaneous note, as the food justice leaders took advantage of the moment to make a call themselves to Governor Crist, to add their voices to the tens of thousands of farmworkers and consumers across the country who have already called on the governor to meet with the CIW and take a stand on slavery.

While the efforts of the governor’s aides to deflect the call provided some (unintentional) humor, the response, ultimately, was anything but funny — once again, the call went unanswered, the governor could not be bothered with the issue of Florida’s shameful record of human rights abuse in its multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.


With the press conference behind them, and following a second round-table discussion on the topic of how best to unite the broader sustainable food movement with the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food, it was time for the CIW members and the Food Justice delegation to go their separate ways for a bit. While the CIW staff fanned out for their regular Wednesday afternoon work of preparing for the weekly meeting (the CIW’s Leonel Perez is shown here at the controls of the Coalition’s wildly popular low-power radio station, “La Tuya,” reminding listeners of the meeting later that evening)…

… the delegation gathered for one last order of business — a group portrait outside the CIW center. From left to right:

Front row — Melinda Hemmelgarn, Journalist; Sienna Chrisman, World Hunger Year; Francis Moore Lappe, Small Planet Institute; Jim Goodman, Dairy Farmer; Marty Mesh, Florida Organic Growers; Marina Saenz-Luna, Just Harvest USA; Eric Holt-Gimenez, Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First).

Back row – Tom Philpott, Grist.org; Mike Moon, Family Farm Defenders; Greg Asbed, CIW; Anim Steel, The Food Project; Josh Viertel, Slow Food USA; Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition; Damara Luce, Just Harvest USA; LaDonna Redmond, Institute for Community Resource Development; Raj Patel, Author, Stuffed and Starved; Marty Curry, Journalist, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

And finally, as the long day wound slowly down, it was time to relax and get to know each other a little better, building bridges for the many collaborations that no doubt will have begun with this visit.

And nothing builds bridges like music… here, Josh Viertel of Slow Food USA sits in on the bass with the CIW’s newest addition, the marimba group, providing the soundtrack for dinner behind the CIW center.

Some just enjoyed the music…

… while others chatted and made new friends.

Until the day ended, some sixteen hours after it began in the pre-dawn cold, in the warmth of the weekly CIW meeting, where workers who had been in the fields during the day had a chance to meet the delegation, make some final preparations for the trip to Tallahassee to visit Governor Crist

… and look back on a great day that holds tremendous promise for building a more humane food system in the months and years ahead.

We’ll leave the last word to the sign in the background, which reads simply, “Justicia tiene mejor sabor” — Justice tastes better.

Thanks to photographer JJ Tiziou for his support of the CIW.
Check out some of his work at www.jjtiziou.net

And thanks, too, to Just Harvest USA, who works to build a more just and sustainable food system with a focus on establishing fair wages, humane working conditions and fundamental rights for farmworkers.