Day Nine Photo Report:

Fair Food Partners step up as farmworkers step out on the March!

Day Nine of the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food began with yet another beautiful early morning bridge crossing, this time across the Manatee River leaving Bradenton toward Palmetto.

The fresh air and sun chasing the morning chill on the bridge lifted the marchers' spirits, making for a perfect start to the longest day of the march -- 18 miles (or 3/4 of a marathon... but who's counting, really?).

Of course, the marchers' spirits never truly sag, anyway, driven as they are by their zeal for the march's two-part mission: to declare the good news of a new era of farm labor rights and respect in Florida's tomato fields, and to make known, far and wide, the urgent need for Publix to get behind the Fair Food Program that enshrines and protects those rights.

And so it was fitting that on Day Nine the march route would have the workers pass right by the Palmetto packing house of Pacific Tomato Growers, one of the state's largest and oldest tomato companies and, as it happens, the very first grower to sign a Fair Food agreement.

The CIW's agreement with Pacific was a landmark moment in farm labor history in Florida, marking the first time a major grower formally recognized the need for real change -- a recognition memorialized in Jon Esformes' words at the press conference, where he quoted the late philosopher and rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, saying, 'Few are guilty, but all are responsible' and added, in his own words, in reference to past labor abuses, "The transgressions that took place are totally unacceptable today and they were totally unacceptable yesterday."

That recognition, coupled with Pacific's agreement to work in partnership with the CIW to improve farm labor conditions, paved the way for the rest of the tomato industry to follow suit and join the Fair Food Program just one month later.

Awaiting the marcher' arrival was a delegation of Pacific leadership, including Vice President Liz Esformes (left),...

... and as the marchers arrived, old friends warmly embraced...

... while new friends also shared heartfelt greetings, a gesture so easy today yet so thoroughly unimaginable just a few short years ago before the remarkable new partnership, planted with the CIW/Pacific agreement and known today as the Fair Food Program, could take root and flourish.

The spread laid out for the marchers was truly impressive...

... though perhaps most impressive was its attention to detail -- down to the selection of Subway sandwiches as the main fare (Subway is also an important partner in the Fair Food Program) including, of course, a healthy portion of Fair Food tomatoes in every sandwich!

Following the meal, marchers and Pacific representatives took a few more moments to savor the historic morning together, ...

... before gathering in a circle for final goodbyes and one last chance to reflect together on the significance of -- and to soak in the warmth of -- this most extraordinary moment.

For a quick glimpse into arrival and visit at Pacific's packing house in Palmetto, check out the video above, and a great short article in today's Bradenton Herald, excerpted below (you can find the article in its entirety here):

" ... 'Today was a beautiful moment, because for the first time in history a company that produces tomatoes decided to have food for all of us on our journey,' [Gerardo Reyes, CIW] said. 'It happened with one of our farmers, and it was the first company that signed our agreement.'

The changes that have come about, thanks to this kind of cooperation, include a 'partnership where workers are encouraged to use the Fair Food Program when there are issues in the field that need to be addressed. The difference is that there is a system that was created exactly for that,' Reyes said. 'Now we can identify the problems that happen and, working together, be able to bring those problems to an end. It's never been perfect, but never before was there a system to bring these issues to an end.' read more

But what is perhaps most extraordinary about the March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food is the fact that the visit to Pacific Tomato Growers on Day Nine was not the first public demonstration of support for the campaign by key Fair Food partners during the march. Last Thursday, Maisie Greenawalt (left), Vice President for Strategy of Bon Appetit, and Cheryl Queen, Vice President for Communications with Compass Group, also joined the march for two full days, enjoying the weekend's activities in Sarasota shoulder to shoulder with workers and their Fair Food allies. Here's what they had to say about their experiences on the march:

Cheryl Queen, Compass Group: “Joining the march for a couple days was both spiritual and highly spirited! The appreciation from fellow marchers – students, workers, clergy and faith communities - for the work that buyers like Compass Group and Bon Appetit have done in supporting the rights for workers and fair food was heartening and very moving. We are so proud of our partnership with the Coalition. It really is a new day in Immokalee.”

Maisie Greenawalt, Bon Appetit: “Marching alongside workers, students, people of faith and other supporters was a moving experience. The stories of the changes in the fields are remarkable. The progress made thus far should be celebrated. I urge other buyers to get involved, meet with workers, and hear their stories. You will leave inspired and energized.”

With this growing public support from Fair Food Program partners at their back, the marchers once again took to the street, continuing their trek through Florida's bustling gulf coast towns and miles of undeveloped countryside on their way to Publix headquarters in Lakeland...

... spreading the news along the way of a more modern, more humane agricultural industry...

.... and of a future of Fair Food for all of Florida's farmworkers.