Welcome, Treasure Coast Fair Food!

March gives rise to new Fair Food Committee on Florida’s east coast with a strong interfaith spirit…

After more than a decade of community gatherings, class presentations, candlelight vigils, pray-ins, and protests — not to mention the hotly contested Publix campaign right here in the CIW’s home state — the Campaign for Fair Food has built a pretty impressive network of consumer allies across Florida. But the campaign has never had an organized presence in Florida’s aptly named Treasure Coast (the area encompassing the long middle stretch of the state’s east coast)… until now!

Sparked by the infectious energy of the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food, the newest member of the family of Florida Fair Food communities is Treasure Coast Fair Food (their website and Facebook page are under construction at the moment, but you can go here for a first-hand post on their creation and their plans for the future).

Last week, at the culmination of a CIW presentation held at a Treasure Coast area synagogue, the rabbi asked any newcomers to stand up and introduce themselves. One by one, people rose — from the UCC church, from the UU congregation, from four different Catholic parishes — until 20 people were standing. In the palpable silence that followed, the participants registered the moving – and all too rare – display of diversity before them.

Take a look at the firsthand account by the Treasure Coast Palm, where the columnist was every bit as taken aback as the rest of those in attendance:

Pay more for tomatoes at Publix? This diverse group says, ‘yes please’

STUART — They were Catholic and Unitarian; Christians from the United Church of Christ and Humanists. They sat shoulder to shoulder Friday night at Temple Beit Hayam with members of the Jewish congregation. If I hadn’t witnessed it, I wouldn’t have believed any cause could unite people of so many faiths…

Treasure Coast Fair Food members are collecting Publix receipts to demonstrate to the grocer the value of their business to its profits.
Treasure Coast Fair Food members are collecting Publix receipts to demonstrate to the grocer the value of their business to its profits.

“We are all Publix customers. We are going to continue to be Publix customers,” said Ellyn Stevenson, who organized the gathering. “And we’re willing to pay more — that’s our bottom line,” she continued. “So let us pay more and pass it on to the workers.”

In addition to her temple, they hail from: Jensen Beach Community Church, United Church of Christ; Treasure Coast Unitarian Univeralist Church; St. Bernadette Catholic Church; Humanists of the Treasure Coast; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. That morning, they formed Treasure Coast Fair Food, a group that initially will focus on Publix.

They hope to attract more people of more faiths, said Lani Havens of Jensen Beach Community Church. It doesn’t matter what God they do or don’t worship.
“There’s common ground in this issue,” Stevenson said. “It doesn’t have to be political. It’s not political. It’s human rights and civil rights.” read more

The following morning, the founding members met for their first, exciting strategy session as Treasure Coast Fair Food, where they decided to leap into action with a call-in, timed to coincide with the Publix shareholder meeting last week. They certainly wasted no time! Welcome aboard, Treasure Coast Fair Food, we love your spirit, and we look forward to marching together, and building a fairer food system together, in the months and years ahead.

Farmworker boss pleads guilty in beating case…

A victory, of sorts, was won on Tuesday afternoon in the Hendry County courthouse 25 miles north of Immokalee, a victory over violence against farmworkers that carries with it a valuable lesson for Fair Food activists everywhere.

Longtime readers of this site will remember the story from March of last year of the beating of a farmworker whose nose was bloodied and broken (right) by his packing house supervisor. We revisited the story again in January of this year when, after a months-long investigation, the farm boss was finally arrested.

Tuesday marked the final step in that year-long state prosecution, as the court system slowly but surely ground out justice for the worker in the form of yesterday’s guilty plea by his supervisor, Francisco Javier Garcia Farias.

The lesson behind this particular piece of news is perhaps best captured in that age old proverb: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The beating took place at a packinghouse that exists in a sector of the Florida agricultural industry that remains outside of the Fair Food Program. Tuesday’s news, coming more than a year after the beating itself (and only then thanks to the dogged persistence of the victim and his witnesses), dramatically underscores the need for the Fair Food Program, where the response to abuse, when it occurs, is quick and effective.

But even more important than the response after the fact is the Fair Food Program’s remarkable success over the past two seasons at preventing violence against farmworkers. The Program is still young, and the results still clearly preliminary, but it appears that after two full seasons of the Fair Food Program in Florida’s tomato industry that the day-to-day violence against farmworkers that had plagued the industry for so long may now be a thing of the past. The wall-to-wall education of workers, the efficacy of the 24-hour complaint line and complaint resolution process, and the market consequences backing the rights established under the Fair Food Program have combined to create a new world in Florida’s tomato fields, a world in which the potential cost of violence against farmworkers is so prohibitively high that it has become so rare as to be effectively non-existent.

With Tuesday’s verdict we are reminded, even as we celebrate hard-won justice for the worker who was so savagely beaten, that thousands of Florida farmworkers remain just beyond the reach of the Fair Food Program, still mired in the antiquated labor relations of last century’s Florida agricultural industry. In those tomato fields that refuse to join the program — and in the fields of peppers, squash, melons, and citrus where the Program has yet to reach — real, sustainable farm labor justice remains a distant dream.