A good couple of days for Fair Food… Part 2

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Following the exciting Roosevelt Medal ceremony, CIW team meets with allies on two important new fronts in the Fair Food movement!


The photo above is a still from a compelling new documentary on farm labor in the United States entitled “Food Chains.”  The film, which is in the final stages of production and is planned to premiere in early 2014, focuses primarily on the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food and the Fair Food Program as a solution to the longstanding exploitation and abuse of the country’s farmworkers.  Eva Longoria, the renowned actress and political activist, is an Executive Producer of the film, which is aiming for a release at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the two days following the gala ceremony at which the CIW received the Roosevelt Freedom from Want Medal, a team from the CIW stayed on in the city and met with allies on two exciting new initiatives in the Campaign for Fair Food, including a meeting to plan a national outreach campaign around the upcoming release of “Food Chains”.  The following is a quick report on those two days, Part 2 in our coverage of a remarkable week for Fair Food.

Thursday:  “Brain Trust” meeting with crew of Food Chains…

We asked Sanjay Rawal, director of Food Chains, to give us a report from his point of view on the meeting, which took place the morning after the Roosevelt ceremony.  Here’s what he wrote:
On Thursday October 17th, a dozen of the East Coast human rights, student, religious and labor groups most actively engaged in farmworkers’ rights gathered in New York City to watch a sneak preview of Food Chains, a feature-length documentary that exposes the role of supermarkets in creating poverty and exploitation amongst farmworkers. This film, which counts actress and activist Eva Longoria as one of its Executive Producers, is scheduled for a winter 2014 premiere. The narrative of the film is based on the actions the CIW is leading nationwide, targeting the largest purchasers of Florida tomatoes.
Representatives of the RFK Center for Human Rights, T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights), NESRI, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York State United Teachers, WhyHunger, International Justice Mission, Student Farmworker Alliance, and Southern Foodways Alliance led an inspired and animated discussion of the ways in which this film will support the Campaign for Fair Food and spread the CIW’s message far and wide. Executive Producer Eva Longoria even peeled away from a film shoot to greet the gathering by phone.
Everyone left excited about the possibilities of the film and voiced their responsibility in making sure the film’s goals of amplifying the Fair Food Program and advocating for farmworkers rights nationwide are achieved.

It really was a great meeting.  For five hours, people from sectors that all too infrequently cross paths focused on how they could best work together to spread word of the film and leverage the awareness the film will generate to promote the urgent message that farmworkers’ basic human rights must — and can, thanks to the living example of the Fair Food Program — be respected in the production of this country’s fruits and vegetables.  The meeting closed with pledges all around to continue to work together in the months ahead, and the CIW team left assured that the unending effort to engage consumers in a dialogue on the labor conditions behind the food we eat is about to get a whole lot easier!

Friday: Fair Berries?…

Back in August of 2012, a delegation from the CIW traveled to Maine at the invitation of our friends at Food for Maine’s Future.  Here’s an excerpt from our report following that first visit:


Maine has many claims to fame — delicious lobsters, breathtaking landscapes and majestic rocky coastlines chief among them — but for many, the state’s short-bush blueberry harvest is first and foremost on the list of things that make Maine one of this country’s most beautiful states. The children’s classic Blueberries for Sal has introduced millions of young people to the charms of the state’s late summer berry bounty, raising the wild-growing fruit to almost mythic proportions.

But, as with many myths, the reality can be even more interesting than the legend. And the reality is that most Maine blueberries are harvested today by crews that have traveled the length of the map from the fields of Florida to the forests of the Pine Tree State at the northernmost stop along the East Coast migrant stream. And this year, a delegation from the CIW traveled that same route, too, invited by allies with the state’s small farmer movement, Food for Maine’s Future

… So when Food For Maine’s Future invited us to join them in reaching out to Maine’s seasonal farmworker community during this season’s blueberry harvest, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. A small delegation from the CIW headed north last week and, together with Bob St. Peter and other Blue Hill area family farmers (including the incredible Retberg family that runs Quills End Farm in Penobscot), we immediately set about organizing a community/farmworker dinner at an old Grange hall in town. When a week later over 75 people walked through the door, the vast majority of them Florida farmworkers, the dinner was a huge success. A delicious, fresh meal from Bob’s farm set the tone for an evening of community building, and the gathering sowed the seeds for an even closer relationship in the years to come, as many of the blueberry workers make the trip to Maine year after year…

… Keep an eye on this unique collaboration of small farmers and farmworkers in the years ahead. When two groups like Food for Maine’s Future and the CIW join together to fight for fundamental change in a food system that has undervalued labor for generations — whether that labor is provided by a farmworker or the owner of a family-run farm — they form a force that must be reckoned with.

So, turns out we were right!  The alliance that took root just two summers ago with that first visit has continued to grow and now appears to be on the verge of bearing fruit — real fruit, in fact, in the form of a blueberry jam cooperative that began to take shape on the final day of the CIW’s visit to New York City in a meeting in the shadow of the city’s famous Empire State Building.

In a meeting among CIW members, Bob St. Peter of Food for Maine’s Future, a representative from WhyHunger, and two owners of prime blueberry land in Maine, plans were laid for the first-ever worker cooperative to produce a line of fair, organic blueberry jam from Maine!  Now, the plans are still very much in the formative stages, but with models out there to learn from — including CIW allies like the cooperative coffee roasters in Madison, WI, Just Coffee, and the cooperative bakery chain in the Bay Area, Arizmendi — it shouldn’t be too long before those plans start to take a more solid form and work begins on what should be an exciting — and delicious! — new initiative in the Fair Food movement.  Thought is even being given to directing part of the proceeds to help fund the worker-to-worker education efforts that help make the Fair Food Program such a success, which could help establish a long overdue bridge between the worlds of organic and conventional agricultural production.  

So there you have it, Part 2 of the report from a good couple of days in New York city for Fair Food.  Check back soon for more from the Fair Food movement, including news from the Wendy’s and Publix campaigns.