Must-listen radio: New story on Fair Food Program’s entry into strawberry industry takes you into the fields as history is made…

The Fair Food Program breaks new ground in Florida’s troubled strawberry industry and the Center for Investigative Reporting is there to cover the exciting new story!…  

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) has a mission: to “engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling in order to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy.”  Toward that end, CIR produces an award-winning radio show and podcast by the name of “Reveal,” that is distributed nationally and that does the kind of long-form radio reporting that takes the listener deep into an issue in a way only radio can.

Fortunately for the Fair Food Program, CIR turned its attention to the FFP’s inaugural foray into the Florida strawberry industry, and the story that resulted, published this past weekend, makes for truly compelling radio.  The story combines a report on the successful history of the FFP in Florida’s tomato industry with a close up of the strawberry farm, launched this season by FFP partner Pacific Tomato Growers, where the Fair Food Program will be in effect as part of the program’s expansion to two new crops (strawberries and green peppers) this season in Florida.  

The reporter, CIR’s Al Leston, quotes Mike Rios of the US Department of Labor (“In the strawberry industry, we tend to have a higher percentage of these [labor] violations”), Jon Esformes of Pacific Tomato Growers (“What we’re talking about with the Fair Food Program is basic human rights and human dignities…  If you need to break the law to make a living and make your business model work, first of all I hope you get caught, and if you don’t get caught, I hope you make the decision to get out of the business”), and Jesus Garcia, a worker at Pacific’s new strawberry farm (“In comparison to the other companies were I’ve been, it’s totally different”) among many other voices that populate the FFP universe in a wide-ranging, uplifting report. Here’s their quick lead-in to the radio program, which you can listen to by clicking on the embedded audio file above, or at the CIR website:

strawberry_radio2About one-third of the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Florida. Mainly migrant workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean hand-pick the tomatoes in or near the town of Immokalee, just north of the Everglades.

For decades, Florida tomato pickers endured some of the worst working conditions in America. Beatings, rape and sexual harassment were common problems. Often, there were no toilets, shade or clean drinking water. Work hours were unpredictable and wages were extremely low. There were even cases of slavery.

In 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers began to organize. At first, it focused on ending slavery in the fields, then expanded its work to deal with wage theft and abuse. In 2001, it launched the Fair Food Program. The group brought about change by pressuring large retailers to use their market muscle to demand higher standards from suppliers.

Host Al Letson travels to the Sunshine State to tell us what happened after the tomato workers organized, pushed for reform and got the public to help.

It is truly a remarkable story, one that everyone who supports the growing Fair Food movement really shouldn’t miss.  So, click on the audio file at the top of this post, or go to the CIR website today and check out the report.  You’ll be happy you did!