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The Triangle Food Frenzy – What’s Cool and What’s Not

Guest post by Erin Krauss

Food. Mmm…..the most natural of pleasures; melt in your mouth butter, delicate tastes of salt and sugar, coffee and cream…or…over-zealous, raw, freshly chopped, crunchy…....pure nourishment. Food is good, food is fun, and frankly these days, food is COOL. The Triangle can give testament to this fact. Food draws in the crowd - from locals seeking a new menu, to students shopping around for an economical fast fix. Everything from swanky restaurants to corner food trucks has exploded over the last few years in urban centers of central North Carolina, and across the state. Food-lovers are salivating at the variety of choices and all hours of the day you can obtain a taco, dumpling, raw smoothie, or NC BBQ. The recent attention on food has been accompanied by a number of “food movements” advocating for positive changes in our food system over-all; this kind of community action has gained praise and some critique.

A recent article by Sally Kohn in Salon speaks to the contradictory phenomenon of food becoming more and more popular on a national level, while the people who are responsible for growing, processing, and cooking our food, are not. Otherwise they would have fair treatment and fair wages, right? The author argues that the “foody movement” has resulted in a massive trend towards hypersensitivity for the organic, the humane treatment of animals, and the local nature of food as well as health-conscious and environmentally conscious critique of food. Kohn claims that the ironic thing missing in the popularization of cool and fancy foods is a level of genuine concern surrounding the people that make food production happen. In Kohn’s words, “In the food industry, as in America overall, the concerns of low-wage workers tend to get swept under the table...”

Kohn’s critique highlights the importance of a very needed global perspective when it comes to “foody” movements, but let’s not forget the strides we have made in NC and other communities over the last several years. As buy local and support small & organic farms campaigns have gained momentum – so have efforts surrounding environmentally sound agriculture practice, growing consumer consciousness and even some equitable prices that reflect what sustainable food and fair labor practices actually require. Local food movements and other food-awareness efforts have done a good job at educating on alternatives to multinational corporations and big agro-business. Ultimately – whether advocates are pushing for local food or quality food (organic, sustainable, healthy) the common vision often seems to be to strengthen communities over all. 

Contrary to Kohn, others argue that a problem lies not in the current focus of food-movements, but rather, what food-movements often lack. While overall, the objective of food-movements are to strengthen our communities, it’s not clear whom exactly it is that we include in our definition of community. A variety of people have a stake in food movements. However, not all the diverse stakeholders are talking together about how they are connected and how to work towards common goals. More often then not, many stakeholders (farmworkers themselves) are simply ignored & excluded from the conversation about how to create a new kind of food-system. Conscientious consumers, restaurant and stores, and small farmers have done well to make a dent in their own spheres. But how could we all work together more effectively and inclusively to make a larger impact on the agricultural machine that is the NC economy?

First, we could all reflect deeply on the fact that most of the 150,000 farmworkers and 28,000 poultry living and workers in our state community do not have a regular seat at the "food movement" table. When have farmworkers been invited to join the local food movements’ conversations? When haven’t they? And why is this so? Thinking about these questions is challenging and requires a social justice perspective that sometimes isolated food campaigns can lack. A social justice perspective means prioritizing inclusive decision making and strategizing, refusing to marginalize groups of people that historically have had the least power and have been exploited the most, and believing that the most affected should lead. If we want food movements to strengthen the whole community we all need to have a frank discussion about who is included in our definition of community, and, more importantly – who is excluded and why.

Second, we can all, no matter who we are, push for changes in the larger NC-food system that we all depend on, whether directly or indirectly by virtue of living here. Organizing new efforts around small & organic farming and socially aware business are invaluable - and we must keep up this good work. Equally important is pushing for real change in the massive, exploitative food-system we have had for so long in this southern state.  

If we all make efforts to reflect deeply on how we talk together and who is included in conversation, and if we all push for change in "alternative" and "traditional" food arenas, perhaps by next year, we will have enough diverse stakeholders to make a global food movement that benefits health, environment, local economy, and social and labor rights alike. Perhaps foodies and farmworker advocates will work together and succeed at passing the bill that failed in last year’s legislative session that would provide protections to NC child farmworkers. And maybe with this unified public support, by next year the NC Department of Labor will have leadership that is committed to enforcing NC labor laws and protecting all workers in NC – even farmworkers. Finally, if food movements can grow a stronger social justice perspective – perhaps by next year there won’t be quite as much space between the stakeholders - the “foody”, the small restaurant owner, the small farmer, and the migrant laborer who has worked in NC for decades.

My hope is that someday soon, all of us in the Triangle region and across NC will connect our food pleasures to all people that make food possible. Let us make this food-trend honor the joy that is taste and nourishment, as well as the justice & respect that food-workers deserve. If we create the product, eat the product, make profit from it, or simply live in this state that depends on agriculture - we all have a responsibility in this food chain. 


Our Addiction to Cheap Farm Labor

Raleigh News & Observer
By Chris Liu-Beers, NC Council Of Churches

Immigrant farmworkers picking sweet potato

As we enter this holiday season of feasting, we need to be honest about how our food is produced. America has always relied on cheap labor to make agriculture work.

The source of much of that labor used to be slave ships making the Middle Passage. Today it’s no longer slaves but immigrant workers, primarily undocumented people from Mexico and Latin America, whose cheap labor makes possible both low prices at the grocery store and high profits for agribusinesses.

Farmworkers don’t often make the news. Even though 85% of fruits and vegetables are still harvested by hand, farmworkers and their families remain largely invisible to our society. We don’t like to think too much about who is doing the dirty work.

But recently farmers and farmworkers in Georgia and Alabama have made national headlines as labor shortages have forced us to pay attention. Crops are rotting on the vine and growers are staring at huge losses, unsure of how to move forward without a reliable pool of cheap labor.

Why Georgia and Alabama? Both states recently passed harsh new immigration laws designed to crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Proponents said the new laws would open up thousands of jobs for legal residents, especially on farms.

But with average annual salaries of $11,000, 14-hour days in the heat of summer, and shockingly unsafe working conditions, do you think U.S. citizens are rushing to fill these jobs?

The new hit NBC show Rock Center recently highlighted the labor shortage on Alabama’s farms:

We met Jess Montez Durr, who was picking tomatoes on the Jenkins tomato farm on Chandler Mountain in northern Alabama. Durr said he’d stick with this as long as he could, but he preferred his previous job as a dishwasher at Applebee’s. “The work was a whole lot more easier than this,” he said. Since our visit, he and the other American workers have quit.

Consumers, growers, politicians, we’re all caught up in this bind. We want cheap labor and cheap food, but it turns out we don’t really want the people who make it all possible – and all the “inconveniences” of educating children or protecting workers. On our farms we’ve always relied on marginalized and vulnerable workers to do backbreaking manual labor, and now we’re pretending that they are the problem. With these new state laws we’re criminalizing them, telling them that their help is no longer wanted. So they’re leaving.

In Georgia, Gov. Deal suggested that ex-cons should do the work. But it turns out even this population can turn down jobs that are “unsuitable,” and most have. It seems that the few who tried often didn’t last a day in the fields.

So how do we move forward? The solution is not to find yet another vulnerable population to exploit in the fields. Instead, we need to end our addiction to cheap labor.

To start, farmworkers should have the same protections and safety standards as other industries. Despite the passage of the 1935 Fair Labor Standards Act, farmworkers – many of whom were African-American sharecroppers at the time – were excluded from many of its provisions. Decades later, farmworkers are still fighting for the most basic protections that other workers have, like overtime and child labor laws.

Farmworkers should have legal status, too. We all benefit when workers are on a level playing field. Honest employers who obey the laws would no longer be at a competitive disadvantage against unscrupulous employers who take advantage of undocumented workers. At the same time, workers would be able to leave bad jobs and complain about unsafe conditions without fear of being deported.

Finally, farmworkers should earn more than poverty wages. A study of migrant workers in Eastern NC found that nearly half don’t have enough food to feed their families year-round. But if farm wages were to rise by 40 percent, each seasonal farmworker would be lifted above the federal poverty line. The total cost to consumers? About $15 more per household per year. (Check out “Room for Debate” at the NY Times for more on this.)

In a down economy with high unemployment, it’s no surprise when politicians heap blame on the most vulnerable populations, like undocumented farmworkers. But the hard truth these politicians won’t admit is that farmworkers didn’t steal our jobs. We invited them. We needed their cheap, reliable labor and we were content when times were good and workers didn’t complain.

Now that we’re criminalizing undocumented workers in unprecedented ways, we’re merely reaping what we sowed. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Click here to read this editorial at the Raleigh News & Observer.


Documentary Film Harvest of Dignity to be featured on


CONTACT:  Bart Evans, Coordinator, Farmworker Advocacy Network
919-660-0704 (o) | 510-366-1604 (c) |

Documentary Film Harvest of Dignity to be featured on

August 9, 2011, Raleigh, NC — “Most people don’t realize that young kids are picking blueberries for our pies, sweet potatoes for our casseroles and tomatoes for our salads,” said Emily Drakage of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs.  Drakage works with farm worker children and their families. “People should be able to feel confident when they buy North Carolina produce that they’re not enjoying it at the expense of a child’s health and safety.” 

The Farmworker Advocacy Network and One Economy are proud to announce Harvest of Dignity, a new original documentary that provides an in-depth portrait of the people who harvest our food. Harvest of Dignity is exclusively featured online on One Economy’s Public Internet Channel,

“One Economy’s Public Internet Channel provides online programs that engage, inspire and facilitate action,” said Daniel Fellini, executive producer, One Economy Corporation, “Harvest of Dignity is a film that addresses a relevant issue facing communities and we hope it will be a catalyst for thought, discussion and engagement.” 

The Harvest of Dignity film comes on the 50-year anniversary of the acclaimed 1960 film Harvest of Shame, the last televised documentary by North Carolina-born journalist Edward R. Murrow that led to permanent changes in the laws protecting workers’ rights. The new film, Harvest of Dignity, combines interviews with North Carolina farmworkers, advocates, faith leaders and educators, documentary photos and interviews collected by Student Action with Farmworkers, and clips from the original Harvest of Shame documentary. Highlighting the struggles of farmworker families traveling the eastern migrant stream, the film compares conditions from 50 years ago and today and asks how much has changed.

“The good thing is that I haven’t gotten sick, right, because supposedly in this work many people get sick, from the tobacco and from the pesticides… They don’t tell us, but you can see that they are applying pesticides, or it smells like pesticides afterward. You can smell it when you enter the field, it smells of poison and you realize what is going on. And since the boss speaks English and you speak Spanish, you don’t understand much.”

–NC farmworker, 2010

This film was produced by Minnow Media in collaboration with the Farmworker Advocacy Network and Student Action with Farmworkers. The film is in Spanish and English with subtitles. FAN uses the documentary in its campaign to reform conditions for N.C. field and poultry workers. For more information about the Harvest of Dignity campaign, visit



CONTACTO:  Bart Evans, Coordinador, Red de Defensa de Trabajadores Agrícolas

(Farmworker Advocacy Network-FAN)
919-660-0704 (oficina) | 510-366-1604 (celular) |

El documental Cosecha de dignidad será presentado en

9 de agosto de 2011, Raleigh, NC — “La mayoría de las personas no se dan cuenta que niños pequeños están cosechando arándanos para nuestros postres, camotes para nuestros guisos y tomates para nuestras ensaladas”, comentó Emily Drakage de la Asociación de Programas de Oportunidad para Trabajadores Agrícolas (AFOP). Drakage trabaja con hijos de campesinos y sus familias. “La gente debe sentirse segura de que cuando compra productos alimenticios de Carolina del Norte no es a expensa de la salud y seguridad de un niño”.

La Red de Defensa de Trabajadores Agrícolas (FAN) y One Economy tienen el orgullo de presentar Cosecha de dignidad (Harvest of Dignity), un nuevo documental original que ofrece un retrato detallado de las personas que cosechan nuestros alimentos. Cosecha de dignidad está siendo presentada exclusivamente por Internet en el Public Internet Channel ( de One Economy Corporation.

“El Public Internet Channel de One Economy ofrece programas por Internet que inspiran y fomentan participación y acción”, comentó Daniel Fellini, productor ejecutivo de One Economy Corporation. “Cosecha de dignidad” aborda un tema pertinente para miembros de la comunidad y esperamos que sea un catalizador para discusión, pensamiento y participación”.

El estreno de Cosecha de dignidad coincide con el 50º aniversario de Cosecha de vergüenza (Harvest of Shame), el cual fue transmitido por televisión en 1960 y fue el último programa del periodista de Carolina del Norte Edward R. Murrow. El documental ayudó a que se hicieran cambios permanentes a las leyes para proteger los derechos de trabajadores. El nuevo documental, Cosecha de dignidad, combina entrevistas con trabajadores agrícolas, defensores, líderes religiosos y educadores de Carolina del Norte con fotografías documentales y entrevistas recopiladas por Estudiantes en Acción con Campesinos (Student Action with Farmworkers - SAF) y fragmentos del documental original Cosecha de vergüenza. La película compara las dificultades de los trabajadores agrícolas que viajaban por la ruta de la costa este hace 50 años con la situación actual de los trabajadores y pregunta cuánto ha cambiado.    

“Lo bueno es que no me he enfermado, la verdad, porque supuestamente mucha gente se enferma por este trabajo, por el tabaco y los pesticidas… No nos dicen, pero puedes ver que están rociando pesticidas o hueles los pesticidas después. Puedes olerlo cuando entras al campo, huele a veneno y te das cuenta de lo que está pasando. Y como el jefe habla inglés y tú hablas español, no entiendes mucho”.

–Trabajador agrícola en Carolina del Norte, 2010

El documental fue producido en español e inglés con subtítulos por Minnow Media, en colaboración con FAN (Red de Defensa de Trabajadores Agrícolas) y Estudiantes en Acción con Campesinos (Student Action with Farmworkers). FAN utiliza el trabajo documental en su campaña para reformar las condiciones de los trabajadores de campo y de la industria avícola en Carolina del Norte. Para mayor información sobre la campaña Cosecha de dignidad, visite



New Short Film: Uprooted Innocence

The Farmworker Advocacy Network worked with Professor Bruce Orenstein's video and social change class at Duke University to produce this brand new documentary about the Harvest of Dignity Campaign. Stay tuned for more...

This powerful student-made short film highlights an issue that most of us think disappeared a century ago - child labor.  Here in North Carolina, children as young as 12 years old and in some cases as young as 10 are allowed to labor in the fields, while in every other industry the minimum age is 14 or above. Agriculture is one of the three most dangerous industries in the nation, and yet every year across the country close to 500,000 farmworker children and youth risk their childhood, health, and well-being in order to bring food to our tables. Children in North Carolina are no exception.

Want more facts about children in North Carolina's fields?  Download the fact sheet now

Want to help end exploitative child labor?  Take action now.


A state of fear

Human rights abuses in North Carolina’s tobacco industry

Last week Oxfam America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) released a groundbreaking report on the conditions in North Carolina's tobacco fields.  Tobacco has always been a vital cash crop for NC, but this report confirms that too often workers at the heart of the supply chain live and work in slave-like conditions. 

The study includes direct quotes from tobacco workers:

Tobacco work is hard, but they don’t pay us like it is… the chemicals are very strong and they make you dizzy, sometimes you vomit, you get nauseous, it’s very tough….Your whole body feels tired, you don’t know… if it’s the spray [chemicals] or the tobacco.

—Jaime Arroyo, farmworker in Johnston County, North Carolina

I think our housing is disgusting. Not everyone has a mattress to sleep on, and there are 10 men in one room. There are three showers, but only one works, and the same goes for the toilets.  We don’t have a refrigerator or good ventilation.

—Aparicio Rosales, farmworker in Wilson County, North Carolina

Read more: Executive Summary | Website

Read more about FLOC's campaign with RJ Reynolds - a Winston-Salem-based company with over $2 billion in annual profits - to improve conditions for farmworkers.


Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving 

The Birth of North Carolina’s Food: farmhands at work 

By Erin Krauss

Many of us think of the USA as an industrialized and professionalized country, worlds away from dependence on the land. But the food we eat, whether fresh or highly processed, at one point came directly from the soil. It is easy to forget who works the soil to make food grow. In elementary school, all of us learned about the Food Chain – who consumes what and what it takes to keep things balanced. In light of Thanksgiving season this year, I propose that we all revisit this idea of the Food Chain. But instead of just thinking about what we eat on a daily basis, let us think about where it comes from. How is food planted, tended to, picked and shipped to our stores? Whose hands do this work? Have we ever shaken one of them or thanked one of them? Finally, what would we do these hands were no longer here to pick the food that nourishes our state’s people?

Where does North Carolina’s food come from? It comes from the 150,000 farm hands that tend to our soil – about 8,000 of whom are contracted and brought here on Agriculture Visas (H2A Visas). The other 142,000 are estimated to be undocumented immigrants. All of these people are needed to work the land to produce the food that NC demands. These people plant, tend and pick sweet potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries - NC’s top agro-crops. This job is not an easy one. Does everyone remember how hot it was this summer? Cities across NC set record high temperatures over 100 degrees. Can you imagine harvesting vegetables in 100-degree heat, carrying 2 tons of sweet potatoes on your back? This is the way that farm workers in NC make a buck. Two tons equals 4,000 pounds, which is the equivalent to the weight of your average car. Carrying a car on your back will earn $50 if you are a farm worker. (I earn $50 within four hours, sitting at a desk job at UNC.) This job is not one done only by strapping young men in perfect health; to the contrary, a number of people in the fields are women, middle-aged folks, and youth. According to the US Department of Labor, nationwide, in 2006, around 1.2 million children under the age of 20 resided on farms – many worked in the fields. Not only this, but did you know that the places farm workers live are called “Labor Camps”? Yes, you heard that right, Labor Camps. Reminiscent of times in history we’d rather let reside in the past, right? But oddly enough, these “Camps” still exist with many of the same conditions that people lived endured in the mid-20th Century. I’m not referring to sparseness; I’m talking about deplorable conditions. Bathrooms with no separation between the stalls for basic privacy; people washing their pesticide soaked clothes in buckets; no access to kitchen space to cook food; cockroach infested, tight spaces with 20, 30, 40 people in one-room buildings; and no landline phone provided for possible emergencies. This is what is really happening in the NC food chain: unhealthy working conditions, unliveable living conditions, and total naivety among the NC population regarding where the food comes from that nourishes our bodies and keeps us alive.

This Thanksgiving let us be conscious of what we know to be true about North Carolina: first, that it is a beautiful state and one that we are proud to live in. Second, that our neighbors, the farm workers, the people we depend on to feed us, are mistreated, hidden from the public, and neglected by employers and many legislators. The very people that feed us, half the time, are unable to feed their own families due to extreme levels of poverty. One in four of these people report being injured on the job – the job we ask them to do because we don’t want to do it. And these people’s voices are kept silent. Most US Citizens will not do the backbreaking work it takes to keep our stores stocked with an overabundance of food. But what we need to do as US citizens is speak up. We have the voting, constituent power to make a difference, speak out in our communities, and to talk to our legislators.

This Thanksgiving I invite my neighbors, residents of the Triangle area, to make a daily effort to think about food. Where does it come from, how many hands touched it before it arrived on your plate? Who planted it, made it grow, harvested it, and processed it? I invite you to talk about food with your children, loved ones, friends, and co-workers. I invite you to hold an event at your church, at your home, at your school – a dinner, a film screening, or a discussion. And finally, I urge you to speak up to your representatives – and tell them that you support legislation that will ensure safe living and working conditions for farm workers and will demand the enforcement of current protections that exist for people who harvest our food. 

This fall, the Farm worker Advocacy Network is launching a new legislative and community engagement campaign to support farm workers. If you want to be involved in any way, shape, or form, call to find out about how you can help.  Farmworker Advocacy Network (919) 861-2064; ask for Erin Krauss.


Stephen Colbert in Support of AgJOBS

Photo by Alex Brandon

Last week, comedian Steven Colbert caused a stir by testifying before Congress in support of the AgJOBS bill. Colbert’s larger than life persona brought a record number of cameras to the “Protecting America’s Harvest” hearing held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security. While pundits and bloggers disagree about the appropriateness of Colbert’s appearance, very little is being said about the substance of the bill he went to Washington to support: AgJOBS. AgJOBS would provide a legal, stable labor supply and help ensure that farmworkers are treated fairly. The proposal contains two main parts:

  1. An "earned legalization" program enabling many undocumented farmworkers and H-2A guestworkers to earn a "blue card" temporary immigration status with the possibility of becoming permanent residents of the U.S. by continuing to work in agriculture and by meeting additional requirements; and
  2. Revisions to the existing H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.

AgJOBS is a bipartisan bill that enjoys broad support in Congress. The AgJOBS compromise was carefully negotiated by the United Farm Workers and major agribusiness employers after years of intense conflict. AgJOBS is endorsed by major labor and management representatives, as well as a broad spectrum of organizations, including Latino community leaders, civil rights organizations, religious groups and farmworkers themselves.

AgJOBS represents a significant step forward for workers.  It has been on Congress' plate for several sessions and, with significant bipartisan and industry support, there is no reason that it can't move forward now.  If you believe that farmworkers should have more rights on the job and should have the opportunity to earn legal immigration status, please contact your Senators and Representative.  You can take action in support of AgJOBS here.

Here is the segment from The Colbert Report on Colbert's day spent as a farmworker:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Fallback Position - Migrant Worker Pt. 2
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

Florida farmworkers see better wages with Fair Food Agreement

A step forward for better wages and conditions for Florida farmworkers this week as foodservice leader Sodexho and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a leading voice for human rights in the US agricultural industry, have joined forces to improve farmworker wages and working conditions in the tomato fields of Florida.

Under the terms of the agreement, which puts in place a strict Florida tomato supplier code of conduct, Sodexo will also pay a 1.5-cent premium for every pound of Florida tomatoes purchased, with the premium going directly to improving wages for tomato harvesters who are part of Sodexo's supply chain.

The agreement takes effect when the fall harvest begins in Florida.

Through this agreement, Sodexo, along with other CIW partner companies, will steer its tomato purchases toward those growers who make a genuine effort to meet the specific code of conduct, and away from those growers who continue to be associated with abusive labor practices.

Read more here from Sustainable Food News.