"Many of us did not go to school, but we are architects. Architects of a new reality."
--Gerardo Reyes, Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Over the past four years as a student at Vanderbilt and resident of Nashville, I have been privileged to work with many people who are working toward a more just community for all of us.
One of these groups of people is Nashville Fair Food, a diverse group of Nashvillians including people of faith, students, and community members. Growing up hearing stories from my parents and grandparents about their family farm, I had ideas about farm work and food that were nostalgic and positive. I had no idea what kind of food might, in the twentieth or twenty-first century, be "picked by the hand of a slave."
Nashville Fair Food works to support the Campaign for Fair Food, started by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which seeks to bring together consumers and farmworkers to bring major food corporations to change their supply chain practices and support the CIW's Fair Food Program, the most credible and comprehensive social responsibility program in U.S. agriculture today. In an industry where beatings of workers used to be commonplace, the Fair Food Program has brought a new day to Florida's tomato fields, where 90% of fresh tomatoes eaten in the U.S. during the non-summer months are grown.
Now, workers in these fields have guaranteed shade and water, a right to minimum wage, a right to a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, a right to a work environment free from sexual harassment, a right to be free from slavery and forced labor, and on-the-job worker-to-worker training on these rights.
There is still work to be done so that this progress in the agricultural industry continues and that these new rights of workers are protected and expanded.
Publix Supermarkets has refused to join the Fair Food Program, saying that "if there are some atrocities going on, it's not our business," presumably referring to the seven federal slavery prosecutions in Florida agriculture involving over 1,200 workers over the past decade.
Publix's refusal to join, as one of the largest buyers of tomatoes, threatens to block the progress in human rights that has been made by the CIW and their allies over the past decade of the Campaign for Fair Food. But as Nashville residents and students and consumers of tomatoes, we have the power to change this, especially since Publix is expanding in the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area and they are very attentive to how their potential customers view their practices.
I joined many of these workers in their 200-mile march on foot from Immokalee, where they live and work, to Lakeland, Florida, where Publix Supermarkets is headquartered. Nashville Fair Food needs your support to expand and continue its work
with the Campaign for Fair Food and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Please contribute generously toward this cause that is dear to my
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." -MLK