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  • Bradley Urso

    This is an awesome topic that needs to be addressed, thank you Sanjay. I grew up in the Central Valley of California and there are towns in which there is 100% employment yet everyone lives bellow the poverty line. I think that's rotten and it makes me happy to see a filmmaker addressing farm worker's rights.

    • Sanjay Rawal

      Thanks for the encouragement Bradley. My dad worked in agriculture thru the Central Valley, specifically with farms off Highway 99. It's incredible how poor those areas are. Fresno County is the richest ag county in the state (when including meat and dairy), but is also the poorest county in the state. It has $6 billion in annual revenue - but it's inhabitants are amongst the poorest. Crazy!

  • gypsychant

    Keep the pressure on Publix and it will only spread the good once they see we mean business with our $.

  • Debby Heffernan

    Sanjay, I would like to know what we can do to change this? How can the average person, get involved and turn this around? I found this information shocking - I had no idea what goes on.

    • Nisha Vida

      Grow your own food! Participate in a local community garden. Get your neighbors to grow their own food and do food swaps. Step out of the system of buying food.

      Also, I think Sanjay's response is super interesting.

    • Sanjay Rawal

      Hi Debby, great question!! From spending the last 2 years trying to answer this question, I've found only one answer. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has the only proven program that addresses the inequities and their source (large retailers). They are protesting Wendy's and Publix (a gigantic south Eastern retailer). In my opinion, although it seems narrow just to support a group that only works on Florida tomatoes, once every major retailer has adopted their Fair Food Program for tomatoes, we can work on getting those retailers to support workers of other crops.
      Also, the CIW's model is entirely applicable to other industries like meat-packing, where a small number of retailers buy the majority of meat. If meat-packing workers focused activism not on their meat-packing employers but on the companies that control the supply chain, they too could achieve successes. But all of this depends on the success of the CIW's program. We've spoken to industry heads and they're all watching the CIW. Industry ultimately wants to serve customers and if retailers see enough customers wanting certain standards they'll do their part too - but not voluntarily.
      So this is a long way of suggesting supporting the CIW. Their Fair Food Tomatoes are only sold in Trader Joes and Whole FOods thus far (and are bought by most fast food retailers). Ask your grocer whether their Florida tomatoes (on shelves nationwide this time of year) are from the CIW's program and if they don't know about this, urge them to find out more at
      Another way is to get to know your farmer, whom you could honestly ask about their labor standards. Farmers at farmers markets are always willing to talk and the ones I know would be thrilled if people asked them about their farm labor. Thanks for the question!

      • SarahGVazquez

        Hi Debbie and Sanjay,

        It's a pleasure to discuss this issue with you both. I have been organizing with the Student/Farmworker Alliance and the CIW for 3 years now and am organizing with a local SFA group in Washington DC called DC Fair Food.

        I would say that the CIW's success is definitely grounded in their very poignant and extraordinarily comprehensive and in-depth campaign with the tomato industry. They have signed with 11 major national corporations to date and are working to sign with more.

        The super market industry has been one we've been breaking into since signing with Whole Foods (who pretty much jumped to join the rest of the fast food companies who had signed; they were a very fast campaign). And here in lies the challenge!! The super market shopper is very different than the fast food shopper (where the CIW started its campaign) and it requires very different community organizing strategy.

        This is why the Student/Farmworker Alliance (the ally organization that fights in solidarity with the CIW and organizes the consumer) has been sprouting local fair food groups throughout the nation, like DC Fair Food.

        Debby, where are you located? In addition to asking all these questions that Sanjay proposed, I suggest you get directly involved with your local fair food group!! It will grant you the opportunity to meet awesome people in your area but also to learn, struggle and succeed hand in hand with the CIW. Our Fair Food groups are all very connected to each other and it is truly a transformative movement to be a part of. We promote endogenous, grassroots campaign work and leadership development for all parties involved (farmworkers and consumers). I think this experience really helps us all understand the nuance and complications of how fast the agriculture industry really is and how powerful corporations are, yet, how powerful we are too!!

        If you would like to learn more about how to get involved in your local fair food group, please reach out! I will say, I am biased. And, I think that because (as Sanjay points out) the CIW is truly revolutionary in the change it's engaging with, joining this movement with your hands, heart and head will be rewarding and impactful! You can do this by engaging with your local fair food group :)

        In solidarity,

  • Ronnie Das

    Sanjay, this is absolutely incredible. Great to see your creativity and talent being used to explore an important issue. Had no idea it was Farmworker Awareness Week and learned quite a bit more about the food system. Keep up the hard work and thanks for sharing!

  • Lauren Weinstein

    I had the opportunity, about 5 years ago, to work with some incredible people on a documentary surrounding the injustices faced by banana workers in Nicaragua. Reading your article and watching your compelling trailer reminded me that I have failed to recognize such similar injustices occuring in my own country, America. Thank you for bringing this important issue to public attention and for the crucial work you're doing in documentary film.

    • Ronnie Das

      That's a great story Lauren. Sometimes its difficult to see the injustices in our own backyard, definitely guilty of the same. Anyways, wanted to just say its great that you took time in Nicaragua and to see that your continuing to be so involved in finding articles like these about an issue your interested in.

    • Sanjay Rawal

      Wow! Sounds like an amazing project Lauren. I'd love to know more. I had a similar experience. I had done a number of projects overseas and couldn't imagine the same poverty in our own agricultural system. In fact, when I saw farmworker camps up close, they were reminiscent of those I'd seen in Haiti and Central Africa but some are just 35 minutes from cities like Naples, one of the richest in the US. It shocked me too!

  • marvinlzinn

    The real cause of these unfair conditions are not just retail business or farm owners,. but customers who want things cheap. If they did not produce things with hard work paying little, then competitors would succeed and they would fail. That is also why we don't have jobs; it is cheaper to have them made in China where the laborers are treated like slaves.

    Personally I never look for something cheap. Even when I had three years with a limit of one dollar per meal (not long ago) I bought only the best organic quality, and supported family operations sometimes a lot higher price instead of any large corporation like WalMart. If this was done widely, most of our economic problems would end.

    • Sanjay Rawal

      Great analysis Marvin. And you're right - supporting small families is infinitely better than supporting big business when it comes to getting some guarantees of sustainability. In our film, we chose to focus on industry, however, as 98% of our fresh produce is sold out of the farmers market channel. And what we've found is that prices don't need to go up at all for corporations to ensure labor is paid better.
      The cost of doubling wages of tomato workers amounts to an extra penny per pound. The Wal-Marts of the world have sucked so much of the revenue out of the supply chain that we hold them responsible to put it back in - when it comes to workers. When workers get paid well, they can accumulate savings however meager. This cushion enables them to quit jobs where they're being abused. As it stands now, their economic desperation ties them to paychecks and forces them to endure conditions of abuse that they don't want to.
      So our thesis is that these multibillion dollar corporations whose profits run in the billions (that's $$ left over at the end of the year!) could easily pay a premium to ensure fair wages - all without raising prices.
      Now I'm just talking labor. Your points are well take, Martin. Thanks!!

      • CeOtt

        Hi Sanjay. Congratulations on your film! This is why that - if I need to buy something from a grocery store - I shop at Whole Foods. I know they're not perfect, but I feel like they do more to support fairness in the food chain. I try to buy as much of my produce as possible from local producers.

        When I was a kid, I walked soy bean fields and detasseled corn in rural Illinois. Did it for two very hot, wet summers and it gave me an intimate understanding of just a small part of a farm worker's life. Folks... it sucks. And that was in Illinois, not even hotter and muggier Florida!!!

        • Sanjay Rawal

          Whole Foods is good in that they care about labor - when asked about it. Like all multibillion dollar retailers, profit is king, but Whole Foods is easier to move forward than others.
          And great story about Illinois. I don't envy farm labor on any level - it's hard!