Wednesday, November 2, 2011 Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some Reflections on Farm Workers’ Rights

What were 1.5 million agricultural works to do after NAFTA flooded Mexico’s market with artificially low priced corn, effectively eliminating their jobs?  Speaking at Yale on October 11th, that was just one question Richard Mandelbaum of the Comité De Apoyo A Los Trabajadores Agrícolas (C.A.T.A.), or the Farmworker Support Committee, posed to us.  Among the others: how are we to think about a racialized food system, and how does that system neglect the livelihoods of millions in the United States?

First and foremost, it’s vital to recognize the inherent harm to which agricultural workers in this country are vulnerable, especially those 300,000  employed in the fields of big agribusiness companies.  Aside from being exposed to various pesticide and fungicide toxins and the possibility of machine-related accidents, many of these folks live without adequate healthcare (if any at all) and under threat of deportation due to their status as transnational undocumented workers.

What makes the food system even more unjust is that most farmworkers have none of the rights afforded in every other workplace.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, which provide for overtime compensation, Social Security, unemployment, workers comp, and protection against child labor, as well as organizing rights provided by the National Labor Relations Act, aren’t guaranteed in the fields. This can lead to conditions in direct violation of international laws governing human rights and safe work places.

Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that our food system is highly racialized.  People of color have been bound to fields since this country’s earliest days, when its founders imported laborers from Africa to work the land. Abolition lead to sharecropping, slavery’s cousin; our current system exploits immigrants from Mexico (increasingly from indigenous and rural communities) and other Central and South American countries, taking advantage of their poverty, ignorance and lack of legal standing to force them to do jobs that citizens would never consider taking on.  

Reform is happening in many sites throughout the food system.  While media often privileges small sustainable farmers and farmers’ market patrons, it’s important that we expand our focus to include resistance by migrant and settled farmworkers elsewhere in the United States.  C.A.T.A is organizing, training, and fighting for farmworker justice in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.  What’s more, their organization is led by a board of directors composed of organization members, all of whom are fieldworkers.  This is a telling example of power created by and for the people most marginalized by our everyday food choices.  Justice is possible, but it’ll take a lot more than buying our salvation; for more information about how to get involved in and support the fight for food and farmworker justice, visit www.cata-farmworkers.org.

Cody Hooks is a junior American Studies major in Trumbull College. He was a 2011 Lazarus Summer Intern on the Yale Farm. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011 Monday, October 24, 2011 Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This year for Harvest Festival we decided to forgo our usual homegrown folk-rock in favor of some world music. The Harris Brothers played traditional Balkan tunes, and then Kouffin Kanecke, an Ethiopian drum group, laid down beats and taught us all a few moves. Good thing there was pizza to keep everyone energetic all afternoon!

Last Friday’s Harvest Festival looked like it was going to be a bummer— it had been raining for days, and a grey, soggy afternoon doesn’t tempt many out for Farm work, even when combined with the promise of pizza, cider and live music! Luckily our hearty volunteers and dedicated student staff didn’t let a little drizzle rain out the day— they came out in force to complete the harvest for Saturday’s farmers’ market, and the sun came out that afternoon as we ate, drank, danced and celebrated together. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Last week we were thrilled to join Calhoun College in welcoming Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheesemongers, and Patrick Martins, of Heritage Foods USA, for a conversation about marketing and selling sustainable products. Anne started her stall in Essex Market in order to promote the incredible cheeses produced in New England; Patrick sees his business as a crucial connection between small-scale farmers and the big city restaurateurs they want to serve. They also contribute to the conversation with a radio station devoted to sustainable living.

Here are some pictures of the tea, the cheese tasting Anne led, and the dinner YSFP student staff helped prepare with meats sourced from Heritage Foods and produce from our very own Yale Farm. It was a fascinating afternoon, and a delicious meal!

Monday, October 17, 2011 Wednesday, September 21, 2011 Thursday, September 1, 2011

Classes started yesterday, which means that tomorrow the YSFP will welcome the new school year with our first pizza workday of the season. Come by between 1:00 and 5:00 pm to get your hands dirty helping us out with the harvest, and stick around for pizza at 5:00— we make the dough ourselves, top it with the fruits of your labor in the garden and cook it to crusty perfection in our wood-fired oven. It’s definitely in contention for the best slice in the city (in fact, some would say there’s no competing with ours), so if you consider yourself a pizza completeist— or even if you’re just curious— stop by and check it out!