If you live in the US and you’ve eaten in the past few days (and if you’re reading this, chances are you have), you have benefited from the labor of a farm worker. While media hype tells us about the industrialized food production system in the U.S., you might be surprised to know that the vast majority of fruits and vegetables are handpicked by farm workers. These foods are often too delicate to be handled by machines, and need to be picked by hand to ensure they’re harvested at the right time. Without farm workers, our multi-billion dollar agricultural industry could not survive.
In order to put food on dinner tables across the country, farm workers endure some of the most dangerous working conditions of any occupation. Still, they are paid sub-poverty wages and face a series of hardships. For instance, farm workers are exposed to toxic chemicals from pesticides that soak into their skin, causing rashes, eye injuries and other health concerns. Labor laws allow children as young as 12 years old to work in fields, unlike other jobs which require a minimum age of 16. These are just a couple examples in a long list of issues that includes abuse at the workplace, racism in the community, deplorable housing conditions, denial of basic rights, protections and social services, and even modern day slavery.
We see images of these types of working and living conditions in other parts of the world, but we rarely hear about it when it’s happening right in our own backyard. Farm workers usually live in isolated rural areas outside of cities. Most are immigrants, and the majority are youth and young adults just like you who work hard to put food on your plate. Is exploitation how we should be thanking the people who feed us?
As consumers, we all participate in this food system, alongside farm workers, the growers who employ them, and companies like grocery stores and restaurants that distribute and sell the food we eat.
We are connected to- and indeed dependent on- farm workers. This is why we invite you to stand in solidarity with farm workers as they organize to improve their working and living conditions.
We believe that farm work is hard work, and the people who do it should be treated with dignity and respect.
Across the country, farm workers are demanding a seat at the table with the people that have the ability to change these conditions, and a voice in the communities they sustain. We will continue to stand with them until farm workers get the justice they deserve.