Farm News

Posted 12/19/2008 12:34pm by Trent Thompson.

Michael Pollan recently commented on the Vilsack pick for Secretary of Ag. Listen here. I think most of us in the small-farm/organic community were hoping for a less conventional pick than Vilsack. As Pollan notes, it is especially disturbing that both Vilsack and Obama both seem to think that corn-based ethanol is a good idea...hopefully this will change.

Posted 12/10/2008 9:26am by Trent Thompson.

The Immokalee farm workers have won yet another victory, getting a one penny per pound raise for their tomatoes purchased by Subway. This may not sound like much, but to these pickers, it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of their lives.  Here is the news:

Tomato Workers Win Agreement With Subway

by James Parks, Dec 8, 2008

The campaign to bring better wages and improve working conditions to Florida’s tomato fields took a big step last week when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) reached agreement with Subway, the world’s third largest fast-food chain and biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes.

Subway also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling on the Florida tomato industry to institute an industry-wide penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for all Florida tomato harvesters. That means the workers will get 72 cents to 77 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, up from 40 cents to 45 cents.

Subway is the latest restaurant or supermarket chain to sign an agreement with CIW. Yum! Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods Market all have signed pacts. Geraldo Reyes of CIW says:

With this agreement, the four largest restaurant companies in the world have now joined their voices to the growing call for a more modern, more humane agricultural industry in Florida. Now it is time for other fast-food companies and the supermarket industry to follow suit and for the promise of long-overdue labor reform in Florida’s fields contained in these agreements to be made real. 

The Subway/CIW pact also calls for a tougher supplier code of conduct that allows farm workers to help monitor the growers’ compliance and includes strict “zero tolerance” guidelines for the most egregious labor rights violations. Subway also has voluntarily extended the higher standards to its entire supply chain, not just tomatoes. 

Photo credit: CIW

Gerardo Reyes (seated, right) of the CIW and Jan Risi of Subway’s purchasing arm celebrate the signing of an agreement to improve wages and working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.

Leading up to all the agreements, the AFL-CIO mobilized thousands of workers to march, rally and protest the injustice in the tomato fields. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has championed the tomato workers’ cause, says the new agreement is “yet another blow to the scourge of slavery that continues to exist in the tomato fields of Florida.”

Subway is to be congratulated for moving to ensure that none of its products are harvested by slave or near-slave labor. Sadly, too many other companies continue to tolerate this travesty.

The tomato workers also picked up some high-profile support from the religious community. The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement praising the CIW and Subway for their agreement and challenging the remainder of the retail food industry to now follow suit.

Subway’s decision sends an unmistakable message to the rest of the retail food industry and to Florida growers: The industry can and must ensure human rights for farm workers… 

…Will the rest of the restaurant and grocery industry now step forward to become part of this momentous advance for human rights? The answer is not only up to the companies but to those of us who are conscious consumers as well. 

A little more than a week ago, more than 80 human rights, labor, student, faith and community organizations—members of the Alliance for Fair Food—sent a letter to some 50 supermarket, restaurant and food service companies calling on them to join the fight for justice in the tomato fields. The letter says, in part: 

It is vitally important that your company take an active role in advancing human rights and fair wages for farm workers given that your company’s low-cost, high-volume tomato purchasing practices help to create conditions in the fields where poverty wages and other human rights abuses flourish. Through these purchasing practices, retail food companies such as yours share responsibility for farm worker poverty and human rights abuses. However, your company also has the power to be a leader by improving wages and conditions in your supply chain by working with the CIW to implement socially responsible purchasing practices.

The Subway agreement came the same day that CIW began a Northeast Fair Food Tour to 10 cities along the East Coast to educate people about their cause and to highlight the role supermarkets and restaurants can play in solving the problem.  

The tour began in Miami and continues through Dec. 10 with stops in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Boston; Providence, R.I.; New Haven and Milford, Conn.; and New York City. For more information and to follow the tour, click here.  


Posted 12/4/2008 3:51pm by Trent Thompson.

Internal documents from the Reagan Administration were released today, showing that the administration was willing to overlook Iraq's numerous human rights violations, including the gassing of the Kurds, in order to continue over $1 billion dollars of agricultural commodity exports to the country annually. While putting profits before people is nothing new to U.S. foreign policy and is continuing today in Iraq, it is important to understand the dangers of having agricultural policies in America that encourage the overproduction of commodities and have turned Agribusiness into such a strong political force.

Crop subsidies for wheat, corn, rice, etc. certainly do lower the price of many foods for consumers. In fact, because corn comprises such a large component of our diets (because of its cheapness due to subsidies, it is used in just about every processed food, soda, or meat), we are literally walking cornchips (see the documentary King Corn). The negative health effects of diets comprised of cheap, processed foods are well documented. The rise of Type II diabetes, heart disease, and obesity in America can all be traced back to the increased consumption of fast food and processed foods that rely heavily on cheap commodities such as corn for ingredients. 

Crop subsidies, though, have also spawned the rise of mega-farms (since payments are doled out by acreage, not financial need, the big tend to get bigger) and have produced huge surpluses of commodities for the domestic market. The result is that international markets must be opened up to sell the commodity, say, wheat (see wheat exports), corn, or soy. The U.S.'s policy towards Iraq back in 1988 highlighted one of the problems with crop subsidies, overproduction, and the pressure to secure international markets. The Reagan Administration was surely lobbied by agribusiness to keep the country's market open, despite clear abuses of power by Saddam. By choosing to look-the-other way in 1988, U.S. policy arguably helped prop Saddam up, as well as made him believe that future questionable actions would also go unpunished. He, of course, proceeded to initiate the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Interestingly, U.S. policy tends not to support other country's crop subsidies. In fact, since the U.S. takeover of Iraq, the U.S. has been intent on pushing privatization for the country's agricultural sector. This policy is intended to weaken Iraqi farmers' competitive advantage over U.S. farmers, thus, opening up the export market for U.S. commodities. According to U.S. policymakers, the free market is good for Iraqi farmers, while U.S. policy for its own commodity farmers is more welfare-oriented.

So, food policy is rather amusing and nonsensical! We here at Green Gardens receive no subsidies, neither do most small farmers across the country. Vegetables and fruits, the crops that are truly good for us, receive almost no federal subsidy money. While I'm not totally opposed to subsidies in agriculture, it seems that the subsidies are going towards the wrong crops and encouraging too much production and export. In my opinion, we need to begin to subsidize agricultural systems that encourage sustainability and health. For example, how about subsidizing crops that are grown and sold locally, say, within the state of Michigan. While I don't feel we really need nor want a subsidy here at Green Gardens, this would undoubtedly encourage local production and cut down on energy and emissions from food transport. As for health, why not subsidize crops like broccoli and greens. This would lower their prices and encourage consumption, especially among the poor and middle-class who often find fresh vegetables unaffordable compared to cheaper processed foods. Getting Americans to eat fresh, vegetables and fruits again would cut spending on healthcare in America by perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It turns out that the treatment cost for obesity alone is over $100 billion annually in the U.S. Cheap food is actually very, very, expensive.

Posted 12/1/2008 12:47pm by Trent Thompson.

Michael Pollan (a leading food systems critic) sat down with Bill Moyers of PBS last week for a lengthy interview about food policy in America and what Americans can do to change it. If Pollan's Farmer In Chief article was a little too long for you, this video might be a good substitute. In the interview, Pollan links industrial food production to problems with healthcare, climate change, and national security, as well as advocates for a local, sustainable model of agriculture for our nation's future. Will the White House lawn be turned into a 5-acre mini-farm as he suggests it should? We'll see.

Here is the interview: Pollan with Moyers

For more information on Pollan and his works, click here.


If you like the dietary advice from Pollan above, you can download a full-page PDF of it over at Matthew McGlynn's to post on your refrigerator.