What does it mean to have a sustainable food system? Many people may immediately think of conventional topics such as food share programs, organic, heirloom non-GMO growing, composting, community-based agriculture, and the list goes on. What is not commonly listed may surprise you, and yet it is one of the least represented elements in discussions on sustainability: human labor. Labor is a crucial component along the entire food production line, bringing our food from field to fork.
Agriculture is only one part of this system, yet there are approximately 2-3 million men, women, and yes, children, employed in farm work in the United States alone. Most of these workers are migrant or seasonal workers from Mexico, Central and South America. Regardless of their immigration status they are more vulnerable to exploitation due to social/cultural and geographical isolation. Farmworkers are also exempt from federal workers protection laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, that include standards for workplace safety, overtime, insurance, child labor laws, and protection when joining a union. Consequently, farmworkers live and work in some of the most dangerous conditions, and have some of the highest rates of disease, injury, and stress in the nation. Farmworker women, particularly, are exposed to unfair treatment and exploitation. Beyond the demands of farmworker life, women are threatened regularly with sexual and domestic violence (4 out of 5 farm worker women have experienced sexual harassment or assault on the job), as well as suppressed or withheld wages, reproductive barriers, and expectations for family care-taking.
Dining Team Green is joining in a national movement to highlight labor as a critical aspect of our food system, calling the University of Rochester to action and raising awareness about issues that affect us all, as eaters and lovers of food. From March 25-March 29, Dining Team Green will be hosting the first annual Farmworkers Awareness Week, offering the campus community opportunities to learn about, participate in, and donate to communities in New York. We have also officially partnered with two other campaigns: the National Long Sleeve Shirt Drive (by the Association for Farmworker Opportunity Programs) and the National Bandana Project (by Justice for Migrant Women and the Esperanza branch of the Southern Poverty Law Center). We will be collecting long-sleeve shirts all week in Common Connections, which will be donated to farmworkers for protection against sun and pesticide exposure. The Bandana Project is an awareness campaign about sexual violence against farmworker women, symbolizing the bandanas (and other clothing items) that women have used to conceal their genders or to protect themselves from sexual harassment in the fields. Bandanas will be decorated all week for display on the Douglass Expression Wall as a symbol of solidarity and support. There will also be a donation bin outside Hillside Market, to collect food and clothing for a local urban garden, Grow Green Rochester. Each day, we will be tabling in Wilson Commons to support a political action related to farmworkers, from petitions against pesticide usage to writing letters to politicians in support of the DREAM act (keeping immigrant families together), to supporting campaigns to allow farmworkers the right to get drivers licenses in New York. We will also be screening the film, Dolores, with UR Cinema Group, on Monday, March 25 at 7pm in Hoyt Auditorium.
But how do we flip the script? First, by listening to farmworkers themselves. Our most important event of the week will be on Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30pm, when we will be joined by a panel of 5-7 farmworker women and their allies from supporting organizations to discuss community building, advocacy work, and justice for farmworker women. These amazing women are part of groups such as Mujeres Divinas and Alianza Agricola, and work closely with our visiting representatives from the Workers Justice Center of New York and the Rural Migrant Ministry. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from, listen to, and talk with women living and working in farms across New York. We hope you will join us, and help show that the University is committed to justice, equity, and solidarity with farmworkers!
Check out all of our events for Farmworkers Awareness Week on our Facebook!
This event would not be made possible without support from the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center and the One Community Grant.
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Guest Post Written by Sophia McRae, Class of 2019, Dining Team Green Sustainability Intern