Farmworkers Exploited at Both Ends of the Production Line

One of the greatest injustices of our current, industrial food system is that it exploits farmworkers and their families at both ends of the production line—first as workers and then again as consumers.  As workers, they perform back-breaking labor in dangerous conditions for sub-poverty wages and can legally work at the age of 12.  As consumers, farmworkers and their families are exploited once again—this time, the sheer poverty and isolation that result from their initial exploitation bar them from purchasing the very same produce they worked so hard to harvest.

Access to healthy and nutritious food is a major issue for farmworker families, even though without their sacrifices we would not be able to enjoy that plentiful bounty ourselves.  According to statistics published by the Network for a Healthy California, 39% of low-income Latino adults in California experience food insecurity, meaning they cannot afford to put food on the table on a consistent basis.  In 2007, Latinos experienced nearly twice the rate of food insecurity as other households in the United States.  Food insecurity and lack of access to healthy food also lead to major health issues—currently in California, 37% of Latino adolescents are overweight or at risk of being overweight, 38% of low-income Latino adults are already overweight, and 31% of low-income Latino adults are obese.  While many programs are currently working to combat this public health epidemic, they often fail to recognize the unique difficulties faced by our nation’s farmworker population. Grassroots organizations across the state are working hard to provide farmworkers with necessary social services, advocating for and with them, and educating the public about the plight of farmworkers.

Thankfully, there are groups all across the country that do recognize these unique challenges and are working on more holistic approaches to solving them.  Often called Food Policy Councils, these coalitions work to overhaul regional food systems or create new pathways altogether to allow for access, health and equity for everyone involved.  By simultaneously addressing all three major concerns of sustainability—environmental preservation, economic viability and social equity—Food Policy Councils bring diverse community members, government agencies and private organizations together to reshape an area’s relationship to its food and the people behind it.

Here in Sacramento, our local Food Policy Council is known as the Sacramento Region Food System Collaborative. With its diverse membership, the group works to improve access to healthy foods in low-income communities, eliminate health disparities, and support the viability of local agriculture.  I have been working with the coalition to promote its Sacramento Region Food Charter, which states our region’s commitment to a food system that is secure, equitable, accessible, healthful, sustainable and local.  Recently, the county of Yolo voted to adopt the charter and we are building further momentum in other parts of the 6-County Sacramento/Capital Region.

Two percent of what is consumed in our region is actually produced in our region, and this situation is undoubtedly repeated in communities all across America.  In order to direct more of this bounty back into the communities that need it—especially the farmworker communities responsible for that harvest in the first place—it is crucial people work together to address all aspects of the sustainability equation.  Good food is not just good for the environment and good for our bodies—it is also produced in a fair and just manner for all of the workers involved.  Good food has to be good for workers and consumers, as well as people who are both.

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