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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Panel discusses food justice for local farmworkers

When fresh produce fills our grocery stores and local markets, we rarely stop and think about the people involved in getting it there.

Millions of farm workers in communities all across the country work to provide food for all of us and Western’s Students for Farmworker Justice are helping to support local farmworkers through hosting events and fundraising for different community oriented groups.

Students for Farmworker Justice hosted an event featuring keynote speaker Dr. Michael Dorsey, a nationally recognized scholar in environmental protection, and three Whatcom community members involved in the fight for food justice.

The panel’s discussion centered on the practices and processes in our food industry that systematically work against the farm workers who gather and produce all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that line our shelves.

Dorsey lead the opening of the discussions with an introduction to the ways in which our food industry exercises discrimination towards farm workers and those who stand in solidarity with them.

“To say that the food system is broken, I think, is incorrect,” Dorsey said. “What we really need to say is that the system of capitalism and racism… is functioning properly because its function is based upon exploiting labour along race and class lines. That’s not a broken system per say, that’s how it’s designed.”

Ramón Torres, president of Familias Unidas por La Justicia, a local union of indigenous farmworkers, spoke about his life as a local farmworker. He detailed the injustices workers are exposed to including having no access to breaks, paid sick leave, or even knowledge of what their daily wages will be.

Torres, who speaks Spanish, had another panelist, Edgar Franks, translate for him as he explained what it’s like in the life of an everyday farmworker and their family.

“Kids as young as 12 years old can be out working,” Torres said, “and we have to work in the rain kneeling down and muddy. And we still didn’t get breaks or lunches.”

The final two panelists, Franks and Michelle Vendiola, work closely with Community to Community, a local organization that supports local and national farm workers in their fight for changes to policy regarding worker’s rights.

During the panel, Franks, Torres and Vendiola contributed their personal experiences with local food production and how our food industry has affected each of their individual perspectives.

“We live, unfortunately, in a world where everything is available to those that have everything and often times not enough is available to those that don’t have sufficient resources,” Dorsey said “That general phenomenon translates into the food system.”

Franks, program coordinator for Community to Community, works with both local and national groups on community transformative work in the food industry. He engages with community members to get them involved in local events for farmworker justice.

“It’s good to reach out to students,” Franks said, “letting them know that there is local organizing and local movements they can participate in.”

Greta Merkel, president of Students for Farmworker Justice, organized the event, inviting Dorsey and Community to Community to bring information about the fight for food justice to Western’s campus.

Students for Farmworker Justice began in an effort to help local farm workers unionize so they have a more effective way to negotiate with growers and corporations.

“We first started to support the boycott and support the union,” Merkel said. “That’s what we’d been doing until they got the union formalized and began the negotiation process. Since then we’ve been working on fundraising mostly for community organizers.”

On May 7th community members will march 18 miles from Lynden to Bellingham to show they stand in solidarity with farm workers.

For more information about upcoming events in food justice and the fight for fair treatment of farmworkers, visit foodjustice.org the official website for Community to Community.

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