The survey conducted in two parts with over 200 respondents in the spring of 2002 and the spring of 2003 confirms that three out of four American fresh fruit consumers care about the conditions that farm workers face and would be willing to pay more for “living wage” produce. Approximately two out of three consumers would also support a Federal tax credit for certified growers that would enable them to better pay living wages to their workers
The Harvest Farm in Immokalee, Florida, an entity of Harvest for Humanity, is committed to diversified niche crop farming. One of the niche crops is delicious blueberries that are purchased by consumers in the spring in Southwest Florida and elsewhere. The blueberries are harvested in Immokalee, Florida two months before they are available throughout the rest of the nation. The Harvest Farm is committed to paying each employee a living wage to empower men and women to adequately provide for their families. Because of the living wage, consumers are asked to pay slightly more for the products that the farm produces. The difference goes directly to the farm worker in the form of a living wage of at least $8.50 per hour.
The purpose of this study was to test the viability of a “differential label” that singles out Harvest Blueberries from the rest as 1.) USA Grown, and 2.) Picked by workers paid a “Living Wage.” The project involved development and administration of intercept surveys to shoppers during May 2002 and May 2003 in Southwest Florida. The survey instrument used is included in the Appendix of this report.
Not that a “living wage” may be defined as the level of income sufficient to allow workers to support their families without dependence upon outside (public) assistance. A more narrow definition suggests that it is the income level necessary to pull a family of four above the poverty threshold, adjusted for local economic variable, with a range of $8.00 to $13.00 per hour. Ordinances at municipal levels already exist in over 100 cities and counties nationwide. Some ordinances have included health benefits, paid vacation days, public disclosure and other forms of worker protection.
The adoption of a living wage for farm workers would have far reaching effects and positive impacts for the workers, the agricultural industry, the farming communities, and the nation. Some of the objectives that could be accomplished would include the following:
– Provide a means for growers to sustain year round, loyal employees and reduce the dependency on transient labor
– Help reduce the influx of illegal and undocumented workers
– Improve the educational program for all farm worker children by allowing them to remain in school for the full year
– Begin to provide the means for new commercial development and acutely needed services in urban/rural farming communities such as Immokalee, Florida
– Provide bottom line benefits to participating advocates by embracing a cause related approach similar to, for example, “organic”, “green”, etc.
– Have minimal impact on the retail cost of farm products
This project has been conducted to determine specific performance targets for the following:
– Whether the grower and/or the retailers, or the government should have the responsibility
of preventing substandard farm worker related conditions
– Whether consumer respondents would shop more at retailers promoting “fair food” and “living wage” produce
– Whether respondents would be willing to pay 5% more for certified “fair foods” or “living wage” produce
– Whether consumers would support a Federal tax credit benefit paid to certified growers who pay their farm workers more or at least equal to a determined living wage level
This project could set the stage, depending on the results of the surveys, for implementation of a “Living Wage” Campaign or a “Fair Food America” Campaign among elements of the Agricultural Industry. The campaigns could include certification of growers; a local, regional, and/or national ad campaign; and, enlistment of retailer chains at the national level to provide a “Living Wage/Fair Food America Produce” section in their stores.
Harvest for Humanity has commercially harvested blueberries in the spring of 2002 and the spring 2003. A portion of the harvest has been sold in the local Southwest Florida area using the Harvest Blueberries® label and brochure explaining the Harvest Farm concept, the miraculous health benefits of blueberries, and the living wage campaign.
Two specialty grocers in Naples, Florida (Oakes Organic and Wynn’s Fresh Market) agreed to purchase Harvest Blueberries from late March through the middle of May each year. Consumers had the opportunity to purchase a first-rate product and the positive “story” accompanying it.
The project scope involved the development and administration of intercept surveys to shoppers in Southwest Florida during May 2002 and again in May 2003. The survey instrument was based upon the list of questions prepared by the participants. The final instrument was administered to a sample size of 200 consumers during two weekends in each of the sampling periods.
See the Appendix for a sample of the survey from used in the field and the version of the computer forms used to enter the data into a special Microsoft Access program written especially for this project by Mr. Buddy Walker of the University of Florida, IFAS, faculty in Immokalee, Florida.
Findings and Results
In both 2002 and 2003 almost eight out of ten respondents reported that a label that says that the produce was grown and picked in the USA by workers paid a living was important to them. Consumers seem to sense this area as an opportunity or introduction of fairness.
Additional results include:
– A total of 75 percent of those surveys said that having “living wage” on the label was important to them
– Another 75 percent said they would be inclined to shop at grocery stores that carry “living wage” produce. This was further supported by 87 percent of the female shoppers that responded positively to this question
– An overwhelming 82 percent of those surveyed would pay 5 percent more for “living wage” produce grown in the USA on living wage farms
– Almost two-thirds of those surveyed believe that both the grower and retailer are responsible for preventing substandard working conditions
– About two-thirds of those surveyed would support a Federal Tax Credit for growers who paid farm workers a living wage
The evidence of this survey seems to suggest that consumers are prepared to change their shopping habits to help eliminate poverty among farm workers on our nations produce farms.
What is also important is that there is a distant advantage for the retailers who promote and sell “living wage” USA grown produce. There is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over other produce chains, since the large majority of those surveyed indicated they would gravitate to such stores therefore willing to pay more for produce certified to be grown and picked by fairly paid and treated farm workers.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The forms, photographs, and results including a summary of the raw data are included in the Appendix as supporting information for use by other agencies and groups for outreach purposes.
The results of this study will be used by the new Fair Food Campaign group centered in Sarasota, Florida. See the website www.fairfoodamerica.org for more details.
The Florida Gulf Coast University Task Force, an outgrowth of the Southwest Agricultural Forum held on January 17, 2003 continues to meet with agricultural industry representatives to implement findings such as those presented in this report. Representatives including growers are engaged to further expand their participation because of the potential benefits these results represent to all sectors of the industry.