Improving the quality of life for Southern organic farmers and farm workers

Final Report for LS09-216

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $190,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Leah Cohen
Florida Organic Growers
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Project Information

  • The purpose of the project was to explore perspectives on and conditions of social justice in the food system in the South and provide tools for improving the quality of life of organic farmers and farmworkers. This was done by researching organic farmers’ experiences and priorities and the public’s knowledge and support for just food system practices, as well as by providing trainings for farmers and workers, a domestic fair trade certification program, and raising awareness of the public about food system practices. The project’s major accomplishments included:

    A snail mail survey to 400 certified organic growers in the South about their priorities and challenges related to fair trade and labor practices, for which preliminary results are reported and a journal article is being finalized
    A public survey to 266 individuals about their priorities and knowledge of fairness issues in the food system for which preliminary results are reported and a journal article is being finalized
    Extensive capacity building of a regional organic certifier and the regional farmworker organization in order for them to serve as a resource and tool for farmers and food businesses who want to improve labor and trade practices
    Testing of a training model for farmworkers on health and safety and their rights under the law and under the Agricultural Justice Project standards,
    Development and distribution of tools for growers to improve labor and trade practices and policies.
    Completion of certification for the first Food Justice Certified farm in the South, and
    Execution of a public education program to raise public awareness of fairness issues in the food system, including creation of a film to be widely distributed.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Identify best practices and support for socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable agriculture through research on perceptions, priorities, and practices on organic farms in the South.

Objective 2: Assist farmers and others essential in our food system in benefiting from a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable farming and food system model by providing education and outreach tools and certification and by assessing the impact of the system and tools.

Objective 3: Research public knowledge of and support for social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture and the full food chain and explore commitment to pay for AJP certified products.

Objective 4: Develop and implement a public outreach and education model to raise public awareness of quality of life issues in agriculture and the food system.


The purpose of the project was to explore perspectives on and conditions of social justice in the food system in the South and provide tools for improving the quality of life of organic farmers and farmworkers. This was done by researching organic farmers’ experiences and priorities and the public’s knowledge and support for just food system practices, as well as by providing trainings for farmers and workers, a domestic fair trade certification program, and raising awareness of the public about food system practices.

According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey, “U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales.” In 2010 organic represented four percent of the entire United States food and beverage industry, including 11 percent of all fruit and vegetable sales (Organic Trade Association 2011). Despite massive growth in this industry, fair labor practices in organic farming continue to lack priority. Economic and environmental concerns have been the main push behind this growth (Dimitri and Greene 2002), although a recent marketing study reports that altruistic reasons also drive demand for ethical purchases (Context Marketing 2010). IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, recognizes the principle of fairness as one of four main tenets of organic production. This principal of fairness is defined as a way to guarantee equity at all levels of production and distribution. This principal insists that ensuring a good quality of life and pursuing the reduction of poverty among all participants are necessary for the organic industry to be truly sustainable. Internationally, fair labor practices are just as important as ecological concerns (IFOAM 2013). Despite international emphasis on fairness in labor practices, the organics industry in the United States has yet to solidify a set of standards for equitable farmworker treatment and compensation as an aspect of organic certification. The United States Department of Agriculture focuses solely on ecological tenets of organic farming in its certification requirements.

Social sustainability has also been under-represented in sustainable agriculture research (Tanaka and Bhavsar 2008; Jordan and Constance 2008), despite its stated commitment to environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable issues. There is an identified need to address quality of life issues in sustainable agriculture. “We need to remember that sustainable agriculture is more importantly based on relationships between people,” (Jordan and Constance 2008:18).

Shreck et al. (2006: 447-448) conclude that:
“…to create production conditions that are favorable to a broader conception of social justice, change is needed in the entire food system, not just at the point of production. Indeed, to move beyond the silence about labor within the sustainable agriculture and organic communities, we must situate these issues in the context of the entire food chain (production, processing, distribution and consumption). Only then can we hope to envision and create agriculture that is characterized by a truly comprehensive definition of sustainability: ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible.” There are a number of advocacy organizations in the US that are working to address more holistic sustainable agriculture and many more who are working on improving working conditions in conventional agriculture and the rest of the food system (such as the Domestic Fair Trade Association, Florida Organic Growers, Farmworkers Support Committee, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, Farmworker Association of Florida, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Restaurant Opportunities Center, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Fair World Project, and the Student Farmworker Alliance) .

This research and education project focused on three different points in the food system: farmworkers, farmers, and the public.


There is a strong need to improve the conditions of farmworkers working in the southern US. Historically, the worst abuses of farmworkers have occurred throughout the Southeast. More than in any other section of the country, growers in the Southeast have relied on farm labor contractors, or crew leaders, to hire and manage workers. Poorly regulated, farm labor contractors oftentimes abuse or cheat the workers (Voyles 2010). Growers avoid liability by contending that the workers are employees of the crew leader, rather than the farm. “Lack of labor rights has been taken to an extreme in Florida where hundreds of farmworkers have recently been found working as slaves,” (Howard and Allen 2006; Tampa Bay Times 2012).

The 2008 Organic Production Survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Survey found that close to 20 percent of the United States’ organic and exempt farms were located in California, with 2,714 out of 14,540 of the country’s organic farms. Consequently, much of the most notable research on labor practices on organic farms has been conducted in California. The California Institute for Rural Studies contacted over 1,800 organic farms to obtain 300 interviews. Their findings showed that while organic farms were more likely to offer higher wages, production bonuses, and non-standard benefits like access to food from the farm, they fell behind conventional farms in other key benefit categories including retirement plans and health insurance (Strochlic et al. 2008).

The CIRC’s study of organic farms in California found that organic farming practices require a larger number of laborers per acre on average. Additionally, overall production expenses were higher on average for organic farms when compared with all farms nationally, with labor occupying the largest portion of these expenses. Despite the cost premium achieved by organic certification, many organic farmers report an inability to institute conventional benefits. Instead, many organic farms in California provide non-standard benefits such as year round employment, more opportunities for permanent employment, access to food from the farm, and higher starting wages. Survey respondents emphasized retention as being of key importance. The benefits of high levels of worker retention were listed as less training costs, fewer accidents and avoiding labor shortages. The average U.S. farmworker is only employed for 24.4 weeks of the year. In order to provide year round employment and guarantee a consistent paycheck, many organic farms reported increasing crop diversity as well as employing farmworkers in tasks not directly agricultural including maintenance and upgrades of farm facilities. (Shreck et al. 2005)

A correlation was noted between farm size and the likelihood of providing health insurance and retirement benefits. Farms with larger revenues, organic or conventional, were able to offer more benefits. Occasionally, farmers reported workers preferred farms with higher pay to those that offered benefits. The CIRC study found that over 50 percent of farms surveyed had either formal training or an informal system for ensuring that workers were treated with respect.

As sustainable and socially conscious food labels multiply in the market place, it is important to create an expectation for transparent and concrete assessments of status and improvements in quality of life. Research conducted in California shows that a domestic fair trade type of labeling scheme could do much to improve wages and working conditions for strawberry workers (Howard and Allen 2006) if laborer conditions were included. The AFL-CIO calculated that a retail price increase of just 5 cents could increase workers’ wages by 40 percent or more (Howard and Allen 2006). On average, only approximately 13.9 cents of the food dollar goes to the farmer (taking into consideration both food eaten at home and away) (Canning 2011), and farmers must turn around and pay farmworkers from this, along with all their other costs of production.

The sustainable agricultural community needs to assess the impact of models (such as the Food Justice Certification model by the Agricultural Justice Project) that are designed to improve and assure fairness and equity within the food system. However, first this model needed to be brought to the South and applied to farms. This project succeeded in doing this.


Over time farmers have received a decreasing percentage of the food dollar (Canning 2011). In order to compensate for small farm income, many growers (especially smaller scale growers) supplement their income with off-farm jobs (Fernandez-Cornejo et al. 2007). Larger commodity farms receive subsidies from the government: lacking this financial support, smaller and mid-scale farms are finding it tough to compete. The organic movement has substantially increased awareness among the public of environmental sustainability issues in agriculture. With the dramatic growth of the organic sector and more global and industrialized organic production and consolidation in wholesale and retail channels, the marketplace 'niche' of organic family farms may be at risk. Small and mid-scale organic farmers and handlers must find additional ways to differentiate their products from those of the industrial organic market. This may be achieved by greater emphasis and more transparency of social equity. A study in California found that 59 percent of farmers surveyed reported an interest in fair labor certification and the cost premiums it would bring their products (Strochlic et al. 2008).

The Public

There is an increased demand for ethical food by consumers (Context Marketing 2010). The buy local movement has grown substantially with increased direct to consumer sales, increased number of farmers markets and people purchasing shares in local farms through Community Supported Agriculture (Martinez et al. 2010). Consumer demand is growing the organic market. However, the National Organic Program does not address the social relationships in food production. Studies on why people buy organic food most often attribute it to personal health reasons (Hughner et al. 2007); however, amidst media coverage on abhorrent slave like conditions for farmworkers in conventional agriculture across the country, the public is increasingly attracted to goods marketed under socially conscious labels, as evidenced by the growing popularity of products with Fair Trade labels.

Consumer survey results from the Midwest pilot of the Agricultural Justice Project showed that consumers value fair wages and fair prices for growers over organic certification or animal welfare. Of those surveyed, 86% said they would pay more for a product if they knew that the additional money was going to farmers and farm-workers (Local Fair Trade Network, internal document). However, the real economic situation of farmers is not well understood. Farmer incomes are significantly overestimated and many are unaware of the extremely tenuous situation of family farms. Without this understanding, it is difficult to motivate consumers to pay even current prices. This is our major communication hurdle: educating consumers about the negative side of farm economics while retaining a positive overall message (Local Fair Trade Network, internal document).

The consumer support studies that focus on social equity issues explore a limited selection of these issues in agriculture and food systems. For example, Howard and Allen (2008) asked the public about willingness to pay for living wage and safe working conditions for workers, but did not address a fair price to farmers or the right to organize. And the recent marketing study by Contact Marketing (2010) on ethical food purchases lists an array of ethical factors, but only “Certified Fair Trade” relates to trade relationships. It is not clear whether respondents might support fair prices to farmers or fair working conditions for workers but not support the Certified Fair Trade model for doing this.

The Project Work

Bringing about change on farms means educating those who contribute to the decisions made throughout the food system. Decisions made on farms affect the entire community--consumers who purchase products, as well as the farmworkers and farmer. Decisions made by the public in the market flow back (through decisions made and pressure felt by retailers, distributors, processors, etc.) to affect farmers and workers who produce their food. It is recognized that educating the public and bringing farmers and the agricultural support networks onboard with quality of life issues in agriculture will take time, but this project took a step towards raising the awareness of farmers, farmworker organizations, a regional organic certifier, as well as public awareness about the need for more socially just food systems that allow for improved quality of life for farmworkers and farmers and more ethical food choices for the general public.

This project provided the opportunity to give a voice to some of the previously unheard farmers in the South. It applied a fair food chain model, the Agricultural Justice Project’s Food Justice Certification program that aims to be inclusive of social justice issues for workers and farmers, environmental stewardship, and economic sustainability. The project also explored the priorities regarding social justice issues in the food system by farmers and the public.

The project focused on three research questions.
1. What are priorities for fair farm practices and social sustainability on farms in the South?
2. Does the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) model improve the quality of life of farmworkers, interns, farmers, and others who labor for our food?
3. What is the public’s knowledge, priority, and support of fair working conditions and quality of life for those who labor in the food system?

The aim of the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) is to build an alternative food system to provide an economic incentive for social equity and just working conditions through establishment of standards, tools to facilitate adoption, a reliable verification system, and introduction of a label demonstrating compliance with social standards. The AJP social justice standards specifically address:
• Workers' rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining,
• Fair wages and benefits for workers,
• Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers,
• Fair pricing for farmers,
• Clear conflict resolution policies for farmers and farmworkers,
• Workplace health and safety,
• The rights of indigenous peoples (under development)
• Farm worker housing,
• Farm interns and apprentices, and
• Children on farms.

AJP standards were developed from stakeholder collaboration and input across the nation and internationally during the past 10 years. This model establishes high bar standards, addresses topics deemed important to stakeholders, and offers a verification system designed to make fair farm and food business practices transparent. AJP recognizes and takes full advantage of the expertise of worker organizations and other community-based NGOs. The focus is on the community involved and most affected by our current food system injustices. In keeping with this community model, local worker advocacy organizations and other community-based NGOs played pivotal roles in the project in the South.


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  • Ramkrishnan Balasubramanian
  • Nelson Carrasquillo
  • Rachel Chase
  • Jeannie Economos
  • Elizabeth Henderson
  • Sally Lee
  • Luanne Lohr
  • Richard Mandelbaum
  • Marty Mesh
  • Tirso Moreno
  • Shelley Rogers
  • Michael Sligh


Materials and methods:

Objective 1: Identify best practices and support for socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable agriculture through research on perceptions, priorities, and practices on organic farms in the South.

The research tool used for objective one was a snail mail survey sent to 400 certified organic farmers and ranchers in the South with an incentive of an option to be entered into a raffle. The survey was mailed out in April of 2010 to a random sample of all certified organic growers in 11 states in the south. A paid-postage envelope was included with each written survey, and the surveys were designed to take 10 minutes to fill out. Florida Organic Growers received 52 completed surveys from certified organic farmers who represent a diversity of farm size and crop types. The farmer survey gathered basic demographic information, along with information about farm size, type of production, labor, wages, years farming, buyers, and income. The survey was mostly multiple choice questions (to facilitate higher response rates) with most questions providing a space for write in answers. The survey collected mostly nominal and ordinal data; therefore the analysis is largely descriptive.

The farmer survey addressed the following topics:
Farmer priorities (such as land stewardship, ethical trade relationships, avoiding chemicals, reducing input costs, producing high quality products, educating the public about farming, reducing carbon footprint, fair workplace for farmworkers, etc.);
Farmer constraints with buyers (such as price issues, unexpected changes in contracts, unfair agreements, lack of transparency with buyers, food safety requirements, competition, etc.);
Beneficial practices in their relationships with buyers;
Labor constraints (such as inability to pay higher wages or provide benefits, labor shortages, concerns with immigration laws, etc.);
Labor practices (such as wages, benefits provided, hours and number of hired labor, volunteers and interns);
Ways farmers would like farming organizations to help them; and
Whether they would be interested in being mentors or in a domestic fair trade certification.

Objective 2: Assist farmers and others essential in our food system in benefiting from a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable farming and food system model by providing education and outreach tools and certification and by assessing the impact of the system and tools.

Under this objective, the project provided three main tools to farmers as part of this project: social justice certification, farmer toolkit and training on labor and business practices, and trainings for workers (and farmers) on health and safety and worker rights.

Certification Tool

The social justice certification program used for this project was Food Justice Certification developed by the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP). The aim of the Food Justice Certification (FJC) program is to provide a way for farmers (particularly organic and environmentally sustainable farmers) to differentiate their product in the marketplace while at the same time improving the livelihoods of farmers, farmworkers and all others who work in the food system.

In order to offer FJC in the south, infrastructure was developed in the regional organic certifier and worker organization responsible for conducting the certification under the FJC program. The project provided the required certification training for four staff members of the participating organic certifier, Quality Certification Services, and for three staff members of the participating regional worker organization, Farmworker Association of Florida. These individuals were trained in three training sessions: an in-house training for two QCS staff members in Gainesville, Florida in 2011 and two formal AJP certification trainings in Oregon in 2011 and California in 2012 organized by AJP.

The formal Food Justice Certification training devotes a day-and-a-half to presentations and discussions, and then conducts three trial inspections where the participants first observe, then assist the trainers in guided practice inspections and finally perform an inspection while observed by their trainers. Classroom work alternates formal presentations with participatory exercises and covers the following topics:
*What is AJP? (History, background, mission)
*Overview of AJP Certification System, Eligibility, the Food Justice labeling system
*The Standards which are applied to organic farms and food businesses, which include:
farmers & all food system workers' right to freedom of association and collective bargaining,
fair pricing for farmers' products, fair wages and benefits for workers, safe work for children on farms, farm safety.
* Skills, characteristics for a good social auditor,
*The AJP Verification Process: the cooperative relationship between certifier and farm worker inspectors, selecting workers to interview, the inspection process, the final review and decision on certification
At the end of the training, the trainees take a written exam. The exam results provide a way of evaluating the quality and effectiveness of the training and the readiness of the trainees to conduct the auditing and certification process.

In addition, one of the Quality Certification Services staff members also participated in a social auditing training to improve his skills and to provide the project with an alternative perspective on how to approach social justice auditing on farms (see attached comparison report). Social justice issues are within the realm of what farmworker organizations deal with on a daily basis, but are new to organic certifiers.

Simultaneous with training the participating certifier and worker organization, the project engaged in recruiting farms and food businesses buying from farmers to go through the Food Justice Certification process. The intent was to keep the food chain simple and short in order to make it manageable within the project budget and timeline. Therefore, mainly farms selling direct to retailers and retailers buying directly from farmers were targeted for recruitment. Many strategies were used to recruit farmers for certification and revisions were made to the recruiting process throughout the project. Initially a call for participants was made through FOG’s enews (over 2000 subscribers at the time) and during FOG’s tabling events. In addition, two major presentations on the project were made to groups of interested farmers and handlers by project collaborators in North Carolina and Tennessee. The snail-mail farmer survey (sent to 400 and completed by 52 southern certified organic farmers) was used to gain contact info on farmers interested in receiving a toolkit on improving labor and trade practices and to inquire if farmers were interested in seeking a domestic fair trade certification. Networking (through farming contacts of FOG, RAFI, and FWAF) was used to identify and follow up with farmers and food businesses that might be interested. The project targeted farmers and businesses who were assumed to already be inclined to be supportive of social justice including certified organic growers, grocery stores and co-ops with a strong buy local or organic purchasing practice, and companies and farms that support or work with FOG, RAFI, and FWAF.

After initial interest by a handful of farms and businesses in three areas (two farms and one grocery in Virginia, two farms and one handler in North Carolina, and two farms, one restaurant and one co-op in Florida), the financial constraints of the project meant only one region could receive certification. Florida was selected as the region of focus. Subsequently, more time and labor intensive recruiting strategies of one-on-one personalized communication and assistance resulted in seven applicants (four farmers and three retailers) to the project in North Central Florida.

During the next year the project provided one-on-one assistance to those interested in pursuing certification to help them get familiar with the standards and program and the requirements and to adapt their own farm and business policies and practices to comply with the standards. By the end of this period only two entities remained interested in certification (one farm and one restaurant) and in the end only the farm completed the full certification process. However, both the farm and co-op reportedly used tools from the Agricultural Justice Project to improve their labor and trade practices even without certification. The project moved forward with the one farm participant and with a redirection of energy in public education, including an expanded film for distribution and increased participation in public education events.

The farm, certifier, and worker organization that completed the farm certification process went through the following steps:
Farm does internal assessment of their readiness and adjusts/improves policies and practices to meet standards;
Farm submits comprehensive application to get certified to the certifiers;
Certifier conducts initial review to assess compliance of farm ;
Certifier sends farm info to AJP to do public consultation by posting that this farm has applied for certification on AJP website;
Certifier contacts worker organization and shares file information for review;
Certifier representative and worker organization representative conduct inspection on the farm, including:
Interviewing farmer regarding employment practices and policies,
Interviewing workers separately and away from farmer or supervisors about workplace practices and policies per standards, and
Inspectors submit inspection report to certifier;

Certifier (different trained staff member than inspector) conducts final review of farm application and inspection report to determine compliance and any changes farm needs to make ;
Certifier shares final findings regarding worker conditions with worker representative that went on inspection;
Certifier notifies farm of certification status and any changes needed to come into compliance;
Once a certificate is awarded farm is permitted to use FJC mark on packaging and marketing materials;
Farm will apply for renewed certification annually.

Farmer toolkit & farm business training

The project distributed a farmer toolkit created by the Agricultural Justice Project that is designed to help farms make labor policies more fair and transparent as well as assist farmers in getting a fair price for their products from buyers. The toolkit was distributed to any farmers who asked for it and the project specifically presented farmers receiving the mail out survey with the opportunity to receive the toolkit. If the farmer indicated they wanted the toolkit they were asked to provide either an email or snail mail address to receive the toolkit. The toolkit was distributed to 29 farmers in the South through this method. The toolkit is also posted on the AJP webpage for free download.

In addition, the project developed and conducted a workshop for small scale farmers on some basic business practices. FOG financial staff put together oral and written information on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of business structures for the farm, how to set up and process payroll, and how to keep records in an organized manner that will facilitate management of the farm business. To maximize the number of attendees to this local workshop, the project requested that it be part of the Farm to Restaurant workshop series run by Blue Oven Kitchens in Gainesville Florida on an annual basis. This workshop had not been part of the original proposal, but was developed as a result of feedback from many of the farmers with whom the project corresponded in an attempt to recruit them for certification. The project found that there were many small scale organic farmers in the south and that they reported struggling with basic business functions like payroll and business organization. Although the workshop’s reach was local (North Central Florida), the Agricultural Justice Project has agreed to post the how-to-guide developed for this workshop on their webpage for free download.

Farmworker Training

The project developed a train-the-trainers course to train farmworker organizations (in this case project collaborator the Farmworker Association of Florida) to train farmworkers on health and safety on the farm, their rights under the law and their rights under the Food Justice Certification Program. The Farmworker Health and Safety Institute developed the training and traveled to Florida to the FWAF headquarters to train 10 FWAF staff in the two day training. This training enabled FWAF to be a better resource to the farmer who participated in Food Justice Certification as part of the project. FWAF traveled to his farm and conducted the three to four hour health and safety and worker rights training for his farmworkers and the farmer himself.

Objective 3: Research public knowledge of and support for social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture and the full food chain and explore commitment to pay for AJP certified products.

The project intended to complete point of purchase surveys of the public shopping in stores that were carrying Food Justice Certified products. The project had to change the design due to the fact that there were not any farms signed up for certification (and therefore no product on retail shelves) in the first two years of the grant (a one year no-cost extension was requested in part due to this delay in certification volunteers, and granted so grant activities spanned four years total). By the third year one farm was going through the certification process, but the project had already revised the method for exploring the public’s knowledge of and support for socially just sustainable agriculture.

A written survey designed to explore the public’s support for and knowledge of fairness issues was developed and used. It was translated into Spanish and administered by project collaborator Farmworker Association of Florida as well as distributed to targeted Spanish populations in Gainesville Florida by Florida Organic Growers. The majority of the general public surveys in English were made available at information tables set up by Florida Organic Growers at various events, social functions, and other locations in Gainesville, Florida (FOG’s headquarters), with some additional surveys completed in Apopka (Farmworker Association of Florida headquarters), and at a co-op grocery store in Pittsboro, NC (The Rural Advancement Foundation headquarters). Over the course of these and other tabling efforts, 266 surveys were fully completed by the public attending tabling events.

The survey contained mostly multiple choice questions (to facilitate higher response rates) with some room for write in answers. The survey attempted to ascertain people’s shopping habits, priorities and limitations, along with demographic information. The survey also attempted to gauge the public’s exposure to issues of fairness and sustainability in the food system. In addition to basic descriptive statistics, cross tabulation and the Chi-Squared Test were used to uncover possible relationships between the public’s level of exposure to food system issues, their priorities, and their actions. A draft research report was written with the intent of submitting it to a journal for publication. The final article will be forwarded upon completion.

Objective 4: Develop and implement a public outreach and education model to raise public awareness of quality of life issues in agriculture and the food system.

Early on the project conducted research on current ethical purchasing trends and public priorities regarding domestic fair trade ways to increase awareness of social justice issues and ways to support farms and businesses that are socially just. From this we developed a social media campaign in collaboration with the Agricultural Justice Project and Florida Organic Growers, in addition to a series of local outreach events in North Central Florida. A few project organized events were executed, but in order to maximize reach the project also dovetailed with existing events. The project tabled at events that would draw a crowd that would be sympathetic to sustainable agriculture (such as the film screening for the movie “Fresh” and the Virginia Biological Farming Association annual conference) issues as well as events that would draw a wider array of the general public (such an art opening at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida and a pet adoption event at Pet Smart). The project also conducted interactive workshops, film screenings and speaker panels, presentations at the University of Florida, and a youth training fieldtrip. The outreach activities also included creating print materials (such as quiz cards, fliers, and bags) that could be distributed by project collaborators, but also by farms and businesses who supported the work of the project. Finally, once there was a certified farm, the project worked with the farm and a local co-op that purchased products from the certified farm to create shelf-talkers, food labels, and post cards and to conduct a tasting event that spotlighted the farm and the fair labor practices adopted by the farm. One major piece of the project’s public education activities was the creation of a short video outlining the issues of injustice in the food system and the work of the project in getting a farm certified in the south and what that means. Finally, the public survey itself served as a way to increase people’s awareness of issues of injustice in the food system and ways to support more socially just food choices.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: Identify best practices and support for socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable agriculture through research on perceptions, priorities, and practices on organic farms in the South.

Many of the farmer survey results are being written up in an article intended to be submitted for publication (see draft report attached). Some additional results are listed below.

To identify practices in farmer/buyer relationships that are beneficial to farmers, the surveyed certified organic farmers were asked the following:
“What is one example of a beneficial practice in relationships you have with any of your buyers? (A specific practice that has helped you make a better living as a farmer or that might be good for other buyers to adopt.)”

Of the 52 certified organic farmers in the south who were surveyed 28 responded with a beneficial practice with buyers. Most of the farmers who responded to this question interpreted it as reporting what they as farmers do that is beneficial in their relationship with buyers (rather than what buyers do that is beneficial to farmers). Of these responses, several practices were reported as beneficial by more than one farmer. Many of the farmers reported that practices can be categorized into strategies for building a good relationship with buyers (often, but not always, this applied to direct sales at farmers markets or through CSA). Specific practices include things like providing recipe cards or newsletters about the farm to customers, offering free produce from time to time, being available to correspond with buyers/customers via email, being friendly and trust-worthy, and inviting buyers/customers out to the farm for a tour/visit (including one farm that reported inviting local wholesaler representatives to a farm tour). Many of these practices that are reported as beneficial to the farm’s livelihood are specifically about a social connection. In addition, a handful of farmers (n=5) reported that providing quality product was specifically important to them. Other practices mentioned by farmers included delivering on time, having flexible purchase options (work trade, pre-payment, multiple pick-ups for CSA members), and working with other farmers to provide more diversified and dependable foods to buyer.

It is not really surprising that relationships are important in business, but it is relevant to those seeking improved social justice in our food system and in the context of a more and more industrialized organic agricultural sector. A demand for more personalized relationships is certainly echoed in the “buy local” and “know your farmer” movements. However, the relationship that exists between a farmer and a wholesaler or a distributor or a broker is not transparent to the public. Domestic fair trade certification programs that take these opaque parts of the food system into consideration may result in raising public awareness of these relationships, but also telling the stories of the struggle that farmers face with buyers and the reason certain pressures on pricing come back to the farmer from further up the food chain is also important. Several of the farmers that we talked with as part of the project reported challenges with distributors or brokers such as suddenly canceling contracts, paying a price lower than originally agreed upon after the farmer had already harvested and was then forced to sell or loose the harvest, and buyers paying late. The film that was created for this project attempts to shed some light on the challenges farmers face in our current food system.

The farmer survey also asked farmers about examples of good labor practices by using this question:
“What is one practice on your farm that you feel could be an example of labor best practice (such as creative benefit—workshops or classes, incentives, profit sharing, etc.)?”

Out of 52 farmers surveyed, 25 responded to this question. Of those 25 responses, the most commonly reported good labor practices related to monetary compensation either in the form of high wages, bonuses, or profit-sharing (n=9). The second most common practices related to providing some sort of educational or training opportunity, such as workshops, classes, conferences or learning about the farm business (n=6). Other reported practices included providing regular massage for best performing workers as an incentive, providing housing, treating workers like family, providing year round employment on the farm, providing free lunches, allowing the workers to bring their children to the farm, and maintaining a practice of the boss/farmer working right alongside the hired workers and the farmer doing the hardest and worst work him/herself.

Many of the practices are about monetary compensation or educational opportunities. These are the practices that farmers offer their workers that they see as beneficial. It would be worthwhile to follow up with workers to see if they also report these same beneficial labor practices or would prefer others.

Challenges with labor and some of the basic information on wages paid and workers hired are included in the attached research paper.

In light of trying to provide tools to help farmers improve their livelihoods and those of their workers, the project took advantage of the opportunity to survey most of the certified organic growers in the south to also explore what kinds of assistance farmers feel farming organizations should provide and their preferred method of learning. This was not part of the original proposal, but the results are relevant for continued work by farming organizations and government bodies to help improve farmer and worker quality of life. The survey provided multiple choice answers to both questions.

“What kind of assistance do you feel farming organizations should provide to help farmers (check all that are important to you)?
Educate the public about the context of farming and where their food comes from
Facilitate direct links between farmers and retailers
Work on immigration reform for farm labor
Support “buy local” initiatives
Business planning tools or workshop (such as how to set up payroll, insurance issues, business plans, etc.)
Provide resources on alternative agricultural systems and inputs
Provide tools for establishing labor policies and trainings
Create opportunities for differentiation in the marketplace
Trainings for farmers and farmworkers on health and safety on the farm tailored to organic farms
Other assistance you want: _______________”

A total of 50 farmers (of the 52 respondents) answered this question. The top four selected kinds of assistance that farmer respondents would like to see farming organizations providing were: supporting the buy local movement, facilitating direct links between farmers and retailers tied with providing resources on alternative agricultural systems/inputs, and working on immigration reform for farm labor. The data was collected prior to the most recent political push for immigration reform. All of the options provided in the survey were selected as important by some farmers with the least number of farmers selecting “providing tools for establishing labor policies and trainings,” which four of the 50 farmers (8%) responding to this question selected as important to them. The other results are presented in Figure 1. Ten respondents wrote in their own answers for the types of assistance they would like to see farming organizations provide. These included:

Assistance in organic practices
Work on banking reform that supports farmers
Educate loan/bank officers in advocacy for organic farmers
Reduced cost of water
Providing information on the benefits of wind and solar power
Work on growing more small farms
Supporting formation of a coop to buy feed, fertilizer and tools
Provide incentives for conventional farms to transition to organic
Provide grants to farmers

Farmers were also asked in the mail out survey about their preferred method for learning. A total of 46 out of 52 total respondents answered this question. They could choose as many methods as they wanted. The multiple choice options were:
Workshops at conferences or in other such central locations attended by many farmers (n=30)
On-farm tours and workshops (n=29)
Hard copy documents (such as best practices, reports, step-by-step instructions, lists of resources, template toolkits) (n=22)
Downloadable documents (such as best practices, reports, step-by-step instructions, lists of resources, template toolkits) (n=21)
Webinar (n=7)
Other, write-in included (n-5):
-Networking with/talking to other farmers (n=2)
-Access to science journals--American Bee Journal &Scientific American

Objective 2: Assist farmers and others essential in our food system in benefiting from a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable farming and food system model by providing education and outreach tools and certification and by assessing the impact of the system and tools.


One of the first steps in providing the Food Justice Certification tool to farmers and food businesses was to reach out to entities that would be likely to want to get certified. Contact was made with a total of 10 farmers who expressed interest in certification on their farmer survey responses. In addition, contact was made with 47 farmers, 4 handlers, and 22 retailers (small groceries/natural food stores or restaurants) that were considered to be most likely interested in this type of certification due to the nature of their business in sustainable agriculture or their activity in the buy local movement. Many of the farmers, handlers and retailers we communicated with one-on-one were very supportive of the project.

However, the project unexpectedly experienced difficulty in getting farms and businesses to complete the certification process. There were a number of operations that expressed interest in certification and seven entities in Florida completed applications to participate in the project once we narrowed down our regional focus. Four (three in Florida and one in Virginia) operations began to extensively review their policies and practices against the standards (the first step to getting certified). However, in the end only one farm completed the certification process. The lack of farms and businesses willing or able to complete the certification process can be attributed to a few different factors. First, smaller farms without labor not really seeing a place for themselves in the program as they were small “mom and pop” operations with little to no hired labor:

“At our farm, the only workers are my dad and myself. I'm not sure that this will change, but I guess there's always the possibility. This is an awesome project!” – small produce farmer in North Central Florida

Second, some of the farms and businesses that explored the requirements found they were not in compliance with some of the standards and did not want to or could not adjust their practices or policies in order to come into compliance. Some of the common issues were use of labor contractors (which the Food Justice Certification program restricts), use of labor under the table, and use of pesticides (which the Food Justice Certification program restricts).

Finally, some who would likely qualify and felt it was the right thing to do were just too overwhelmed by all the other demands on their time that they could not invest the energy, resources, and time into the program. This is understandable given the high bar standards of the Food Justice Certification program and the fact that Food Safety requirements were being rolled out at the same time and farmers were very worried about being stretched too thin. Many farmers report that certification programs come with a hefty paperwork and administrative burden. In addition, given that the project is new and does not have much public recognition, the potential financial benefits of increased sales or prices or more stable sales were not guaranteed. For example, one small co-op grocery that started the process of preparing for certification ended up pulling out of the project due to the concerns about over-extending their financial, as well as their volunteer board energy. This same co-op later had to make several appeals to the community for increased financial support to keep the doors open and for awhile it was teetering on shutting its doors. It took all the energy and time and limited resources it had just to survive that period. This is exactly the type of food business (one dedicated to supporting sustainable food systems that are healthy for the earth, for the people and for those providing the food) that this certification program is designed to help. However, it became clear that without public awareness of both the injustices that occur in the food system today and the option to support more fair and sustainable farms and businesses (FJC being one way to do this), it is difficult for farms and businesses who believe in the principles of this certification to spend the time and energy on completing it. A concerted effort needs to be made to increase the public’s awareness of the consequences of cheap food and options for supporting sustainable agriculture that does not leave out the human element.

This restaurant is a strong advocate in the community for buying local and for sourcing sustainable food. They have done a very good job advertising this business focus and they feel many of their customer base knows this ethical stance and are supportive of it. The restaurant (who is still supportive of the project) has reported that they have yet to figure out how to be financially sustainable and maintain their commitment to sustainable and local sourcing and excellent labor and trade practices. The restaurant reportedly subsidizes local and sustainable farm purchases with those from more mainstream distributors. They feature local dishes and farmers, but receive a much smaller profit margin on these items/dishes and sometimes experience a loss. So without the subsidies provided by the larger profit margins of the conventional food sources they are at a loss on how to increase their support or percentage of sustainable food purchased.

Others also expressed being so overwhelmed that they have been pushed to the edge of their capacity:

“In 2009 we did nearly 2 million dollars in sales and my staff is almost 50 people. Running this business has proven to be more than I can handle without near breakdown some weeks. Adding more to my plate is more than I can handle.” Small restaurant owner in the South.

“I reviewed the information you sent me and I think it looks like a wonderful program. However at this time we have too much going on to consider such a venture. I wish you success with this project!” Independent restaurant manager in Florida.

One beginning farmer in North Central Florida was able to complete the entire certification process during the project. This farm spent a year getting ready for certification and was finally certified in late 2012, which much later in the project than anticipated. It is important to note how much of an investment is made in this type of certification for a new farm. More established farms would have things like leave policies, job descriptions and contracts already in place and would require smaller adjustments to these policies to come into compliance. The farm that ended up getting certified was a beginning farmer and, therefore, was basically starting from scratch with all the documentation and paperwork. Fortunately he was already certified organic and accustomed to the certification process. Many pieces of administration were put in place on this farm as a result of getting certified, including written contracts for employees that make the terms of their employment transparent, an extensive training for workers on their rights under the law as farmworkers and under the Food Justice Certification program and on health and safety on the farm. In addition, a dialogue was supported between the farmer and the workers about issues of social justice.

Other farms that have gone through the certification process with the Agricultural Justice Project have reported that simply going through the process has resulted in better running farms. However, it is too early to assess if this is the case for the one farm that got certified during this project as the certification was only granted at the end of 2012. In addition, the feedback from the workers on this farm was positive about working on the farm, but it is not clear whether this was already a good place to work because of the ethical leaning of the farmer regardless of certification or if the actual act of going through the changes needed for certification resulted in improvements or not. It is also too early perhaps to know if certification has resulted in positive benefits for the farmer in terms of reduced worker turn over or increased sales or more stable sales. Certainly raising awareness of the public and buyers about this certification program and what it means is a key part to farmers receiving any benefit to their sales. There is a need to reach out to buyers in order to create demand for these sorts of programs that aim to improve conditions of workers and farmer agreements, sales, and pricing. The certification of this farm did result in Food Justice Certified product in the marketplace, which in turn began to raise awareness of the public about social justice issues in agriculture (see below).

A total of four certification staff members from Quality Certification Services and three staff members from the Farmworker Association of Florida were trained to do certification. This training resulted in a revised training manual for the certifier and the worker organization and has resulted in ongoing capacity building. This training brought together certifiers and workers’ organizations for the first time. They learned of each others’ skills and expertise and learned how they could complement each other in an audit of a farm or business in order to implement a certification program intended to increase the rigor and reliability of the verification of fair labor and trade practices. Several reports from the certifier trainees were that it was eye-opening to learn about worker conditions and how to ensure fair labor conditions. Participating worker representatives reported that it was inspiring to be a part of a program that is taking a collaborative, stakeholder based approach to creating and encouraging positive work environments for workers that also take into consideration the needs of farmers that are also not being met by our current food system. Many of the worker representatives have never been invited openly by a farmer to visit farmworkers on a farm. To the contrary, they often have to meet with workers out in the community because they are banned by farmers from visiting farmworkers on the farms. The trust and openness and willingness to work together to improve things was a change from the norm of sectors being pitted against each other. FWAF and QCS went on to form a formal agreement to conduct the Food Justice Certification of the one participating farm in the south and this model and training will have a longer term impact in that QCS is collaborating with another regional worker organization to conduct two more Food Justice Certification farm inspections in California in August of 2013.

Farmer Training and Tools:

The farmer toolkit was also distributed to 29 individuals through the mail out survey. The use of the farmer toolkit by the Agricultural Justice Project and one-on-one technical assistance by the project (conducted by Florida Organic Growers) to The Family Garden farm resulted in this farm being able to complete their certification in addition to improving the transparency of their farm policies and procedures. This farmer toolkit was used in one-on-one technical assistance for a restaurant and two small retail groceries (in Gainesville, Florida and Virginia Beach, Virginia) that began to work on their policies and procedures with the aim of getting Food Justice Certification (although they have not yet completed certification). Another tool that was developed by the project was a living wage calculator comparison tool. This was provided to the farm to help the farmer figure out a living wage for his area. FOG has recently redesigned its website to be more user friendly and provide more tools for farmers (through a farmer resource page) and this tool will be posted there for free download.

In response to farmer feedback that there was a need for assistance in basic business functions (especially for the beginning farmers), the project developed a farmer workshop on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of business structures for the farm, how to set up and process payroll, and how to keep records in an organized manner that will facilitate management of the farm business. Approximately 20-25 individuals attended the workshop and a good question and answer session concluded the workshop. This is another tool FOG intends to add to its new grower resource page on the FOG website.

Farmworker Training: The project aimed to train farmworkers on participating farms on their rights under the law and under the Food Justice Certification program, as well as on health and safety on the farm. A train-the-trainers training was developed by the project collaborator the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute. Ten staff members of the Farmworker Association of Florida were trained in how to train farmworkers on health and safety and their rights under the law and under the Food Justice Certification program. The assumption being that improved training of farmworkers will assist them in doing their jobs more safely and experiencing a better quality of life as a result of this and knowing and being able to exercise and feel secure in their rights. The project produced a training program and manual for the Farmworker Association of Florida to use, which will also be utilized in the future as more farms sign onto this program. In addition, this training resulted in three farmworkers and a farmer being trained in farmworker rights and health and safety.

Objective 3: Research public knowledge of and support for social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture and the full food chain and explore commitment to pay for AJP certified products.

Results for the public survey data are written up in the attached draft research paper being finalized for submission to a journal.

Objective 4: Develop and implement a public outreach and education model to raise public awareness of quality of life issues in agriculture and the food system.

As stated above a number of strategies were used to increase the public’s awareness of social justice issues in the food system and ways they can support more socially sustainable food system practices. FOG engaged in 14 project sponsored and other events during the project to raise awareness (see details in section on Publications/Outreach). Many of the events had large crowds of hundreds of individuals visiting the table. The two main project sponsored events reached a total of approximately 45 individuals.

Over 400 print materials were designed, produced, and distributed to raise public awareness of food justice issues. Electronic materials were also generated including enews articles sent out to approximately 3000 email addresses, blog articles on FOG’s webpage, social media posts in collaboration with the Agricultural Justice Project, Florida Organic Growers, the Farmworker Association of Florida, the Farmworker Support Committee (CATA), and the Rural Advancement Foundation International Facebook pages with a sum total of approximately 5,760 followers. The public survey also served as a way to bring awareness of social justice issues in the food system. This survey reached 266 individuals.

Finally, one of the educational pieces created during this project was a public education short documentary film. The original plan was to create a film about the farmer, farmworkers, retailer, retailer workers, and advocacy organizations that participated in the project. Due to the delay in certification of a farm or business in the South through this project, the film got a late start and was only finished at the very end of the project after over a year in production. (See video at:

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Public education materials designed and distributed: Ethical business rack card, Know social justice issues in your food system quiz card, press release for project participating farm, articles in enews to over 2,000 individuals representing farmers, consumers, industry, media and others; print materials distributed at conferences and presentations across the South including in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia

Tools created: farmworker quality of life assessment survey, train the trainers manual for farmworker organizations, certification training manual, living wage calculator tool created and distributed upon request, farmer business structure, payroll and organization manual, farmer survey (also shared with another researcher in the NE who used it to finalize her survey of NE farms), film about fairness issues in the food system, public survey about priorities and support for fairness in the food system

Public education events: Fair Food Fair (2 years in a row), Food Week panel discussion and film, Art Walk tasting by participating farmer and project, Cooking demonstration at farmer’s market, film screening in Virginia Beach, VABF film screening and tabling, tabling at Pride Festival, Kanapaha Garden Festival, Harn Museum of Art Night, Where the Side Walk Ends Kids Art Festival, UF Food Summit presentation, UF sustainability class presentation

Trainings: farmworker training on health and safety and legal rights and rights under Food Justice Certification program manual, training manual for certifier and worker organization in south on how to conduct FJC, train-the-trainers manual for FWAF on how to train workers on farms and businesses in health and safety and legal rights and rights under FJC, farmer training guide on business structure, setting up payroll, and organization at Farm to Restaurant workshops, living wage calculator for helping farms and businesses determine a living wage for workers.

Collaborators: One of the findings of the independent evaluation was that project collaborators themselves have changed how they dialogue about fair farm issues with farmworkers, farmers, retailers, the public and colleagues (Chase 2013).

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Objective 1: Identify best practices and support for socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable agriculture through research on perceptions, priorities, and practices on organic farms in the South.

The impact of the farmer survey is anticipated to be a longer term impact. The write up of the results will hopefully be used by advocates (such as Florida Organic Growers, the Farmworkers Support Committee, the Farmworker Association of Florida, and the Rural Advancement Foundation International) to understand the challenges faced by farmers today and the ways in which these organizations can be of assistance in improving the livelihoods of both farmers and farmworkers.

In addition to gaining information about farmer priorities, practices and challenges in their relations with buyers and workers in the southern U.S., the survey developed by the project is having an unexpected and broader impact. A Ph.D. student at Antioch University New England used the survey to inform her own similar survey of farmers in the northeastern U.S., which will allow for a regional comparison of farmer responses for some of the questions.

FOG contracted with the Suwannee River Area Health Education Center (AHEC) to complete an independent evaluation of the project. The experienced evaluator with AHEC contacted project beneficiaries, participants and collaborators independently to collect confidential input on the project work. The evaluation concluded that the farmer survey represented the single-most impressive accomplishment of the grant, particularly in its aim to confirm best and current practices among certified organic growers in the South and as method for identifying and follow up with farmers interested in receiving the farmer toolkit.

Objective 2: Assist farmers and others essential in our food system in benefiting from a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable farming and food system model by providing education and outreach tools and certification and by assessing the impact of the system and tools.


One impact of the recruiting activities of the project has been an increased awareness amongst farmers and food businesses of the existence of a domestic fair trade certification. It is anticipated that these dialogues have instigated thought on the need for increased transparency and awareness of the challenges faced by farmers and workers in the United States and Canada.

A resulting conclusion from the project recruiting activities was the recognition of the demands farmers and small food business owners face on their time. This was also one of the conclusions of the independent evaluation of the project.
“Farmers, probably especially smaller enterprises that would be most amenable to making changes to their operations, are extremely difficult to ask for time. Not only did this project’s activity plans depend upon a farmer’s time, it was also depending upon the farmer to 1) learn something new, 2) interpret and commit to wading through a voluminous amount of information, 3) invest resources into a process that had unknown results”. (Chase 2013)

This is a valuable lesson for advocacy organizations trying to assist farmers and farmworkers in improving their livelihoods and a future anticipated impact of gathering this information will hopefully be an effort by the project collaborators to meet farmers where they need to be met to reduce the burden on their time and resources.

Another impact of the implementation of the certification was that the farm that participated has more transparent and better documented policies and procedures now than before they participated in this project. In addition, the workers on that farm have a raised awareness of their rights under the law and under the Food Justice Certification program and presumably an increased awareness of hazards on the farm (although a quantitative measurement of this would be useful). Although not measured by the project due to the small size of the farm and the delayed execution of the certification during the project, future work should include a follow up on how participating in the certification program changed or did not change working relationships on the farm.

The project did result in certified product in the retail market, which raised awareness of some members of the public of the existence of domestic fair trade certification and the issues of social justice in our food system. This project did not measure what resulting change in behavior these members of the public experienced as a result of the project and perhaps it was too early to measure this impact.

The project work created a new relationship between the farmworker organization (FWAF) and the organic certifier (QCS). A longer term potential impact of this training and relationship building is that both will be able to offer this certification to other farms and businesses in the future. In fact, QCS is partnering with a regional worker organization in California to conduct Food Justice Certification on two farms in August of 2013.

The number of participating farmers and businesses was too small and the adoption of FJC too late in the project to assess the impact on quality of life. Many of the anticipated impacts of certification for the farm are yet to be realized due to the length of time needed for a new farm to complete certification. Anticipated impacts include reduced worker turnover, reduced accident rates, increased or more stable sales, and/or increased market opportunities and/or pricing. There is however already a tool developed (farmworker quality of life survey) that was completed despite being cut from the project due to the budget cuts in the original award. This tool can be used by any program aiming to improve the quality of life of farmworkers in the future.

There is still much work to be done to increase public awareness and demand for socially just agriculture in order for the participating farmer to feel an economic impact from his participation (increased sales or increased prices).

Farmer Training and Tools

One direct impact of the farmer training and tools created by the project was the successful certification of one farm to the social justice standards of the Agricultural Justice Project. The impact of the distribution of the farmer toolkits was not measured by the project and is something that could be assessed with tracking of the names and contact info tools that are sent out directly to farmers and a follow up survey to these farmers. The independent evaluator commented that the farmer tools and support materials could benefit from being simplified.

Three additional entities worked on preparing for the certification process by reviewing their policies and practices and using the farmer toolkit and other tools created by the project. None of these three ended up completing certification; however, they had the opportunity to use this toolkit and their work with the project to improve their labor and trade practices and policies even without certification. One of the retail groceries reported having used the AJP standards as a template for developing some of their own internal personnel policies.

Farmworker Training

As a result of the train the trainers program in which 12 staff members from the Farmworker Association of Florida participated is that this organization is now ready to assist farmers and farmworkers in the future who desire this training. Their capacity has been built to provide yet another tool to improving the condition of farmworkers.

The farmworkers that participated in the training on the farm (conducted by FWAF staff) felt it was useful. In addition, (due both to the certification process and the training provided to workers and the farmer) a positive relationship was supported between the farmer and farmworkers and the farmworker association. This is ground-breaking since farmworker organizations often experience an antagonistic relationship with many farmers in their work to improve the quality of life of farmworkers. The alternative collaborative model has been evidenced by the fact that the farmworker organization has since been active in promoting this farm in their events and online presence. It is anticipated that this positive relationship will provide the farmer and farmworkers with a resource for any assistance they may need in the future related to farm labor conditions.

As a result of the train-the-trainers program, three workers on the participating farm were trained by the FWAF staff. They, along with the farmer, received information in Spanish on their rights as workers under the law, on health and safety on the farm, and on their rights under the Food Justice Certification program. This training can now be duplicated on other farms in the region by both the FWAF staff and for new employees on this organic farm by the Farmer himself, again, showing the benefit of a collaborative approach that engages farmers and workers together, rather than dividing them. It will be important in the future once this training can be used on a larger scale and once sufficient time has passed since the training on this farm to collect more extensive information on the impact of the training, such as whether farmworkers were able to improve their quality of life or work conditions as a result of their training, whether they felt it aided them in their experience working on the farm, and whether they felt there is improved safety on the farm or improved dialogue between the farmer and workers regarding safety as a result of the training.

Objective 3:

Similar to the farmer survey, one of the anticipated impacts of the public survey is yet to be realized: the results can be expected to inform advocacy work on raising public awareness of the need for and their ability to support socially sustainable agriculture and food systems in the United States and Canada. The survey has identified some areas on which to focus future efforts for increasing the public’s support for sustainable agriculture that includes consideration of the conditions for those who work in the food system. An impact that was realized during the project is that the survey itself served as a way to educate those who completed it.

Objective 4:

The impact of some events were an increased interest by community members and other organizations in FOG doing future events and resulted in some fruitful relationships between FOG and other organizations that support social justice issues such as the Beltram Peace Center and the Rural Women’s Health Project in Gainesville Florida and the Farmworker Association of Florida, whose headquarters is in Apopka, Florida but which has representatives across the state. These relationships have enabled a cross flow of information between FOG and these organizations about events (such as the Peace Center’s annual Fair Trade Fair, social justice campaigns (such as CIW’s boycotts and marches), and resources (such as medical resources for farmworkers in need of medical attention). This is unique in that many of the organizations with which ties were strengthened as a result of this project were farmworker organizations. A tie between a farmer organization like FOG and farmworker organizations assists in breaking down current sector antagonism and allows for joint solutions to the challenges that farms face in today’s agricultural system.

One impact of the tasting event sponsored by the project in collaboration with the certified farmers was that when another farmer saw the display and talked with the farmer and project staff he and his team became interested in the certification program. It is this kind of thought leadership that may be required to encourage farmers to participate in such programs and therefore to ultimately allow the benefits of improved labor conditions and improved trade practices to be felt.

Other events were well attended and included question and answer periods on livelihood issues, presumably raising awareness of those who attended about the issues.

The impact of the video was not felt during the project, but it is a lasting product that is being used by project collaborators to increase awareness of social justice issues in agriculture across the South. FOG is seeking venues for the film now such as farm conferences and public education events, in addition to releasing it widely online and through collaborators. News of the film is spreading quickly and many of those the project has been in contact with and who have reviewed the film feel that it is a useful tool and are very eager to distribute it. In addition, the Agricultural Justice Project has committed to adding Spanish subtitles to the film (nearly completed) in order to make it more accessible to Spanish speaking communities.

The independent evaluation of the project found that the education and outreach activities, “clearly had a positive impact on local communities” (Chase 2013).

Overall Evaluation:

One of the areas that FOG can improve upon is the level of communication with collaborators. While many of the collaborators were satisfied with way they were included in project activities and work, two areas of project management received less satisfactory scores: “your understanding of project progress” and “sharing results” (Chase 2013). In particular one project collaborators would have liked more direction on what was expected of them. This is certainly something FOG can improve upon, particularly if resources exist to spend the time and energy required to summarize project progress/status regularly, hold project conference calls, and actively supervise delegating activities.

The final evaluation concluded that feedback received by the independent evaluator indicated that there is room for this work on social justice labeling program to carry forward and expand; that the market for this has not been saturated. Both farmers and retailers who were contacted remain excited about the potential of such programs. “By continuing its good work with the addition of benchmarking and tracking systems, the evaluator believes FOG’s cumulative impact on fair food systems in the region will be improved” (Chase 2013; 11).

Programmatic Assessment:

The final evaluation found that FOG can maximize the impact of future projects by making improvements to the objectives by including more concrete numeric goals and a more comprehensive method for tracking participation, reach, and impact. FOG did maintain a spreadsheet of farmers and businesses contacted for certification; however, the number of individuals who received tabling information or showed an interest in the education materials was not tracked. More difficult but perhaps more useful would be to follow up with members of the public to see if their behavior changed after receiving information on social justice issues in the food system.

Economic Analysis

There is a considerable time commitment for a farm or business that goes through Food Justice Certification, including the annual cost of certification itself (when not paid for by the project), the cost of providing adequate wages and benefits for workers, the cost of wages for the requisite trainings and meetings, and the costs of labeling and advertising and educating buyers and the public about what it means. Certainly this project has underscored how family scale farmers and small businesses are stretched thin with many competing demands on their time and resources. That said, they also see an opportunity in social justice certification to differentiate themselves and improve their professional relationships. Part of what will make the time and cost worth it will be how the public and buyers respond. Farmers cannot be expected to jump through these hoops without themselves receiving a fair price. This is affected by ethical (or lack thereof) trade relationships beyond the farm gate, but also by the public’s knowledge about how food production impacts the lives of farmers and workers and their willingness to pay for products that are not the product of injustices to these individuals. This is a challenge given how opaque the food system is. Aside from improved prices and agreements in trade relationships, those who go through certification may also experience improved farm or business operations which will save them money and offset the costs of certification. This may come in the form of reduced turnover, smoother work relationships, and increased skill and knowledge base of workers. These are factors that should be tracked in the future as certified farms continue with certification.

Farmer Adoption

Adoption of the Food Justice Certification program occurred late in the project by one farm
Over 100 farmers were reached during the recruiting process and became at least preliminarily familiar with the issues and certification. In addition, 10 growers were interested enough to go down the road of assessing how much they would have to change to come into compliance.


Areas needing additional study

The impact (on the lives and livelihoods of workers and farmers) of domestic fair trade certification programs such as the Food Justice Certification program is an important area of future study. It is clear that to measure the impacts of a relatively new certification program requires a longer project time period. Collection of baseline data is an important tool to enable the future assessment of impact of the program. Based on the experience in this project, the Agricultural Justice Project is working to establish baseline metrics for this purpose. Furthermore, work is needed to relieve the pressure that farmers face in the current opaque and consolidated food system. Issues raised by farmers that they feel are important to address include unfair treatment by brokers, disparities in prices between the price the farmer gets and the price the public pays for farm products, the lack of crop insurance for smaller and organic non-commodity crop farmers, labor shortages due to immigration policies, and demands on farmers’ and small business owners’ (who face a similar consolidated competitive market) time that do not allow them to participate in programs for improving livelihoods even when they are ethically supportive of such programs. Certification (organic or otherwise) has become very burdensome. Efforts are needed to streamline paperwork and make the process more user-friendly and efficient for farmers. Work is needed to help link farmers and retailers. This would increase the amount of transparency in the system and potentially reduce the percentage of the food dollar that is used between the farm gate and the retailers. Small scale retailers experience similar feelings of being pushed to the limit and overwhelmed with all the demands on their time. Streamlining ways for farmers to have direct relationships with retailers may help. Finally, recommendations from the independent evaluation include expanding the outreach and education activities to include targeted presentations (collaborating with students, religious groups, and other community organizations) and having an expanded media presence through radio, newspaper articles, TV and progressive online news outlets (Chase 2013; 9).

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.