Improving the quality of life for Southern organic farmers and farm workers
Activities in 2010 focused on the further recruitment of farms and food businesses to participate in the domestic fair trade program, as well as working one-on-one with individual farmers and food businesses to adjust and develop fair labor and trade practices. At farmer and food business request, tools were researched, developed, and distributed, to help them in this process. The organic farmer survey was finalized and has been mailed out. The data is now being analyzed for support, for fairness in sustainable agriculture and for challenges faced by organic farmers in the south. A public survey to explore knowledge and support for fairness in the food system was developed and is being finalized. FOG and collaborators, Farmworker Health and Safety Institute and the Farmerworker Support Committee conducted a training for the Farmworker Association of Florida and they now serve as a resource for farmers wanting to improve their work place practices. Finally, FOG conducted public outreach presentations, email and Facebook posts and tabled at events to increase awareness of domestic fair trade and quality of life issues farmers and workers face in this country.
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 to our food system to benefit from a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable farming and food system model by providing education and outreach tools, 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 main avenue through which the project anticipated gaining input on best practices and support for socially, economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture on farms in the South was through a mail out survey to certified organic farms across the South. FOG used a list of 633 non-exempt certified organic farms in the South. The farmer survey was finalized and mailed out to not just the 300 organic farmers as anticipated in the project plan, but an additional 100 for a total of 400 farms. This was done instead of mailing out a separate postcard survey. The main reason for increasing the number of full surveys sent was to achieve an adequate response rate, given that the finalized survey was more in depth than recommended by survey methods research (Pennings, Irwin and Good 2002; 24, pp 266 – 277). Pennings et al. recommend that surveys for farmers be under 10 minutes long. After careful consideration, FOG decided not to cut out critical questions in order to shorten the survey but rather to increase the number of surveys mailed out. The mailing of the survey was anticipated for April of 2010; however, in consideration of farmer preference to answer survey question in Jan and Feb, the mailing was delayed. However, this may have facilitated the ease with which responses were received. Adding the incentives of a seed certificate drawing for farmers who returned surveys by a certain date also likely helped facilitate responses. The targeted number of responses has been received and data entry is nearly complete. The survey acted as an additional method for recruiting farmers for the Food Justice certification component of the project; 33 percent of respondents to date reported being interested in domestic fair trade certification. FOG is following up with these farmers. A full report of the survey results will come in the near future. Preliminary analysis began to be presented at public presentations in April 2011.
In an attempt to help farmers in the south access and utilize tools for improving the quality of life for themselves and workers FOG contacted over 100 farmers and small businesses individually across the south to offer assistance. These one-on-one interactions also allowed for more qualitative and detailed information to be gathered regarding the challenges they face and what would be of most assistance. Labor shortages, starting up small business infrastructure and unfair contracts/agreements with buyers were some of the issues brought up by Southern organic farmers as obstacles.
Farm business policies: Farmers from other regions who have already gone through certification have reported that the process has made their operations run more smoothly and has improved communication between themselves and farmworkers. Particularly with smaller organic operations that are so prevalent in the South, the project has found that many farmers have few or no written policies, procedures, or written contracts. Over the past year, FOG has worked with four farms in particular, assisting them on a one-on-one basis to develop policies and procedures that would help clarify and document operations and expectations on the farm. In addition, the project realized that targeting just farmers would only be half the equation for improving farmer and farmworker lives. The other half is reaching out and improving relationships and communication between buyers and farmers. Consequently, the project reached out to buyers of the participating farms and worked with three in particular on a one-on-one basis to develop fair and just policies and contract procedures for their relationships with farmers. The main tools used to help farmers and buyers develop fair policies, procedures and contracts were the standards of the Agricultural Justice Project, which outline in detail the specific elements of fair relationships, contracts, and working conditions. Furthermore, the AJP farmer toolkit that provides templates and case studies of fair farms across the nation was also used. In addition to using this toolkit with the most interested farmers, it was mailed out to anyone who requested it for free. Moreover, the farmer survey that was mailed out to 400 organic farmers in the South provided an opportunity for farms to request a copy of the toolkit be sent to them. Fifty-six percent (29 of 52) of farms responding to the survey have requested the toolkit. FOG provided additional assistance to farmers upon request including research into clinic resources for farmworkers without insurance, providing step by step instructions to setting up payroll and business taxes for emerging farms, and figuring out costs of production. In addition, farmers interested in paying a living wage or wanting to work towards paying a living wage for farmworkers, requested assistance on determining what it should be. FOG researched different living wage calculators and differences between these calculators’ living wage definitions. A spreadsheet was developed to share with farmers and other food business employers for the purpose of having open and transparent conversations with workers on adequate pay and working towards a living wage (see attached example).
Certification: Project activities in 2010 continued to focus on recruiting farmers and food businesses through newsletters, fliers, tabling, and networking and expanded to include intensive one-on-one communications. In addition, several farms and food businesses that expressed interest in going through Food Justice Certification participated in the technical assistance phase to prepare for the certification application and inspection. The site in North Carolina fell through as Food Safety requirements overwhelmed farmers and food businesses who were interested in participating, causing them to put this social justice certification activity on hold. Virginia and Florida became the focus on technical assistance and outreach. FOG will continue to work with operations interested in certification to see them through the entire process. In addition a number of farmers who answer the farmer survey expressed an interest in Food Justice certification.
Resources for Farmers and Workers: FOG collaborated with the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute (FHSI) to finalize the training course for farmworker organizations on farmworker rights, health and safety. The training was translated into Spanish. FHSI conducted the training in central Florida in October for community organizers and staff of the Farmworker Association of Florida. It was a success as eight worker advocates are now trained to be a resource for workers and farmers on participating farms. When future farms are ready for their workers to be trained, FWAF will be called upon to do the training. Additionally, FWAF is currently a contact for farmers and workers in the South who have questions about improving working conditions and participating in the project. They have been added to the worker rights brochure that was distributed to workers on at least one farm in the South and will be distributed to more in the coming year.
The training course for certification staff and worker representatives participating in Food Justice certification in the South was revised and FOG conducted an additional practice run (not in the original project plan) in April 2011. The training has not taken place in the South due to the increased time farmers and businesses have needed in the preparation stage getting ready for certification (i.e., technical assistance). However, to ensure that certification staff and worker representatives will be ready to expedite the certification of operations in the South when farmers and businesses are ready, FOG decided to send these trainees to the next Food Justice Certification course in the Northwest, May 2-4th. This plan has the added benefit of solidifying the training and expertise of southern certification inspectors and worker representatives by allowing them to participate in 3 training inspections in the Northwest as well as the inspections in the South. As soon as the training requirements are complete, QCS (the local certifier) and FWAF (the local worker organization) will be better equipped to offer domestic fair trade certification in the South and answer questions from existing clients.
One of the main tools the project anticipated using to assess public knowledge of and support for social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture and pubic willingness to pay for AJP certified products is a public survey. It will be used to collect data on people’s priorities when making food purchases and their willingness to pay more for products that guarantee fair conditions for workers and farmers. Despite a delay in farms and businesses getting certified, design of this survey moved forward in 2010 with anticipation of the final implementation in the beginning of 2011; it is currently being tested. The project design has been altered to distribute the survey in several retail and public settings rather than just retail outlets participating in the study.
In addition, the project anticipated observing purchase behavior in stores selling AJP certified products. However, as farmers and business are still getting their policies and documentation in place for certification, these products were not available at the retail level in 2010. Finally, all opportunities to interact and reach the public were used to gather feedback on support for social justice guarantees on foods. This included public presentations in Virginia and Florida in which members of the public expressed strong support for a food label that would guarantee better working and contracts for workers and farmers. In addition the public expressed concern about label fatigue and not knowing what the variety of labels mean in the marketplace.
It was anticipated that having socially just certified products in retail settings would be the most effective base from which to reach out to the public about fairness in the food system. As certified products have not hit the retail shelves yet, the project has decided to focus its public education campaign on presentations, tabling events, social media, and developing print material with messages about national and regional conditions and challenges for farmers and farmworkers. Extensive literature research was completed by collaborator Cynthia Barstow on the public perceptions, knowledge, and priorities. From this research a comprehensive education campaign was outlined to increase awareness of domestic fair trade and the challenges farmworkers and farmers face. This campaign has been implemented step by step since June of 2010. It included creating a Facebook page and Twitter presence to raise awareness of the Food Justice certification program and what it means. In the first 2 months of the social media use, we received 133 likes, a peak of 140 monthly active users, and 1581 post views. This electronic medium has been used to distribute articles and policy issues that address fairness for farmers and farmworkers and to present collaborative and positive relationships and businesses in the food system. Banners were designed and brochures were distributed that carried the message of what domestic fair trade should ensure, “respect for the land and people working together.” Presentations were given in Virginia, including use of the film “What’s Organic About Organic?” as a focal point to ignite discussion on the issues that need attention in sustainable agriculture. The film was successfully used in Virginia in one of the retail grocery stores adopting fair policies and procedures in preparation for certification. Another one was scheduled for April at a coop in Florida that is also using the Agricultural Justice Project tools and standards to develop fair labor and farmer contracts. Events were tabled in both Virginia and Florida and one-on-one meetings were held in Virginia and Florida.
In addition, a print publication is currently being finalized that will include a description of domestic fair trade certification, as well as three to four engaging quiz questions that readers can use to gauge the challenges and reality faced by farmworkers and farmers in this country. Topics being developed into quiz questions include how farmworkers are exempt from many of the labor rights afforded to other workers in our country, how farmers often receive unfair contracts in conventional agriculture that establish a system of debt to buyers and tip the balance of power substantially towards industrial processors, and how farmer’s cannot make a living only by farming and must supplement their income with off farm jobs, while working long hours in these “second jobs.” The organic farmer survey data being analyzed now will inform the further development of quiz questions that can be interchanged as more compelling and South focused realities emerge. This aspect of the project will ramp up in this final year.
Finally, a short video clip is being developed to further educate the public on issues related to fairness in the food system. The farmer survey collected contact information for those farmers who wish to participate in a public education campaign. The survey findings will be used to inform the content and focus of the video clip, as will the public survey.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project anticipated building a cooperative relationship between sectors of the food system that have traditionally been pitted against each other—between consumers who want cheaper prices and buyers who feel pressure to lower prices and therefore offer lower prices to farmers. Consequently, farmers cannot afford to pay a higher wage to workers as they are not receiving a fair price. Farmers feel exploited by a powerless dynamic with buyers, and workers are exploited by an unjust and non-transparent food system. The project has shined spotlights on the problems with these relationships in all of its activities over the past year. This has been evidenced by:
• Feedback from retailers who receive technical assistance showing they have altered their approach to working with farmers by asking questions about what their real costs of production are and what needs to be considered in price setting,
• Retail owners and farmers addressing worker conditions and considering costs of living for each employee when they set working conditions,
• Comments from worker organizations that perhaps a different mentality is needed, that allows for support of collaborative relationships with farmers who are addressing positive working conditions for workers,
• Comments from the public who, once they hear the reality of what farmers and workers face, that they would spend the extra 25 cents for a pint of strawberries if it meant fair and just working and contracting conditions were met.
There is certainly more work to be done to change the system to one that is not opaquely exploiting those furthest from our dining room tables. Seeds have been planted in our project work and the ground is fertile based on answers from farmer surveys in the South.
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. (FWAF)
815 South Park Avenue
Apopka, FL 32703
Office Phone: 4078865151
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. (FWAF)
815 South Park Avenue
Apopka, FL 32703
Office Phone: 4078865151
2017 N. Woodrow St
Arlington, VA 22207
Office Phone: 7032489172
Northeast Organic Farming Association
2218 Welcher Road
Newark, NJ 14513
Office Phone: 3153319029