Toward a Broader Vision of Sustainability: Social Equity in Sustainable Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Ron Strochlic
California Institute for Rural Studies


  • Fruits: general
  • Vegetables: general


  • Education and Training: workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable agriculture is often compared to a three-legged stool, resting on the three "E's" of Environment, Economy and Equity. Whereas the environmental and economic aspects of sustainable agriculture have benefited from significant research and technical assistance, issues around social sustainability have been largely ignored. In order for sustainable agriculture to be truly "sustainable," it is vital that this aspect of sustainability be strengthened. While social sustainability encompasses a range of issues, farm labor management is perhaps its most visible manifestation, and is often the principal indicator conswners use to assess the social sustainability of a given farm operation. Several factors make this an opportune time for promoting increased social sustainability on sustainable farms. Growing consumer interest in food from farms with positive labor conditions is creating promising opportunities for fanners able to meet emerging market demands. Recent years have witnessed the development of supply chain codes of conduct including farm labor criteria among actors including McDonald's and Taco Bell. The Kaiser Pennanente hospital system has adopted a Food Policy expressing a preference for food from farms that treat farmworkers "fairly and justly." In collaboration with the Community Alliance with Family Fanners (CAFF), they have recently implemented a pilot program sourcing hospital food from family farms and will be increasingly including farm labor conditions in their purchasing criteria. Food Alliance is a Portland, OR based third-party certifier that helps connect the farms it certifies with markets. They include farm labor conditions in their certification criteria as well. Food Alliance is currently poised to enter the California market and will be seeking sustainable fanns that can meet their certification criteria. At the same time, approximately 43% of all California farms use hired labor, while 58% of those employ one or more workers for at least 150 days during the year. California has experienced severe farm labor shortages in recent years, due to border restrictions and increased competition from industries such as construction, landscaping and services. Labor shortages have resulted in significant losses for many farmers. For example, many citrus fanners suffered losses during the recent freeze in January 2007 because they did not have access to sufficient labor to bring in their crops before the freeze. Growth in the organic and specialty crop sectors has also resulted in increased demand for hired labor in recent years, with increased need for a skilled and stable workforce that is familiar with the production requirements of these crops and dedicated to producing high quality products meeting exacting market standards. These trends highlight the growing importance of attracting and retaining a skilled, dedicated and stable farm labor force. Numerous California farmers have expressed an interest in providing improved farm labor conditions. Nonetheless, many do not know how while most feel they cannot afford to do so. Preliminary results from a California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS) telephone survey of organic fanners in California (in progress; n=46) reveal that 36% of respondents did not have access to sufficient labor at some point during 2006.Virtually all (92%) respondents believe that worker retention is "very important" for the success of their fann operation, while 94% believe that good fannworker conditions will result in benefits for their fann. Nearly two-thirds (61 %) expressed an interest in information about improved fann labor management practices, while a similar number (63%) expressed an interest in "fair labor" labeling or certification programs.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Workshops offering information on improved farm labor management will be conducted with an estimated 90-120 growers on California's Central Coast and Sacramento Valley. Expected outcomes include the following:
    1.Participating growers will exhibit increased awareness of the importance of positive fann
    labor management in the success of their farm operation.
    2.Growers participating in these workshops will be able to identify at least three improved fann labor management practices.
    3.An estimated 25% of workshop participants will implement one or more new farm labor management practices, as presented in the workshops.
    4.Growers implementing new farm practices will report a more stable and dedicated farm labor force.
    5.Growers implementing new farm labor management practices will report increased access to niche markets seeking food from sustainable farms with positive farm labor conditions.

    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.