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Human cost

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I read a very impactful piece of reporting last night, and I am ashamed that my eyes are only now opened to this particular dark side of modern agriculture.  The series of stories in the LA Times was about the workers who pick and pack the produce grown on giant corporate farms in Mexico.  The long and short of it is that these people are horribly taken advantage of – minimal pay (often withheld until the end of their contract), company stores that leave many workers in debt, poor living conditions, child labor.  These people are working on farms that export their goods to the USA.  To Walmart.  To Subway.  One bit of irony that hit me pretty hard was the fact that US concern for food safety has meant that these farms have state-of-the-art greenhouses and packing facilities.  And yet the field workers live in squalid camps.

Clearly, this isn’t OK.  I don’t know what the answer is – if we stopped importing produce from giant farms in Mexico, the supermarket shelves would be bare of fresh produce at many times of the year.  I don’t think that the local farming infrastructure could really pick up the slack in production anyway.  And the fact is that we live in a fast-food culture.  As an American, it’s hard to completely step outside of the agri-industrial complex that rules our food system.  Maybe it’s time to focus on Fair Trade being just as important as organic.  Why isn’t there such a thing as a Fair Trade organic tomato?

It strikes me that a lot of emphasis is placed on food animal welfare in the local food “scene”.  We decry the fact that beef cows must live in horrible conditions as they are fattened in the feedlot.  And, god forbid, pigs might live in barns, on slatted floors, above their own manure.  These are not good things – it’s not good for the animals, and it’s not the way to produce high-quality nutritious meats. And we recognize that the decision as a society to invest in factory farming bears environmental and even cultural costs.  But what about the human cost, the social cost?  We yearn to see cows on pretty green pastures, pigs rooting in the dirt, but what of the workers?  Where is the concern for the people who picked that “ripe” tomato found on shelves year-round at the supermarket?

Well, isn’t that a cheery way to start your weekend….

You can read a short summary of the LA Times story from Harvest Public Media.  Or read the entire four-part series here.

Back here in Grafton, we are finally reaching the end of carrot season.  We still have plenty left to sell, for now, but they are starting to show their age.  Still great for soups.  And horses.  75 cents / lb.  The beets and celeriac have held up incredibly well.  Tons of beets left, but we nearing the end of our celeriac supply.  Anyone have a good borscht recipe?