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Good news from the fields: Just tomatoes are here to stay
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously encouraged, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In other words, courage, prayer and hard work can and will achieve justice in this world, but that journey takes time. A lot of time. Oftentimes, barraged by a seeming endless array of real (or imagined) global crises and injustices in the 24/7 news cycle, it can seem that justice is never coming.
This is why it feels especially important to share some very good news: justice is coming to a United States industry that until a handful of years ago was still dubbed “ground zero for modern-day slavery,” by a U.S. Department of Justice attorney. The farmworkers of Immokalee, Florida, (where 90% of all of our nation’s off-season tomatoes come from) are on the cusp of not only permanently changing the U.S. tomato industry for the better, but perhaps the entire agricultural industry as a whole. Thanks to their tireless efforts, which IJM supported since 2012 with our Recipe for Change campaign, 2014 has been a banner year for the Campaign for Fair Food that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) leads.
In January of this year, Wal-Mart became the latest and largest corporation to sign on to the Fair Food Program for all of their tomato purchases, and other produce purchases in years to come (in Florida and throughout other states soon). This past spring, the New York Times gave the Fair Food Program the front page treatment, and their story at long last reached the world. Finally, just last month, the CIW were honored with the Global Citizen Award at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York City. President Bill Clinton called the CIW’s Fair Food Program “the most astonishing thing politically happening in the world we’re living in today.”
But we’re not there yet.
Your voice is still needed. These gains made by those who pick our food will not hold if the biggest purchasers of tomato and produce, supermarkets, don’t join their peers. Multi-billion dollar corporations like Kroger, Ahold and Publix are still holding out from supporting a proven, sustainable and life-changing equation in the justice movement. IJM has delivered thousands of letters to executives at each of these supermarkets in support of the CIW, and even after a year of acclaim like the Fair Food Program has had this year, they stubbornly refuse to get on the right side of history.
The truth is, the CIW’s path to justice for thousands of farmworkers did not happen overnight. The visible progress of the past few years came from two decades of struggle that seemed hopeless at times. But the poverty wages, the rampant sexual abuses, the extreme cases of slavery, those are now ending or have ended because the people that make up the CIW kept the faith that the arc would one day bend toward justice, and because people like you spoke up and continue to speak up.
For an introduction or refresher on how the Fair Food Program has successfully eliminated slavery from the tomato industry and dramatically improved the lives of farm workers with better wages and enforcement against abuses, watch this fantastic new video on the program:
In the meantime, thanks to IJM’s and your efforts, I was invited into conversations on the promotion of an acclaimed documentary releasing nationwide next month (November): Food Chains. If you would like to attend or even help put on a screening in your city, please reach out to me as well. The film is all about how our food reaches us, with a special focus on the story of the Immokalee farmworkers and their fight for justice. Watch the trailer below and watch/share the movie next month!