Politics of Eating
Sermon originally delivered at the Jack Crum Conference at Highlands United Methodist Church in Raleigh on… Continue Reading
I’ll never forget how it felt to serve dinner to this group. About 30 hungry, tired farmworkers arrived back at their camp just as it was getting dark, and they were kind enough to welcome us into their humble space for a shared meal. This group of mostly young men had been busy harvesting sweet potatoes down East. Most were indigenous Mexicans who learned Spanish as a second language, who didn’t know any English.
As we spooned out rice and beans and poured soda from two-liter bottles, I was struck at how rare it is for any of us to meet the people who actually produce and harvest the food we eat. From our history of slavery to our modern industrial context, our society has not really reckoned with the grim reality of those at the bottom of our food chain.
I will be leaving the NC Council of Churches at the end of March to focus full-time on Tomatillo Design, my new communications shop that works with nonprofits to create amazing, affordable websites.
Since I began working at the Council as an intern in the summer of 2006, I’ve had the incredible privilege of working with the most dedicated, talented and likable group of coworkers imaginable. From its founding more than 75 years ago to today, the Council has worked on a wide range of progressive causes and I’m proud to be a small part of that legacy. Every day at the office I felt encouraged by the witness of recent saints like Sister Evelyn Mattern and Collins Kilburn.
As you’ll see in the news clip and discussion above, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is about to implement major changes to how chickens are processed. These changes will harm workers and consumers alike.
The USDA plans to implement a new rule to increase production speed and eliminate 75% of USDA inspectors in poultry processing factories. Companies will police themselves. During the comment period last year, the proposed rule was savaged by food safety experts, animal rights activists, and worker advocates. There was no credible rebuttal to their concerns. With faster production and less oversight, it’s no surprise that the pilot program found higher rates of salmonella.
Governor Pat McCrory recently issued a proclamation declaring September 15-21 to be “Farm Safety and Health Week.” Here at the NC Council of Churches, we’ve been working with rural communities and farmworkers for decades, and we are well aware of the need for safety on our state’s farms. Our friends at NC FIELD have issued a powerful press release calling attention to the need for not only words from the Governor’s mansion but for real actions by all NC agencies and growers to make farmwork safer and to close the child labor loophole that puts kids in danger.
Somewhat lost this summer amidst all the conversation about comprehensive immigration reform is a little-known bill called the “Agricultural Guestworker Act” (or “Ag Act,” HB 1773) that has already passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. This harmful bill is a thinly veiled attempt to strip farmworkers of the few rights they have on the job while propping up agribusinesses’ bottom line.
Since the end of slavery in America, no workers have been more exploited than the men and women who bend to the earth in backbreaking labor, picking fruits, vegetables, and tobacco. Despite miracles of agricultural progress and innovation over the decades, the harsh lives and working conditions of migrant laborers have changed very little. Their cause has been championed in the past by Edward Murrow, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farmworkers. But that list is incomplete without Baldemar Velásquez . Velásquez was among hundreds of thousands of children who joined their migrant parents working long hours in the fields. Inspired by that early experience, Velásquez founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967.
The Fayetteville ObserverSam Thompson was looking for a sunny spot to plant tomatoes. He ended up leading an award-winning community revolution. Thompson, an elder at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, pitched the idea of a community garden to the church six years ago. What began as a creative use for otherwise empty church property was recently awarded an equipment grant by the North Carolina Council of Churches and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. “We’re using the grant funds to dig a well,” Thompson said. “Wouldn’t you know this would be the wettest June in years.”
I finally had the chance to go my first Moral Monday earlier this week. Walking around Halifax Mall with our Executive Director, George Reed, I was struck by how many people we both knew. I’m deeply proud of the involvement by clergy and faith communities in particular. So many of our members are represented not only in the crowd but also in the faces of those participating in civil disobedience and getting arrested. As we celebrate Independence Day this week, we give thanks not only for the many freedoms our country offers, but in particular for the countless faithful voices speaking up and speaking out for those who are being pushed to the margins by this General Assembly.
Winston-Salem ChronicleThe Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) Foundation has partnered with the North Carolina Council of Churches to provide grants to faith-based organizations to help them supply healthy eating alternatives to their members and underserved communities.
United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church (UMMBC) is one of 20 faith-based organizations that have received a $5,000 Healthy Eating Equipment Grant. The church will use the grant to purchase much needed equipment and supplies to support the 10 gardens that now comprise the S.G. Atkins Community Gardens at Winston-Salem State University.
Mt. Airy NewsPiney Grove Baptist Church’s food ministries recently got a boost from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC) in the form of a $5,000 healthy eating equipment grant. The effort is a partnership between BCBSNC and the North Carolina Council of Churches to provide equipment for 20 faith-based organizations to bring healthier food to their members and communities. More than $90,000 in equipment grants are being used to provide canning and cooking supplies, expand church community gardens and increase storage for fresh produce.
Last week, members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) joined allies and activists from across the state in protesting Reynolds American Inc.’s treatment of farmworkers. Last year, Reynolds earned $1.3 billion in profits, but the company has hesitated to take proactive steps in guaranteeing good housing and fair pay to the workers at the very heart of its supply chain. Here at the NC Council of Churches, we have long supported farmworkers’ rights to living wages and dignity on the job. No one should have to work in slave-like conditions to provide for their family. Corporations should take responsibility for their supply chains, and the people whose labor makes possible their profits.
Growing up working on the family farm is an important tradition that should be preserved, but employing young children in hazardous work should not be a tradition any longer. Child labor laws should be the same for every industry. All children in North Carolina deserve a safe, healthy and bright future.
Holy Week this year is also National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 24-31). It seems like no accident that the week in which we celebrate Jesus’ service and sacrifice for humanity is the same week that we celebrate the extraordinary gifts that farmworkers offer to our communities. As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week, we invite you to celebrate the many vital contributions that farmworkers make to our state. Join with faith communities, student groups, community organizations and many others who are taking this opportunity to lift up those who do some of the hardest work for the lowest pay.
By Eric Ginsburg, YES Weekly
Dozens of organizations and hundreds of people from throughout the area came together in Greensboro last week to talk about an issue central in everyone’s lives: food. The Come to the Table conference, held at UNCG, was designed to assemble people who are working on and concerned with food issues to learn, network and organize around food access and justice.
As I watched the Super Bowl with my family on Sunday night, one ad stood out. It was the beautiful slideshow of farmers, accompanied by the eloquent words of the late Paul’s Harvey’s speech entitled “God Made a Farmer.” The ad was a moving tribute, evoking powerful emotions while praising the often unrewarding daily labor of farming.But why were all the farmers white? Why didn’t the ad depict the reality of farmworkers, the millions of men and women whose hard labor makes possible the abundance on our plates?
Click here for a free download of our new 2013 social justice study for Lent: Preparing the Way. This simple 10-page document combines traditional Lenten themes and Bible passages with contemporary issues including hunger, care of creation, and immigration. We invite you to join us in this season of reflection and preparation.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and The Rensselaerville Institute are looking for individuals with project ideas for creating a healthier Wilson County. Projects will be implemented over the next 6 months and must focus on increasing physical activity and/or access to and consumption of fresh produce.
Selected Community Sparkplugs and their teams will receive the following: a $3,000 grant (simple application process), individualized help to create an action plan and set project results, support and coaching over the next 6 months, and an opportunity to become part of a growing network of Community Sparkplugs across North Carolina.
Monday February 4th, 2013
8:30am – 4:30pm
Kinston Community Council for the Arts
The conference includes plenaries, topical breakout sessions, lunch, and networking opportunities. Registration Fee: $0-15 (sliding scale fee structure).
Agriculture serves as the economic backbone for North Carolina, and farmworkers’ hand labor is needed to produce crops that bring in billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. Despite this fact, farmworkers remain one of the state’s most economically disadvantaged and unprotected group of laborers.
From the laws and histories of ancient Israel to the life of Jesus and the letters of Paul, themes related to the treatment of farmworkers emerge consistently throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Many of these passages suggest that a community’s relationship with God is in fact defined at least in part by its treatment of foreigners, laborers, the poor, and the marginalized. Below is a brief selection of Bible verses that support the idea that farmworkers should be treated fairly.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is helping a congregation begin to see farmworkers as created in God’s image and thus full members of our community. In theological terms, we might use the language of “strangers no longer” and “brothers and sisters in Christ.” We’ve found that most of the controversial conversations about farmworkers are based on myths or misunderstandings. Many of these myths can fracture communities and pit one group against another. You may want to explore these in your congregational discussions as a way of moving members to a better understanding of our farmworker neighbors.
Farm labor ranks as one of the top three most dangerous occupations in the United States. In addition to hazards in the fields, farmworkers and their families face unique burdens on their physical and mental health. North Carolina’s leading industry is agriculture, yet farmworkers are among the most underserved residents in the state.
Not all immigrants are farmworkers, and not all farmworkers are immigrants. Yet as the following facts show, our agricultural system has always relied on the labor of displaced people that do not have the benefit of full citizenship in this country—whether indentured servants, slaves, sharecroppers, or undocumented immigrants.
Farmworkers are some of our nation’s most vital workers, as their labor enables us to enjoy high quality, low-cost, fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. Despite farmworkers’ economic and cultural contributions to the communities where they live and work, they continue to be the some of the lowest paid, least protected, and unhealthiest workers in the United States.
While the July 26 article “N.C. wary of possible farm labor shortage,” in the Raleigh News & Observer, included statistics and testimonies detailing our allegedly pending shortage of farm laborers, it left unstated the obvious conclusion: we can’t have our cake and eat it too. Or in this case, we can’t have our fresh produce and eat it too.
Last week, while senators in Washington indicated their overwhelming support for the Farm Bill through a preliminary floor vote, farmworker families throughout the Southeastern U.S. toiled long hours in the summer heat. After 14-hour days in the fields, many farmworkers return home pesticide-ridden, underpaid and empty-handed — financially unable to provide adequate food for themselves and the hungry mouths that await them.
This comprehensive, intergenerational curriculum focuses on the food we eat and why it matters. Featuring 7 lessons with Scripture, prayers, resources, and activities for young children through adults, “Eating Well” will challenge and inspire your church or community group. Download your copy today.
Raleigh News & ObserverAs we enter this holiday season of feasting, we need to be honest about how our food is produced. America has always relied on cheap labor to make agriculture work. The source of much of that labor used to be slave ships making the Middle Passage. Today it’s no longer slaves but immigrant workers, primarily undocumented people from Mexico and Latin America, whose cheap labor makes possible both low prices at the grocery store and high profits for agribusinesses.
Raleigh News & ObserverThe N.C. Council of Churches has been working for decades to improve conditions for farm workers in our state. Sadly, too much remains unchanged over that time. Field and poultry workers do backbreaking work, but they don’t have the same protections on the job that everyone else has. Now with the recent filing of a complaint against the N.C. Department of Labor, it appears that even the few laws on the books designed to protect farm workers have been systematically ignored (“Dirty jobs,” Oct. 15 editorial).
Last week I visited with a great group of students at Episcopal Campus Ministry (Raleigh) to talk about farmworkers, food and faith. Some students had just visited Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Newton Grove, NC, where they had volunteered their time to visit with workers, provide clothes and other necessities, and learn about life as a farmworker in North Carolina’s fields. The visit raised many questions about the injustices in our food system and the seeming invisibility of the people who make it possible with their hard labor. Even though 85% of fruits and vegetables are picked by hand, many students remarked that they had never learned anything about farmworkers at all before getting involved with Episcopal Campus Ministry.
Harvest of Dignity is a new, original documentary created in 2011. It focuses on the lives and work of farmworkers in North Carolina, providing an in-depth portrait of the people who harvest our food today. It combines interviews with North Carolina farmworkers, advocates, faith leaders and educators, documentary photos and interviews collected by Student Action with Farmworkers interns and clips from the original Harvest of Shame documentary.
Governor Deal believes ex-convicts on Georgia farms can fill 11,000 jobs opened by the state’s new harsh immigration law. The law authorizes all law enforcement to detain immigrants and that has scared away the undocumented workers who attended the fields beforehand. With unemployment hitting a critical high among citizens on probation, it seems the Governor sees the solution as a simple switch. But how many ex-convicts have gone out to the farms looking for work? If the potential workers who are on probation are not presently looking for those jobs, will this group migrate to the farms, because the Governor says so?
As a society, we decided 75 years ago that child labor needed very strict guidelines to make sure that education comes first and to prevent abusive conditions. The only problem? Children in agriculture were exempted from these protections, in part because most farms were small family operations that needed everyone’s help. Today, mass-scale agribusiness has replaced family farms. But the exemption allowing child labor on farms has remained, meaning that there’s a good chance that pint of blueberries you’re enjoying was hand-picked by 12- and 13-year olds – legally. These same children are too young to work in any other industry.
The drumbeat of bad bills continues. Suffice it to say that it’s a tough year for those of us who have advocated for public policy decisions promoting social justice, protecting vulnerable people, and caring for God’s creation. We can’t respond to every bad idea or bad bill. On many of these issues, we feel like we are butting our heads against a wall. Our tendency may be to throw up our hands in despair.
Governor Bev Perdue on Saturday vetoed H 2, the misnamed “Protect Health Care Freedom” bill. (It should be called the “Freedom to be Uninsured and Unable to Get Health Care” bill.) The bill was an attack on federal health care reform and purported to remove North Carolinians from the mandated purchase of health insurance, which is the basis of federal reform which will move millions of uninsured Americans into the ranks of the insured.
Today I’m happy to announce the launch of a new project by the Council’s Farmworker Ministry Committee. The Building Hope Project connects volunteer groups with farmworker families to build small chicken coops and greenhouses. These low-cost structures help families save money and supplement their nutrition. A recent study in North Carolina found that nearly half of farmworker families don’t have enough food year-round. The good news is that with a modest commitment of volunteer time and money, your congregation can make all the difference. Jesus said to his followers, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
I was struck, as I listened to remembrances from the past, that we really are seeing progress on issues of social justice. But it happens over a period of years or even decades. The issues we heard about at the Anniversary are difficult ones. They have produced years of frustration and sometimes what looked like complete failure. And yet . . .
Last week, comedian Steven Colbert caused a stir by testifying before Congress in support of the AgJOBS bill. Colbert’s larger than life persona brought a record number of cameras to the “Protecting America’s Harvest” hearing held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security. While pundits and bloggers disagree about the appropriateness of Colbert’s appearance, very little is being said about the substance of the bill he went to Washington to support: AgJOBS.
Fifty years after “Harvest of Shame,” not much has changed. Farm work remains one of the nation’s most dangerous industries. Here in North Carolina, dangerous conditions in the fields, poverty wages and substandard housing continue to threaten workers’ health and well-being. For example, workers often put in 14-hour days in bad weather – including extreme heat and rain. In North Carolina, 7 farmworkers died of heat stroke in a recent five-year span. They were literally worked to death. And heat stroke isn’t the only problem in the fields.
Farmworkers play a vital role in cultivating the food we eat everyday, and North Carolina has one of the largest farmworker populations in the nation. Even though 85% of our fruits and vegetables are harvested by hand, farmworkers remain largely invisible. This colorful and easy-to-read fact sheet was designed for congregations and community groups. Download a copy today.
The curriculum was written with the help of many individuals for churches to examine and reflect on farmworker issues in North Carolina in a biblical context. It is our hope that through the use of this curriculum, your congregation will lift up farmworkers and become a part of the North Carolina movement to improve the living and working conditions of those who harvest our crops.
Agriculture serves as the economic backbone for North Carolina, and farmworkers’ hand labor is needed to produce crops that bring in billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. Despite this fact, farmworkers remain one of the state’s most economically disadvantaged and unprotected group of laborers. This colorful and easy-to-read fact sheet was designed for congregations and community groups. Download a copy today.
Farm labor ranks as one of the top three most dangerous occupations in the United States. In addition to hazards in the fields, farmworkers and their families face unique burdens on their physical and mental health. North Carolina’s leading industry is agriculture, yet farmworkers are among the most underserved residents in the state. This colorful and easy-to-read fact sheet was designed for congregations and community groups. Download a copy today.
Not all immigrants are farmworkers, and not all farmworkers are immigrants. Yet as the following facts show, our agricultural system has always relied on the labor of displaced people that do not have the benefit of full citizenship in this country—whether indentured servants, slaves, sharecroppers, or undocumented immigrants. This colorful and easy-to-read fact sheet was designed for congregations and community groups. Download a copy today.
Farmworkers are some of our nation’s most vital workers, as their labor enables us to enjoy high quality, low-cost, fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. Despite farmworkers’ economic and cultural contributions to the communities where they live and work, they continue to be the some of the lowest paid, least protected, and unhealthiest workers in the United States. This colorful and easy-to-read fact sheet was designed for congregations and community groups.
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