Posts Tagged ‘shawndelljoyce’

This Thanksgiving, Thank a Farmer

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Growing the food that feeds our country is one of the most thankless and low-paying jobs a person could have. In 2002, the median net income for a U.S. farmer was $15,848, and hired hands and migrant workers averaged about $10,000 per year. Farming has become so unpopular that the category was removed recently from the U.S. census,?and federal prison inmates now outnumber farmers.
Migrant pickers often put in long hours, up to 12-hour days, earning about 45 cents for each 32 pound bucket of tomatoes. This amount hasn’t risen in more than 30 years. At that rate, workers have to pick 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage. Most farm workers don’t get sick days, overtime or health care. Farmers often don’t fare much ?better.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we stopped putting such an emphasis on “cheap” and instead put an emphasis on “fair,” maybe those hands that grow our food could afford to eat, as well. Raising farm wages would have little effect on supermarket prices, mainly because farmers and farmhands are paid only about 6 cents to 9 cents of?every retail dollar spent.
If we raised farm wages by 35 percent and passed that cost to consumers, it would raise the retail price by only a few pennies, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The total cost to consumers for all fresh produce would add up to less than $34 per year, per family. If we raised wages by 70 percent, that cost would be about $67. Divide this over 52 weekly trips to the supermarket and you’re looking at spending barely a dollar more each week. Wouldn’t you spend that much to know that people didn’t suffer to feed you?
In January 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor informed Congress that farm workers were “a labor force in significant economic distress.” The report cited farm  workers’ “low wages, sub-poverty annual earnings, (and) significant periods of un- and underemployment,” adding that “agricultural worker earnings and working conditions are either stagnant or in decline.”
In 2005, Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound to farm  workers for its tomatoes. Soon after, McDonald’s made a similar pledge, effectively raising tomato pickers’ wages to 77 cents per bucketful. Burger King steadfastly refused to pay a penny more until public pressure and political officials pushed the second-largest hamburger chain into doing the right thing. “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser, in a?recent New York Times editorial, described Burger King’s penny-pinching as “a spectacle of yuletide greed worthy of Charles Dickens.”
Most of us do not take the time to wonder why our food costs so little. Instead, we notice how expensive organic or locally grown produce is in comparison. This year, as you and your family gather around the Thanksgiving feast, offer a prayer of gratitude for our small farmers and farmworkers. Give thanks that we still have people willing to grow quality food in a market flooded with cheap imports. Support these hard-working folks by eating locally grown foods at the holiday table and year-round.
— Buy your produce from local farms where you can meet the workers and see for yourself whether they are treated fairly. The smaller the farm, the more likely it is that the workers are treated well. Some farms have only family members working them.
— Support an increase in farm workers’ wages by joining the Alliance for Fair Food,  a network of human rights, religious, student, labor, sustainable food and agriculture, environmental and grass-roots organizations that work in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Shawn can be reached at