Tuesday, March 26

Sustainable South: Invisible Farmworkers

 Emilie Dayan, our office intern, will be blogging regularly about issues of nutrition, sustainability, and food policy in the South.

It is National Farmworker Awareness Week. Andrea Reusing preluded the week with an informative TEDxUNC talk in Chapel Hill.

A lot of us are obsessed with food. “We argue about whether pork tastes better if the pig eats peanuts or if the pig eats acorns…But there is a problem,” she says. We often ignore something that is much more fundamental to the way we live: The lives of the people who harvest the food we eat.

Reusing is not alone in raising awareness of the plight of farmworkers. In a course entitled Roots of Poverty, Roots of Change, students at Duke University collaborated with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) to produce a series of short videos to be used as part of the media campaign for the National Farmworker Awareness Week. The topics range from child labor to pesticides, health, and safety.

With statistics reminiscent of those published in Tracie McMillan’s American Way of Eating, the videos inform us that:
  • There are 150,000 farmworkers at any given time in North Carolina.
  • The average farmworker workday lasts 12-14 hours, without overpay.
  • The average farmworker household income is $16K/Year.
  • Farmworkers have the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders than any other type of worker.
  • Each North Carolina farmworker brings in $12K in profit for the state’s economy.
  • North Carolina farmworkers don’t have the protection to organize a union or to take sick leave.

The problem with our food system is that these farmworkers are invisible. Reusing acknowledges that when we eat food that another person has grown and harvested for us, we become connected to them. Let this week be a reminder of those connections and an opportunity to reset a table where all may gather.