Monday, March 2, 2009

The Price of Conventional Agriculture

A fellow Yard Farmer forwarded an article entitled "Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes," from the March issue of Gourmet magazine, to me today. Given what we're trying to achieve with this business, I thought this was pretty relevant to not only how we're working to change the agriculture business but also to the types of choices we make as consumers.

This article highlights the amount of human misery entailed in conventional farming methods, especially when those methods are performed by migrant workers with few, if any, easily enforcable employment-related rights.

Here's an excerpt:

Immokalee is the tomato capital of the United States. Between December and May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes we eat come from south Florida, and Immokalee is home to one of the area’s largest communities of farmworkers. According to Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Immokalee has another claim to fame: It is “ground zero for modern slavery.”

Our modern demand for every type of produce whenever we want it for the cheapest price possible puts human beings into conditions we would never even wish on our enemies.

Here's another short excerpt about labor conditions:

For every 32-pound basket you pick, you receive a token typically worth about 45cents—almost the same rate you would have gotten 30 years ago. Working at breakneck speed, you might be able to pick a ton of tomatoes on a good day, netting about $50. But a lot can go wrong. If it rains, you can’t pick. If the dew is heavy, you sit and wait until it evaporates. If trucks aren’t available to transport the harvest, you’re out of luck. You receive neither overtime nor benefits. If you are injured (a common occurrence, given the pace of the job), you have to pay for your own medical care.

The rest of the article goes on to highlight the small gains worker advocacy groups are making, but goes on to describe the uphill battle these groups, and law enforcement, face. The article cites our current food production system, and fierce competition among agricultural cooperatives and companies, as obstacles to real change occurring.

Here at Yard Farmer we don't believe we can change the system overnight. We're in this business with long-term goals in mind, though, and we know it will take the work of many people to really overhaul how food production in the United States works. Yard Farmer customers here in Long Beach will play a minor role in this overall process, but we believe we can help bring about positive change, even if it's on a small scale.

Read the rest of the article when you get a chance. It's enlightening and will make you think twice before you choose to buy "conventionally grown" tomatoes next time you visit the supermarket.

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