Food Justice in the Field
Food justice the right to grow, sell and eat healthy food. There are three parts to food justice: making healthy food available to everyone, growing food using sustainable methods, fair treatment of farm workers. While there is an increase in the number of people who grow a portion of their own food and/or shop at their local farmers market, many people live in food deserts and lack easy access to fresh produce. I’m always happy to read about people growing food on vacant lots or in the yards of abandoned buildings. This is proof that people are truly interested in and willing to work for fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Growing food on large monoculture farms and spraying it with an increasing amount of pesticides and herbicides is not sustainable. I’ve read several studies that have shown that planting genetically engineered crops (GMOs) has led to an increase of millions of pounds of pesticides and herbicides sprayed on agricultural fields. This has also resulted in the growth of super weeds that have become resistant to commonly used herbicides.
I’ve recently read that chemical companies want to introduce even stronger chemicals to combat these super weeds. The cycle will never end. These stronger chemicals will result in plants evolving to be even more herbicide resistant. Of course, this means more profits for the chemical companies at the expense of sustainability and even more potentially harmful chemicals on many people’s food. Not everyone can grow their own produce using sustainable methods or afford organic food.
Farm workers are one of the worst treated groups of laborers in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average more than one farm worker dies every day. Farm work is seven times more fatal than the private industry average. Injuries in the agricultural field are 20 percent higher than the private industry average leading to hundreds of injuries on farms every day.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that the most commonly reported injuries are related to exposure to the elements, dangerous levels of pesticide exposure, farm equipment injuries and heat stress. Farm workers do the hard work that it takes to feed us, yet they receive very few of the benefits and labor law protections that most employees other industries receive.
Farms that employ ten or less workers are exempt from the Occupational Safety Heath Administration (OSHA) field sanitation standards. Many farm workers do not have access to clean drinking water, toilets or a way to wash their hands.
In spite of all of these injustices, there are many people and organizations within the U.S. and across the world working hard to make a difference in the area of food justice. Hundreds of these organizations are small and are working toward food justice within local communities. Use the web to find an organization with an office or a project in your area and volunteer to help promote food justice. It will probably be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.
Maureen Farmer is master gardener and the founder of The Farmer’s Garden. She is an avid gardener, adjunct horticultural professor and a former Board member of Urban Oaks Organic Farm in Connecticut.