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Farm-Labor-to-Table: A Conversation on Agricultural Labor and Our Food System

  • Museum of Food and Drink 62 Bayard Street Brooklyn United States (map)

Who are the people growing our food? What are their experiences? And how, as informed eaters, can we make food choices that lead to fair wages and better working conditions? 

In conversations about building a sustainable food system, labor is often ignored or overshadowed by other issues like environmental impact. This is troubling when the workers that plant, grow, and harvest the food Americans eat often work long hours for low wages and are faced with dangerous working conditions, including exposure to chemicals and high rates of sexual harassment. Farmworkers are not eligible for many of the benefits guaranteed to workers in other industries, like a day of rest and the right to organize, and many also face challenges related to their immigration status. 

Join our diverse panel as they discuss different issues surrounding agricultural labor, including current conditions for workers in distinct kinds of agricultural settings, how groups of workers have organized for higher wages and better conditions and are building on that activism, and how farmers operating small farms are paid for their own labor while also managing the challenge of affording workers.

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ABOUT GERARDO REYES CHAVEZ

Gerardo Reyes Chavez is a senior staff member with the award-winning human rights organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).  Mr. Reyes is a farmworker and has worked in the fields since age 11, first as a peasant farmer in Mexico and then in the fields of Florida picking oranges, tomatoes, blueberries, and watermelon.  A CIW member since 1999, Mr. Reyes has worked with consumer allies to organize national actions in the Campaign for Fair Food.  As part of the implementation of the Fair Food Program, Mr. Reyes conducts workers’ rights education with thousands of farmworkers on participating tomato farms. Mr. Reyes speaks regularly about the Fair Food Program at events across the country, such as Yale the Harvard Law School, the Aspen Institute, Labor and Worklife Program Convening on Farm Labor Challenges and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility’s Multi-Stakeholder Roundtable on Ethical Recruitment.  The Aspen Institute named him a 2018 Ricardo Salinas Scholar. He was a keynote speaker at the 2018 TEDMED Chaos+Clarity Conference.

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ABOUT NOELLE DAMICO

Noelle Damico works with the Alliance for Fair Food, organizing institutional and grassroots involvement in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food since 2001.  A Senior Fellow at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, she serves on the board of directors of the Fair Food Standards Council that monitors the CIW's internationally recognized Fair Food Program.  An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Rev. Damico served as national staff for the UCC and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), organizing thousands of people of faith across the country to join CIW in successful rights advocacy. Rev. Damico teaches community organizing and social change at NYU Wagner and lectures widely on human rights and corporate accountability at universities conferences including keynotes at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe High Level Conference on Human Trafficking, the US Department of Justice’s National Human Trafficking Conference, and the NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger Policy at the UN.

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ABOUT MARGARET GRAY

Margaret Gray is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adelphi University.  Gray’s book Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic about New York farmworkers and food politics was published by the University of California Press (2014).  Gray won the Best Book Award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Best Book Award from the Labor Project of the American Political Science Association.  Her work focuses on the intersection of food politics and the conditions of low-wage, non-citizen workers in the agro-food industry.  She received her PhD is from the CUNY Graduate Center (2006). Gray also has a decade’s experience working for nonprofits on economic justice.

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ABOUT JODY BOLLUYT

Jody Bolluyt is one of the farmers at Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, NY.   Roxbury Farm is a certified organic, diversified farm that produces vegetables and beef for 1000 CSA members located in Columbia County, Westchester County, the Capital District, and NYC.  Jody also serves on the board of Equity Trust, an organization working to implement more socially equitable forms of property ownership, and is a member of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement.  

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ABOUT LISA HELD

Lisa Elaine Held is a New York City-based journalist who writes about the food system, agriculture, health, and sustainability. She is a regular contributor to publications like Civil EatsEater, and Edible Manhattan/Brooklyn and is the host of The Farm Report on Heritage Radio Network. Her past stories on women's health, wellness, and nutrition have appeared in publications like Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Well+Good. She has a master's degree from Columbia University's School of Journalism and lives in Bed-Stuy.

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