Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6-8

Deep in the southwest of Florida, the Good has appeared, and we should celebrate it with gusto.

On the jubilee eve of Edward Murrow’s Harvest of Shame and after some 15 years of mutual opposition, Florida’s tomato growers and Florida’s farmworkers have signed an historic agreement to ensure fairness in the fields, dignity of persons, and just wages.

Now 90% of Florida’s tomato industry has joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food principles.

Consumers and retail grocers should join the farmworkers and growers in creating a truly fair food system.

FTGE-RMMr. Reggie Brown came to the offices of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on Tuesday, November 17, 2010, to represent members of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange in the new relationship. Claiming it to be “a watershed moment in the history of Florida agriculture,” Lucas Benitez of the CIW said, “With this agreement, the Florida tomato industry – workers and growers alike – is coming together in partnership to turn the page on the conflict and stagnation of the past and instead forge a new and stronger industry.”

The Good here is that two opposing parties, growers and workers, have discovered that both of their futures depend upon mutually assured dignity. The marketplace works best for all when all receive dignity, respect and fairness in it.

The agreement includes providing for a third party auditor to verify that the terms of the labor arrangement are being maintained. Already farmworkers are being educated about their rights, which include the availability of shade and water in the fields, freedom from sexual harassment and physical coercion, and an end to over-topping buckets. Over-topping has often been reported in the fields; it occurs when a worker is required to overfill their bucket in order for it to be received by the hauler. The practice often reduced wages by a third. Farm workers will also receive the extra penny per pound of picked tomatoes that retailers are beginning to pay.

According to Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, the religious auxiliary of CIW, “Starting immediately, participating FTGE members will pass on the penny-per-pound from retailers to farmworkers and cooperate with a financial audit of the penny-per-pound. They will also adopt the Fair Food Code of Conduct – including a worker-to-worker education process, a cooperative complaint resolution system, and a participatory health and safety program – with a goal of full implementation by the 2011-2012 season. “

The Florida Council of Churches has supported the farm workers and CIW for several years. It joined the student boycotts that led McDonalds, Yum Brand, and Burger King to sign agreements with CIW. Last year, working with the Campaign for FTGESigningNDFair Food, it helped organized a letter-writing campaign to Florida Governor Charlie Crist to gain his support. Governor Crist issued a letter of strong support for the farmworkers. This Thanksgiving season, the Florida Council of Churches working with member churches has organized the “Farmworkers in the Fields are Family, too!” effort. The campaign educates consumers about working and wage conditions in the fields and elicits consumer participation in a market action. Consumers are asked to collect pennies, one per day for a month, and present them to their local Publix grocery store manager as a “forward payment” for the day the grocer also joins the growers in labor agreements with the farm workers.

This latest action is the latest of a wave of agreements. Earlier this year Whole Foods and Sodexo Foods entered into agreements with CIW. Over the Jewish High Holy Days, the owners of Pacific Tomato Growers entered into a public relationship with the farmworkers to improve working conditions. Soon thereafter, Six L Farms signed a similar agreement. Previously East Coast Farms and other small farms had joined agreements.

A lot of work still lies ahead. The Florida Council of Churches will continue to work with Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, the religious auxiliary of CIW, in support of improving the livelihood of farmworkers and educating consumers about fairness in the nation’s food chain.

Link to Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Link to Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida