The Equitable Food Initiative: #GrowTheGood | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

The Equitable Food Initiative: #GrowTheGood

Margaret Reeves's picture
EFI Label

We know that ending reliance on hazardous pesticides can only happen by creating healthy, just food and farming systems — and this means for all of us. One way we can do this? A safer, more transparent food chain. The EFI program is designed to signify that workers harvesting your produce are treated well and compensated fairly, while also including standards for food safety and pest management. That’s why we’re encouraging people to learn more about and take action for Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) certified produce as we celebrate EFI’s #GrowTheGood campaign through July 5.

As a member of the EFI Board, and having worked for eight years to support and help build the initiative, I could not be more proud and enthusiastic about EFI. One of the most comprehensive workforce training and certification programs in fresh produce agriculture, EFI ensures a safer, more dignified, respectful workplace for tens of thousands of farmworkers. When you eat EFI-certified fruits and vegetables, you’re eating fruits and vegetables grown with a commitment to farmworkers, food safety, and the environment. 

Not only do the standards ensure a more respectful workplace for farmworkers, they also include requirements for pest management and food safety. As a Senior Scientist at PAN, I helped develop EFI’s pest management standards, which require integrated pest management strategies, or IPM. IPM is a process used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to workers, environment, and communities by focusing on long-term pest prevention through ecosystem management; chemical controls are only used as a last resort. 

EFI Label

EFI’s impacts to date

Back in 2008, farmworker unions and farmworker advocate organizations united in recognizing the potential for the marketplace to foment change and improve on-farm working conditions. At the same time, leaders in the produce growing and buying sectors recognized that well-trained and well-compensated workers were necessary to achieve greater on-farm efficiencies and consistent implementation of detailed food safety protocols.

In 2013, EFI’s first on-farm worker management Leadership Teams were trained, and in 2014, the first farms gained EFI certification in compliance with EFI’s comprehensive standards addressing labor, food safety, and pest management. 

Please join me in supporting EFI. Together, we can say it matters that the people who harvest the food we eat are well-compensated, respected, and labor in safe workplaces. Learn more about EFI here.

In its first five years, we have focused on bringing EFI to workers, growers and buyers. The numbers tell of EFI’s success:

  • 29 certified farms in 4 countries; 18 more farms in progress. 
  • More than 30,000 workers on farms with trained Leadership Teams
  • $6+ Million in worker bonuses

But don’t take my word for it; listen to workers tell their stories

Barbara Lomeli has picked strawberries for nine years at Sierra Farms near Watsonville, the first EFI-certified farm. She spoke of her experience with EFI:

They treat us like people, not numbers, and provide us training to help us better communicate with workers and management. We can freely talk about what bothers us without fear of reprisals. We have the freedom to denounce any bad behaviors including use of cruel language. We feel safer and can work more comfortably [...] The audits, that include random interviews with workers, confirm that these changes are real, including among the Indigenous workers who before, would rarely speak up but now do, and feel like valued members of the farm.

Union wins

Since the early 80s I’ve advocated for farmworker rights — first with the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC); then on a myriad of campaigns supporting the United Farmworkers (UFW) and the Oregon-based farmworker union PCUN with PAN. Together, we’ve worked to improve federal worker protections and banned or better-regulated some of the most hazardous pesticides, among many other collaborative efforts. 

Grow the good EFI

In 2010 I joined UFW, FLOC and PCUN, together with Farmworker Justice, National Farmworker Ministry, Oxfam America and others to help design EFI  — all the while, union stakeholders continue their work to win collective bargaining agreements while advocating for public policy and providing services for their members. The United Farm Workers (UFW) for example, organizes dairy workers and works to improve federal worker protection laws, while PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste) builds youth leadership in its many program areas including contract negotiations, local and state elections, and immigration reform. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) addresses the root causes of immigration and our draconian immigration policies. 

Join us to #GrowTheGood

EFI  takes a bold step, largely within current legal structures, to provide farmworkers with the kinds of protections and workforce development opportunities that they have been systematically denied for decades within the industrial agriculture system. 

With recognition of EFI by the Center for Good Food Purchasing, EFI is one initiative of many in a large and growing movement towards a global revolution in food and farming where all food and farm workers enjoy dignified, well-compensated careers from farm to table whether that table be in your home, school, restaurant, workplace or healthcare institution. Learn more about EFI and get involved in the #GrowTheGood campaign today.

Photos: Equitable Food Initiative (EFI)

Margaret Reeves
Share this post: 
Margaret Reeves's picture

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN