Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Harvesting Change: Celebrating Food Day with Farmworkers

I was thrilled to participate in the recent TEDx conference, Harvesting Change, magnificently organized by Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation.

The presentations throughout the event focused on three key areas: the hidden, unconscionable treatment of farmworkers in the US system of industrial agriculture; movement building for social change; and the role of money in fomenting, or hampering, positive change.

The day-long conference featured storytellers and artists who collectively celebrated the contributions of the nation’s 1.4 million farmworkers. Alongside the celebration, presenters highlighted the entrenched exploitation of these hard-working people, without whom we would not enjoy the cornucopia of food in our markets and on our tables.

The day was exquisitely choreographed with Bon Appetit’s VP Maise Greenawalt giving a brief and moving introduction. As VP of a $600 million food company, and someone who has spent months educating herself and others about the current injustices in our food system, she expressed feeling “scared and impotent” not knowing how to ensure that the food they buy was not produced at the expense of the health and wellbeing of farmworkers. I think this day moved us all one step closer to realizing that goal.

View the TEDx presentations online

And now, in fitting celebration of Food Day, one can view the day’s presentations on YouTube:

Session One: Meet

Maisie Greenawalt, host: Conference Opener
Will Scott, African American Farmers of California: Bring Back Black Farmers
Robin Romano, The Harvest: Children in Our Fields
José Gutierrez, former farmworker: Leaving the Fields Behind
Carlos Jackson, visual artist:Images of the Farmworker Movement
Flavio Cornejo, physician: What Farmwork Does to a Body
Maria Catalán, Catalán Farms: From Farmworker to Farm Owner
Wayne Pacelle, The Humane Society of the United States: Animals, Humans: We’re All Connected
Sanjay Rawal, documentary filmmaker: Filming the Faces Behind Our Food
Performance: Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni: Transforming Work Into Joy

Session Two: Movement

Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers: Why We Need Unions More Than Ever [*Pre-recorded TED talk]
Joann Lo, Food Chain Workers Alliance: Organizing the Workers in the Food Chain
Nikki Henderson, People’s Grocery: The Black Power and Farmworker Movements
Tim Galarneau, Real Food Challenge: Empowering College Students to Control What They Eat
Andrea Cristina Mercado, Mujeres Unidas: Domestic Workers Banding Together
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: If You Eat, You’re Responsible [Pre-recorded for TEDxFruitvale]
Performance: Zoë Ellis, Crystal Monee Hall, and Valerie Troutt: The Trouble I’ve Seen

Session Three: Money

Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Making Corporations Pay
Heather Franzese, Fair Trade USA: Changing How You Think About Clothes
Dalia Ceja and Amelia Ceja, Ceja Vineyards:Grape Picker to Wine Maker
Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: Following the Money in Lake Apopka, FL
Sandy Brown and Adelfo Antonio, Swanton Berry Farm: Life on a Unionized Organic Farm
Performance: Mi Tierra Linda Mariachi: Conference Finale

The perfect venue

The event was held on the beautiful campus of Mills College in Oakland, CA. I can think of no better venue to host a theme of justice and progress. Mills boasts a long, rich history of providing education with an emphasis on social justice and community service to women who might not otherwise have such an opportunity. Just this past spring, I watched a good friend – a grandmother of four  – graduate from Mills with a bachelors degree, an achievement made possible by a generous scholarship from the college.

I rejoiced with friends and family as I watched women of all colors and ages receive degrees in everything from music and math to philosophy and film. Yet, what most moved me was the bachelors degree bestowed upon the octogenarian May Ohmura Watanabe whose undergraduate education was cut short as she was forced to move from the dormitory at Mills to a WWII internment camp. It brought tears to my eyes.

And so too did the Harvest of Change bring tears to my eyes — of sadness and shame and of inspiration, hope and shared commitment to change the food system in which we are intimately tangled (especially us city folk). We can, and are, working together to create a more just food system for all. Si se Puede!

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

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

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