Recently I read the Editor’s Letter in Vegetable Grower’s News entitled ‘The unintended effects of activism’. Any of us who are in the organic farming world know that this publication is provided free of charge to growers because it is subsidized by advertising and ‘informational’ pieces provided by large ag companies ranging from seed providers to herbicides. There is often very little ‘news’ that applies to the organic industry but I still choose to skim through it from time to time to keep on issues that are affecting larger, industrial crop producers. This op-ed piece in particular I found completely troubling from a human rights perspective to the point that I felt driven to write this counter-piece.
The whole editorial revolves around the ‘battleground for a living wage’ and the rate that producers will now have to pay to their employees if legislation does in fact take place to raise the minimum wage from the measly $7.25/hr to $15/hr; a move that is poised to take place in increments over the next 6 years. Frankly, I am personally appalled that the minimum wage nationally can still exist under $10/hr. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I purchased cereal, cream and milk, bottled water, two frozen pizzas and a watermelon for my children. The total at the check-out counter came to over $60 to cover the expenses of one shitty ‘take-out’ style dinner and maybe enough breakfasts to feed my kids for a little under a week. At the federal minimum wage level I would have had to work nearly 10 hours (over a full 8 hour workday) to make enough to pay for this very basic grocery trip. There would be nothing left over to pay for our mortgage, my car, the gas to put in my car, health insurance, and the clothes to keep my family from walking the streets naked much less any type of free-time activities (like taking my kids to the city pool). Fuck that.
So it angers me to see this balding, aging middle-class white dude telling me what an atrocity it is that the ag industry will actually have to give their farm hands a raise. Sir, have you ever worked in ag or have you only written about it? If you have spent any time laboring on your hands and knees in the blazing hot sun or a freezing cold November rain, you know that your time spent working a full 8 hour day better be damn well worth more than a couple of frozen pizzas. Which, frankly, is why you sir did not choose farm labor as your career but instead chose the very cushy job of journalism (As I sit here at my comfortable desk drinking my fair trade coffee w/ organic cream…I know how hard of a struggle it can be to write some words on a piece of paper in my pajamas).
Your letter states that the reason to avoid raising the minimum wage is a loss of jobs, an increase in mechanization and moving production out of the US. Sir, this has already happened. All large farms have been working tirelessly to rid themselves of the headache of actually having employees. Who wants to pay L&I and Federal Employment Security Taxes anyway? And if you think that it is so overly simple to move production out of the country, please remember that moving production actually means having some good arable land with water and fertility resources to actually move to. These aren’t shoe factories, they are farms!
And your argument that farmers cannot recoup costs because they cannot set the price on goods is weak. You big farmers set the system up this way for yourselves during the last century, now deal with the consequences. You yourselves are no more than slaves to the industrial food complex. Stop whining about your lot in life and organize a revolt. Start asking to be compensated for your commodities at a fair exchange rate. Work with each other as growers rather than against each other. Form a fucking farm union. Remember what unions used to be good for…they used to keep ordinary people from getting screwed by big business! Take a stand rather than continuing to play the victim. This spineless mentality is getting so old.
And, rather than continuing to spew the dogma of the antiquated machine known as modern agriculture, why not encourage farmers to step up and do the right thing. Raise the minimum wage and encourage your workers to make a living rather than remain enslaved in poverty. Farming is a highly skilled, physically intensive job. Stop whitewashing the facts. Stop perpetuating the myth that farm work is unskilled labor unworthy of a reasonable rate of pay. This is a fallacy and it is offensive to those of us who have spent our lives with our hands (our white hands) in the dirt. I am fucking sick of migrant labor (the majority of the workforce in large ag) being treated like less than human. When will this end? Never, without a change in attitude toward one’s employees. Shame on you, Mr. Lee Dean for continuing to perpetuate this system of capitalism at its worst. I hope when you are sent to hell, you will be bent over for 8 hours, picking strawberries by hand on a 90 degree day for $58 before taxes.