The People Who Feed Us: Local, Small-Farm Labor

Last week, we mentioned the exciting progress being made in this country to bring about a broader awareness of food issues. But despite the increase in press and the New York Times’ coverage of food politics, food labor (both as a subject and a population) remains largely excluded from the discussion. It’s time to bring these issues to the table.

Image courtesy of Edible Portland

Slow Food USA’s new President, Josh Viertel, has made a priority of addressing the “fair” in Slow Food’s mission. He and Executive Director Erika Lesser used Terra Madre as a chance to speak to the US delegation about what is to come; in Lesser’s words, “Slow Food is about to get political!”

To that end, Slow Food Portland is kicking off a series that draws attention to “The People Who Feed Us:” farmers and laborers, operations large and small. The first event in the series will bring together three speakers – two local farmers who operate small, organic farms, and one of the founders of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Oregon’s union of farmworkers, nursery and reforestation workers – for a panel to discuss labor practices and challenges for small farmers. For a bit of background in advance of the series kick-off, we’ve gathered together some reading on the panelists:

Persephone Farm

Run by Jeff Falen, along with his wife Eleanor, Persephone Farm grows organic produce with a strong commitment to sustainability. Their ethical farming practices were featured in the Portland Farmer’s Market newsletter back in June.

For insight into their approach to farm labor, this brief profile of Persephone Farm talks a little about their workers and the Falens’ hopes for the future generation of farm labor.

Praying Mantis Farm

Jim Bronec runs Praying Mantis Farm, where he grows a variety of seed crops and squash for local processors.

This past summer, Oregon farmer and Kellogg Food & Society Policy Fellow Zoe Bradbury wrote an excellent article for Edible Portland that details Bronec’s choice to employ workers from PCUN. Her article gives a short overview of some of the difficulties farmers like Bronec face when pursuing fair labor for their farms.

Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN)

As the largest Latino organization in Oregon, PCUN advocates on behalf of farmworkers for better legislative treatment and helps growers connect with fairly-paid laborers. In Bradbury’s Edible Portland article, Ramon Ramirez, founder and head of PCUN, explains the problems with prices we currently pay for food.

For an interview with Ramirez about PCUN’s labor-organizing efforts and their new radio station in Woodburn, you can listen to this interview he did for an internet radio program:

Each of these individuals offer important insight into the labor behind our food. Please come out to the kick-off event for this series to hear more about their experiences and to learn about the ways in which Oregonians are trying to establish better farm economies.

Date: Thursday, November 20 Time: 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Place: Ecotrust, 721 NW 9th Ave # 200, Portland, OR 97209 Cost: $5 members/non-members

Thank you to Ecotrust and Deborah Kane for hosting this event.

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