Today is Cesar Chavez Day, a federally recognized holiday honoring a champion for social justice and advocate for the farmworkers who sustain our Nation.
Cesar Estrada Chavez (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was a Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist who dedicated his life’s work to what he called La Causa (the cause): the struggle of farmworkers in the United States to improve their working and living conditions through organizing and negotiating contracts with their employers. Committed to the tactics of nonviolent resistance practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later becoming the United Farm Workers) and won important victories to raise pay and improve working conditions for farmworkers in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Most famously known for his strike against California’s grape growers*, Cesar Chavez asked Americans to boycott the popular fruit because of the meager pay and poor working conditions farmworkers were forced to endure. In 1970, after five years of the Delano grape strike, farmworkers won a contract promising better pay and benefits. A few years later, their efforts led to the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which established collective-bargaining power for farmworkers statewide.
*While Cesar Chavez continues to get credit for starting the strike, it was actually Larry Itliong, a Filipino-American organizer, who led a group of Filipino-American grape workers to first strike in September 1965. (Larry Itliong is pictured in the bottom picture, in the center)
“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”
Farmworkers are among the poorest workers in the United States. Hazardous conditions are routine and include pesticide exposure, heat stress, lack of shade, and inadequate drinking water. Not to mention the discrimination tactics and abuse they receive from their employers.
In order to feed the country, over two million farmworkers labor on farms across the United States. They handpick the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops produced here making them the backbone of our $200 billion agricultural industry.
It is the great paradox of our food system: the very people who work to feed the U.S. struggle to feed their own families.
Fast forward to August 3rd, 2022 where a historical, 24-day long march began where Farmworkers and Farmworker advocates marched 335 miles, starting from Delano, California and ending at the Sacramento State Capitol; The same march Cesar Chavez did in 1966.
This march was to get the attention of Governor Gavin Newsom and convince him to sign AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. This bill would give Farmworkers the right to vote for a union, free from intimidation and threats, allowing them to vote in secret whenever and wherever they felt safe.
With just two days to spare, Governor Newsom signed the Farmworker Bill AB 2183, on September 28th, 2022.
While there hasn’t been much of an update on the AB 2183 bill, as it just went into effect as of January 1st, 2023, below are some events that have taken place recently with farmworkers.
California Governor Recently Vetoed Farmworker Bill
In December 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the California Farmworkers Drought Resilience Pilot Program, which would have offered farmworkers, many of whom have lost work hours due to the drought, $1,000 a month of supplemental pay from 2023 through 2026. And unlike all other social safety net programs, there would be no immigration status or eligibility requirements, meaning that undocumented farmworkers, who account for an estimated 50% of farmworkers, could receive funds.
New AEWR Wage Effect Final Rule protects Farmworkers
What is currently a very controversial topic amongst those in the agriculture industry, The Department of Labor recently amended it’s regulations governing the certification of agricultural labor or services to be performed by temporary foreign workers in H–2A nonimmigrant status. Specifically, the Department is revising the methodology by which it determines the hourly Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWRs) for non-range occupations (i.e., all occupations other than herding and production of livestock on the range).
This rule follows the Trump Administration’s AEWR rule which was blocked by the UFW and UFW Foundation’s successful lawsuits against the Trump Administration. The Trump Administration’s proposal to reduce the AEWR would have threatened the jobs of countless domestic farmworkers and pushed those willing to accept the below-market wages even further into poverty. According to Farmworker Justice, blocking the Trump AEWR rule saved farmworkers an estimated $500 million in wages over the course of 2021 and 2022.
This newly amended rule goes into effect on March 30th, 2023.
California’s Late Winter Storm Events
California is responsible for producing 1/3 of the nation’s vegetables and nearly 2/3 of the nation’s fruits and nuts.
While this should be the busiest time for farmworkers, California has been receiving back-to-back rounds of Atmospheric Rivers(long, narrow bands of air that can carry water vapor for thousands of miles) since December 2022 (14 so far) that have decimated crops and flooded entire communities; severely reducing work opportunities for many of the state’s farmworkers, who lack social safety nets. One representative with the United Farm Workers estimated “workers have lost up to two months of income.”
47 counties are currently under a State of Emergency. In Monterey County alone, one of the largest produce producers in California, the most current report of agricultural losses is exceeding $450.5 million.
On top of dealing with loss of work, farmworkers are also dealing with the loss and/or severe damages to their homes and vehicles. An if there is work available for farmworkers, the weather means harvesting crops in more dangerous conditions. For Ventura farmworker Octavio Diaz, he recently injured his right leg trying to pull it out from deep, sticky mud. “I kept working after I hurt my leg because we sustain ourselves by working in the farms. We don’t have other sources of income. You have to work to be able to support your family.”
With devastating disasters like this, few have access to emergency relief or government assistance. Language barriers and immigration status being some of the biggest reasons.
California Governor, Gavin Newsom, visited Parajo on March 15th, after a levee burst on the Parajo River, flooding the entire community. He had promised relief, telling residents that “no other state does more for farmworkers.” He stated that there would be an “immediate response” from Biden, and that FEMA aid would be coming to Pajaro as soon as his office put in a request for a major disaster declaration. It wasnt until March 28th that the governor’s office had finally submitted a request for that declaration.
“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”- Cesar Chavez
Cesar may have passed away over 3 decades ago, but his legacy is still alive wherever farmworkers organize and stand up nonviolently for their rights.
We can continue to honor Cesar Chavez’s work by taking the following actions:
1. Educate yourself and others: Learn about the issues that farmworkers face and educate others about their struggles. This can include reading books, sharing articles, documentaries, and other resources on social media, and engaging in conversations with friends and family.
2. Support fair labor practices: Support fair labor practices by buying products from businesses(like the Co-op!) that support fair labor standards and treat their workers with respect and dignity. This includes supporting unionization efforts and advocating for policies that protect workers’ rights.
3. Volunteer: Volunteer with organizations that support farmworkers’ rights and work to improve their working conditions. These organizations provide a range of services, including legal aid, advocacy, and support for workers’ families.
4. Advocate for policy change: Advocate for policy change at the local, state, and national levels that supports farmworkers’ rights and improves their working conditions. This includes supporting legislation that protects workers from exploitation and ensures fair wages and safe working conditions.
5. Support farmworker-led organizations: Support farmworker-led organizations that are working to improve the lives of farmworkers and advocate for their rights.
Today (1/16/23) is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federally recognized holiday that has been observed since 1983. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to Civil Rights and the struggle of the working class; becoming a martyr at age 39 after being assassinated in 1968.
Today is a day in which you will see many businesses share a photo and well-known quote from MLK with their logo conveniently placed in the corner to show their acknowledgment of this holiday. We have all heard the commonly known quotes shared in the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, but MLK was so much more than what was said on that day. Unfortunately, most modern narratives have watered down his messages, taken what was said out of context, and leave out some of his more “radical” thoughts.
Below are some quotes that were most likely not in your high school curriculum, but are still as equally powerful and relevant for today’s ongoing events:
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
“One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” — The Three Evils of Society, 1967
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Links to his full speech’s and letters:
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16th, 1963
- The Three Evils of Society, August 31st, 1967
- Beyond Vietnam, April 4th, 1967
Today we remember MLK and his fight for equality and justice, but we must remember his lessons and determination every day and actively work towards creating a better, equal future for all.
According to Jane Goodall’s book, “Harvest for Hope”, when chimps were given a choice between organic bananas and conventional bananas 9 out of 10 times they would choose organic!
Interestingly when only given conventional bananas the chimps would peel the fruit before eating it, whereas with organic bananas they would simply eat the whole thing, peel and all!
Top Reasons to Buy Organic:
Organic is Better for The People
Overall the standard of living for workers on organic farms is much greater than conventional farmworkers. Conventional farmworkers have much more exposure to toxic chemicals and also tend to have a worse standard of life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified pesticide poisoning as a leading cause of public morbidity and mortality.
Sadly, it is quite common for conventional farmworkers to commit suicide due to the stressful environment, and this is often done using the toxic synthetic pesticides themselves.
Globally, death from deliberate ingestion of pesticides claims more than 168,000 lives every year, which accounted for 20% of all suicides, and the majority of these incidents were reported from developing countries.
In addition, many organic farms are small family-owned farms, so when you buy local organic you can help support farmers in your community!
This is not always true of course as there are corporations switching to organic due to the demand from the public, and these farms, while still being better for your health and for the environment, may not necessarily be small and local.
However, if you do your shopping at the local farmers market or local co-op, the organic produce you buy is supporting local farmers!
Organic is Better for Your Health
Organically grown produce has little to no pesticide residue, so by simply buying organic produce you can drastically reduce your exposure to chemical toxins.
Organic foods may still have small amounts of chemical residue, mainly due to contamination from nearby conventional farms, as well as having trace amounts of organic pesticides.
Most organic pesticides are not synthetic and are derived from natural sources, such as minerals, plants, and bacteria.
Although organic agriculture still uses pesticides they tend to be much less harmful to humans and the environment because they are readily broken down.
In contrast many synthetic pesticides are known to persist in the environment as well as in people and animals too!
To better understand the difference between synthetic and organic pesticides it helps to think of a paper bag vs. a plastic bag. They are both bags, but the paper one is made of natural materials and the plastic one is made of synthetic, man-made materials.
If you were to take both bags, pour some water on them and leave them outside for a few weeks you will notice that the paper bag has been completely decomposed where the plastic bag hasn’t broken down at all and practically looks the same as it did weeks ago!
Organic is Better for The Animals
One of the biggest concerns with industrial agriculture is the horrific treatment of farm animals.
Chickens are crammed inside egg houses by the thousands without ever getting the chance to peck around in a field. Cows are denied open pastures and are instead confined to filthy areas where they have to live in their own feces. And pigs are kept in cages so small that they cannot even lay down.
Along with this cruel and unusual treatment, all of the animals are fed unnatural diets and are constantly pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics.
One option to prevent your money from supporting the companies that treat their animals like this is to go vegetarian or vegan, but for those who still want to have meat every now and then, there are more humane options.
One of which is to only buy organic animal products!
According to USDA Organic Standards, if an animal product is organic it is required that the animal is fed a natural diet that is 100% organic, not treated with antibiotics or hormones, and is allowed access to the outdoors year-round!
That means that when you buy organic you are ensured that the animal was provided with a more natural living situation, where chickens can peck and cows can graze.
Organic is Better for The Environment
Industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation and climate change.
About 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to conventional farming practices.
The ecological imbalance caused by monocultures and excessive use of chemicals has resulted in water pollution, decreased soil fertility, and enormous increases in pests and crop diseases, which farmers counter by spraying ever-larger doses of pesticides in a vicious cycle of depletion and destruction.
Organic farming is much more sustainable than conventional farming.
Many organic farms engage in a variety of sustainable practices such as no-till farming, crop rotation, biological pest control, polyculture, and the incorporation of hedgerows. These practices reduce erosion and soil depletion and help to encourage biodiversity.
Most of these practices are actually very old, traditional ways of farming that are now being embraced by organic farmers in order to move away from industrial agriculture.
Every dollar that you spend on organic produce is a dollar that is supporting the well being of our planet for all future generations to come.
More on Pesticides:
A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests.
The World Health organization describes them as such, “by their nature, pesticides are potentially toxic to other organisms, including humans, and need to be used safely and disposed of properly.”
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, evidence suggests that children are particularly susceptible to adverse effects from exposure to pesticides, including neurodevelopmental effects.
Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets but may also be exposed to pesticides used in a variety of settings including homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for the Pesticide Data Program (PDP), a national pesticide residue testing effort achieved through cooperative programs with State agriculture departments and other Federal agencies. The PDP tests both fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, poultry, and other specialty food items such as honey, corn syrup, infant formula, fish, and nuts for pesticide residues.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for analyzing chemicals detected by the PDP and determining a “tolerance level”. These tolerance levels are established based on the LD50 (Lethal Dose 50) for each individual compound. The LD50 is a substance toxicity test in which a subject group (typically mice or rabbits) are exposed to a toxic chemical and then observed until the amount of that chemical administered causes 50% of the population to die. The EPA uses the LD50 as a tolerance reference in order to determine the maximum amount of certain chemicals that may legally remain on food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is then responsible for the enforcement of these tolerances set by the EPA. This is done through the annual Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program in which a broad range of domestic and imported foods are sampled and tested for pesticide residue.
According to the 2018 PDP annual summary foods tested that violated the tolerance level set by the EPA included mangoes, asparagus, cilantro, cabbage, canned cranberries, raisins, and canned olives.
Low levels of environmental contaminants, pesticides that have been canceled in the U.S. but their residues persist in the environment, such as DDT were also found on foods such as cilantro, kale, frozen spinach, and snap peas.
But where do these chemicals go when eating them?
Studies have shown that pesticides tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues and reproductive organs of mammals where they can stay for a very, very long time.
The long term health effects of pesticides are still largely unknown, however, an ongoing study known as the Agricultural Health Study has linked pesticides to many health problems including childhood development, immune health, and the development of cancers and other diseases.
While it may be efficient to exploit certain crops for mass production, conventional agriculture is a major contributor to land degradation, biodiversity loss, and air and water pollution due to the immense amount of synthetic pesticides and herbicides that are used to maintain massive crop monocultures.
Conventional agriculture is not farming. It is an unsustainable food production industry in which the best interests of consumers and the Earth as a whole are overlooked in the pursuit of profit.
That being said, buying organic is by no means a perfect answer to health, climate, and social justice issues.
However, it is definitely a conscious step in the right direction!