I have felt the fire of human abuse to another human through out most of my work in urban farming here in S.Florida.I never witnessed the form of modern slavery as applied to migrant farmers in the fields of this proud agriculural state but I heard a lot of stories and recently a read an article which I am enclosing in this blog for quick reference.Farmers and gardeners I beleive are treated like the dirt.I once tilled a land for a lady who wanted to plant Noni trees here in the Acreage area and she never paid me a penny for my whole day toil.That was a long time ago.This week I helped a lady who claimed that she has not enough money to do a garden but needed my help to do so.She was an alchoholic and ciggarette smoking addict with DUI issued device that controls her driving if she fails the breath intoxicating test.She called me later after I finished planting her garden to accuse me of stealing money from her purse.Another lady who wanted help in her garden treated me like a slave in instructing me about what to do(I am a master gardener and she is ignorant about anything related to gardening  while her boyfriend tried to protect me from her tyranny by keeping her indoors away from me!You want more?Listen to this:I was told by a city employee that I - as far as the city is concerned -DO NOT EXIST in the community garden which I tended for eight years.My work was documented by a local newspaper and I gave that employee a copy of the newspaper to prove otherwise.In return the city destroyed and demolished the community garden with truck loads of land fills!It is worth to note that the community garden was located in a neglected African American crime infested neighborhood and was founded by DADS AGAINST DRUGS.Also a funny note to add , the retired city parks manager preferred to dump the city free mulch at the cemmetry and ignored my pleas for mulch to be brought to the community garden..I lost my tools,my rare neem trees and all the organic top soil which I composted and hauled to the garden for eight years..without e=ven a notice being given to me!Corruption and abuse is so bountiful here that there are three commissioners sentenced to jail for fraud and corruption charges.This is the first time-as far as I know- someone in a reputable newspaper like THE NATION tries to EXPOSE Modern Slavery..but it is the tip of the iceberg as they say..more will come out when abused farmers speak out...so to speak farmers...SPEAK OUT!Down below I qoute the article of THE NATION:"posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on
But it's not just the contemporary slavery examples one finds inside the box truck that educates the visitors. The museum is designed to look at the history of slavery and forced labor--the evolution of it--and the fact that there has never been a period in
Before entering the truck, the museumgoer is given a booklet and sees two large exhibits which provide historical context--examining slavery from Spanish settlement through Edward R. Murrow's acclaimed CBS documentary Harvest of Shame in 1960. Forms of slavery include chattel slavery, the convict-lease system through 1923, and debt peonage.
Another display plays a 1993 60 Minutes piece on Wardell Williams, a former crew leader in
Inside of the truck the seven cases are described powerfully through the use of primary sources--court documents, indictments, criminal complaints, testimony. Miguel Flores and Sebastian Gomez held 400 workers under the watch of armed guards and assaulted--even shot--those who tried to escape. Abel Cuello held more than 30 tomato workers in two trailers in the isolated swampland west of Immokalee. Once out of prison, Cuello was able to resume supplying labor to Ag-Mart Farms in
When the visitor steps out of the truck he sees a panel which gets to the heart of CIW's analysis around modern slavery--that it's not something that takes place in a vacuum, but it's tied to the broader conditions in the agriculture industry--sub-poverty wages and substandard working conditions; from the earliest days of slavery through today, farm workers in Florida are among the least paid and least protected workers in the nation.
On the panel are two artifacts to drive home that message: the bloody shirt of a 17-year old boy who was beaten in 1996 for stopping to take a drink of water while working in Immokalee. In response, there was a nighttime march by 400 workers to the crew leader's house. This was a significant moment in CIW's history because that kind of violence was routine and never received a widespread organized response.
There is also testimony blown up from a 1970 Senate hearing convened by Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale illustrating that these same issues were being discussed 40 years ago. Next to it is a video by
At the foot of the panel is a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes. Harvesters fill it up 100 to 150 times per day, on average. For that bucket the worker receives 45 cents--a nickel more than the wage earned in 1980 (and that nickel is the result of general strikes organized by CIW in the mid- and late-90s.) The museumgoer can pick it up, getting a sense of how hard the work is for stagnant wages.
All of these exhibits allow CIW to make the arguments that they have been pushing for over 15 years very tangible. It's one thing to tell people about the conditions that persist in the fields. It's an entirely different thing to show it inside of a rolling replica of the most recently discovered slavery truck where people were held captive.
"The museum has made it possible to lay out our argument about slavery from A to Z, in a sort of irrefutable package of completely documented and totally unimpeachable facts," says CIW staff member Greg Asbed. "And when you can see the whole history and evolution of four hundred years of forced labor in
But the last thing CIW wants is for people to simply leave, shaking their heads, saying, "Isn't that terrible. I can't believe slavery exists." The goal isn't just to educate people about what's going on, but also to show them what they can do about it.
The final panel outside of the truck lets people know there is a solution underway with the Campaign for Fair Food. Since 2001, farm workers have been focusing on the retail level of the food industry--forcing companies to take responsibility for the conditions of their supply chain in order to alleviate the poverty and powerlessness at the root of the industry.
"The key to making change happen--the absolute fundamental key to making change happen--is for the major buyers to move their purchases from the farms where bad stuff is happening, to the farms where good stuff is happening," says Asbed. "Of course, there are no farms that you can say are good across the board yet, that could be certified as 'fair food.' The industry has a ways to go before it gets there. But you can encourage better behavior by moving your purchases to follow the best behavior, and you can eliminate the worst abuses by making sure growers will lose business, and maybe even lose the ability to do business, if abuses like slavery happen in their fields."
CIW has signed code of conduct agreements and penny-per-pound pay raises with the four largest fast food companies in the world; the largest food service company in the world, Compass Group; and the largest organic grocer, Whole Foods. In fact, the latest slavery case--in which the farms that used slave labor were identified--led to growers losing business for the first time thanks to the code of conduct agreements.
CIW has now turned its attention to supermarkets, asking them to end their tradition of buying tomatoes with no questions asked.
In the southeast, that means Publix. When asked whether the supermarket continues to purchase from farms that were recently found to use slave labor a Publix spokesperson "said the chain does purchase tomatoes from the two farms but pays a fair market price." That's the kind of mentality CIW is up against in trying to get them to change their ways and pay attention to working conditions and wages. In the northeast, the focus is on Ahold, a Dutch company which owns Giant Food and Stop and Shop. Ahold continues to purchase tomatoes from Six L's, one of the growers that used enslaved workers to pick tomatoes in the Navarrete case. Ahold will take up this issue on April 13 at its shareholder meeting. You can e-mail CIW for postcards to send to any of these supermarkets, and also Kroger.
The final panel of the museum allows people opportunities for action. They can get on the CIW email list, take a postcard to send to Publix, or get information on the upcoming farmworker Freedom March on April 16-18--25 miles from
Indeed, people across the state have been moved to action. At churches, universities, high schools and other venues, the responses from what one CIW member described as "scores and scores of focus groups" have been amazing.
"They range from I had no idea this is going on, to what can I do to help, to wanting to get involved," said CIW staff member Leonel Perez. "And part of it's the presentation--once you're inside the truck, and the use of primary sources--I think there's a very visceral component. It really has been a pretty easy pivot to 'and here's what you can do about it'."
This week in
When the museum has finished traveling