Who Labored to Feed You?

Well, another Labor Day is upon us. The holiday was started by the labor movement to celebrate workers. Lately, however, we take it as an extra day to labor ourselves. Many people will be out building decks or mowing their lawns today. Many more will grill some hot dogs or burgers and worry about getting the kids up for the first day of school tomorrow (I know that I’m worried about getting into that routine!).

I’m the son of a tradesman (my dad was a 30-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)) and I’d like us to keep some of the original intent of labor day alive and consider the place of workers today, especially in agriculture.

Lately I’ve felt that we really admire farmers. We respect that they work long hours and work with the land. They have strong family values and practically live in some all-American fantasy that we aspire to. You see, I’m the farmer and I get all these accolades and I highly appreciate the kind words people have for our lifestyle and business.

Today, this labor day, please think about all those other hands that bring food to the table who do not get one ounce of respect for what they do. I grew up in East Grand Forks when it took teams of people with hoes to thin beets. These migrant families were commonly slandered for being lazy, on welfare, or thieves. Did we hold these views because they poor or just because they were Mexican? I didn’t see many white families getting up at dawn to work the fields. Closer to home today, I observe the same attitude about my neighbors who work the line at the turkey plant in Pelican Rapids.UFW image.jpg

Whether brown-skinned or white, food workers are totally undervalued because they are cogs in America’s low-margin, low-wage food industry that squeezes everybody in the supply chain to provide us cheap food. If you have read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, you would know that the union efforts of Eastern and Central Europeans in Chicago made meatpacking a decent-paying job in the US. That’s totally not the case today. Whether meat or fruits and vegetables from the west coast, we have a workforce of immigrants whose fear of deportation gives employers ample room for exploitation. The most visible case lately has been the tomato pickers in Florida who earn less then 2 cents per pound harvested and endure terrible living conditions and sexual assault because the system has them over the barrel. Read about the challenges of ag workers here and here.

Well, I hope that I didn’t pull down your Labor Day with overwhelming guilt, but instead gave you some conversation points for today’s BBQ. We owe it to our forefathers who gave us Labor Day to, at the very least, continue the conversation about who benefits in the food and ag sectors and today’s workplace generally.

In the box:

  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Celery
  • Slicing Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Rosemary
  • Norland Red Potatoes
  • A few Red Peppers
  • A couple Jalapeno Peppers
  • Cantaloupe 
  • A few Delicata Squash
  • Cilantro

Recipe Idea: Roasted Red Pepper Salsa  In this box are all the fixings to do this salsa or something very similar. The whole idea is to use the broiler in your oven to char the veggies a bit and then blend together for a salsa. I really dig this kind of salsa and the red peppers in this box are simply the best I’ve ever grown. Add the jalapeno if you like heat. Put the cilantro in after the blending if you like that flavor to freshen it up a bit. Get creative…


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