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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Join the Food Solidarity Movement!

A pound of premium vine-ripened tomatoes, about two of the larger ones in the produce department, are on sale for $1.29 per pound. Four steps away, a 10-oz. bag of mixed lettuce is being sold for $2.69.

For most of us, paying one to three dollars for a few servings of tomatoes and lettuce is no big deal. But does $1.29 and $2.69 reflect the real cost of these items?

The town of Immokalee, Florida – only 40 miles from our neighborhood store – is where two thirds of America’s wintertime tomatoes are produced. The produce is harvested by migrant farmworkers who struggle with poverty and food insecurity. Large portions of their community are classified as food deserts; neighborhoods lacking access to affordable, fresh and good quality food. An informal 2017 survey conducted by Cultivate Abundance indicated that staple food items sold in the farmworker neighborhoods are 25 percent higher than the same goods sold just outside.

The economic and food access challenges of many Immokalee residents are rooted in their migrant worker status. According to 2015 census data, around one third of Immokalee’s residents lack U.S. citizenship. Demographically, the population is mostly Hispanic with a sizable Haitian community.

To earn $70 dollars a day, figuring in the extra penny a pound advocated by the Coalition of Immokalee (CIW) Farmworkers Fair Food Program, a harvester must pick at least a ton of tomatoes. After covering rent and assisting family back home in Guatemala or Mexico, there isn’t much money left over for nutritious, fresh food. That’s why local food ministries have so many clients when hot meals are distributed.

To eliminate hunger and enable small-scale food production in vulnerable farmworker households and communities, Cultivate Abundance is engaged in three main initiatives:

  • Promoting household and community gardening in Immokalee’s neighborhoods and equipping other Southwest Florida gardeners to grow appropriate produce to share with their farmworker neighbors.

  • Engaging in community partnerships with established Immokalee agencies such as Misión Peniel and CIW.

  • Helping partnering agencies address livelihood obstacles faced by small-scale food producers in migrant farmworker source countries and elsewhere.

Challenges that Immokalee’s residents face are not unique to Florida. Around the world, farmworkers engage in backbreaking labor and endure dangerous workplace conditions. They are subjected to abuse and receive poor compensation while remaining indispensable to industrial farming systems that require tremendous quantities of inputs including fertilizers, chemicals and water. Again, the relatively low cost of food that we enjoy in the US often comes with more human and environmental costs than meet the eye.

Cultivate Abundance is just one of a growing multitude of individuals, communities and organizations participating in what we call the food solidarity movement. Our definition of food solidarity is to be involved in advocating for fair and sustainable food systems while – as much as possible – being engaged in producing and sharing nutritious food that aligns with the cultural preferences of the consumer.

Food solidarity recognizes that nutritional insecurity goes beyond simple charity. Addressing food insecurity among particular communities (i.e., Florida’s farmworkers) requires an understanding of food systems - the path food follows from farm to fork; especially those systems that are seriously flawed. Problematic food systems not only exploit people and natural resources but produce less-than-healthy food.

On the contrary, engagement in food solidarity requires our participation in the process of healing broken food systems. Such engagement includes making good consumer choices as well as supporting and engaging in the production and distribution of food for the benefit of others.

Here’s how you can participate in food solidarity efforts that benefit the farmworker community of SW Florida:

  • Learn where your food comes from and determine the effect that associated food systems has on the environment as well as those who grow/harvest/process food and upon yourself as a consumer.

  • Advocate for food justice, particularly for fair pay and humane work conditions for those growing and harvesting food and provide support to organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Campaign for Fair Food.

  • Consider how you, your church or other organization might grow and share food that benefits farmworker households. You might assist Misión Peniel’s efforts to distribute meals in Immokalee.

  • You can also assist and support the work of Cultivate Abundance to promote household and community gardening in Southwest Florida that directly benefits Immokalee families.

One Cultivate Abundance initiative is the household container gardening project. The cost of one 5-gallon bucket or basin garden (container, soil and plants included) is less than $13.00. Trained and equipped Immokalee households are growing 3-5 containers of annual and perennial vegetables with the option of either full or partial payment for the materials and/or serving as local volunteers in the effort.

Considering the retail price of $1.29 per pound of tomatoes or $2.69 for 10 oz. of lettuce, it won’t take long for each container garden (assuming proper training and care) to pay for itself and provide long-term benefits to each household and the community. While a small container garden cannot provide full household food sufficiency, it certainly can improve access to nutritious, fresh produce on a regular basis and enable farmworker families to assert more control over what they eat.

Join the Food Solidarity Movement! Advocate for sustainable and just food systems, grow food and share the nutrition.

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