logoChiapas Media Project (CMP)/Promedios, an award-winning U.S. and Mexican partnership, enables marginalized indigenous communities in Southern Mexico to create their own media. This past spring, CMP introduced an advocacy campaign entitled Fair Food Across Borders (FFAB). The goal of the campaign is to expose the human rights abuses suffered by migrant agricultural workers in Mexican agribusiness camps.

The highlight of the effort is the new CMP/Promedios video, Paying the Price: Migrant Workers in the Toxic Fields of Sinaloa. The video investigates the impoverished lives of migrant farmworkers from the town of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. This past spring the FFAB campaign visited campuses across the country including Rutgers University, Ithaca College, New York University, University of New Mexico and University of Oklahoma, among others. In the fall of this year, the FFAB seeks campus sponsors to host presentations given by National Campaign Coordinator, Melody Gonzalez, which include a screening of Paying the Price and a discussion about the role of agribusiness and internal migration in Mexico, NAFTA, farmworker conditions in the U.S., and corporate consumer responsibility.

Invite FFAB to your campus this Fall!

Advertisements

By Slow Food USA Intern Melissa Rosenberg

Courtesy of Virginia Tech Sustainable Food Corps.

In 2007, Virginia Tech Dining Services (VTDS) was ranked #1 for Best Campus Foods by the Princeton Review, getting high marks for student satisfaction. Recognized for its outstanding work by food industry peers, VTDS received the prestigious 2009 Ivy Award, bestowed each year upon exceptional food service operations.

Hired as the VTDS Sustainability Coordinator in October of 2008, Andy Sarjahani jumpstarted an effort to support sustainable food systems by monitoring every aspect of its food services. In a short time, Andy and his team have implemented a vast array of initiatives: removing trays to decrease food waste, composting, and working with distributors, non-profits and local farmers in a variety of Farm-to-College programs.

Courtesy of Virginia Tech Sustainable Food Corps

In addition, VTDS began growing its own herbs in a garden operated by the Horticulture Department and switched from Pennsylvania-raised factory farm eggs to Virginia-raised organic cage-free eggs. While somewhat more expensive, the food does more than taste delicious: VTDS’ $8 million budget enables the university to significantly impact the state food and agriculture economy as it feeds 34,000 hungry stomachs each day.

In March, statewide attention was drawn to the changes in VTDS buying practices after the Humane Society of the United States issued a press release celebrating the changes. Since then, staff members have come under pressure from such agribusiness groups as the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Poultry Federation, among several others. The lobbyists are asking the university to scale back or cease its work on promoting awareness and access to sustainable food.

As a land-grant institution, VT has close ties to the state’s agriculture industry, including the poultry business, which represents a third of Virginia’s commodity production. The university relies on the agriculture industry for a significant share of its funding. Lobbyists claim, the research VTDS cited to substantiate its sustainable initiatives, conflicts with research conducted at the university’s own College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Despite pressure from the VT President’s office and the VT Poultry Science Department to switch to caged eggs, VTDS continues to source cage-free local organic eggs.

To protect against incidents of agribusiness pressure, Andy strongly suggests that students take an active role. At VT, Andy co-founded the Sustainable Food Corps, a registered student organization that promotes economic development within the community and supports a resilient, sustainable, local food system. He has handed over the reins to a diverse group of students, from a variety of academic disciplines.

The Corps recently gathered students on campus to participate in a photo petition supporting sustainable food. It has also developed a food diversion and recovery mission, taking left over food from the dining halls to food pantries and food banks. In the coming days, the Corps will begin work on a student-run farm.

3539021281_a38c871790

Andy urges students on other campuses to find a champion in a faculty or staff member to galvanize the formation of a student organization. As an alternative to starting from scratch, Slow Food on Campus provides a structure to assist students with organizing initiatives to support their local food systems.

Photos courtesy of Virginia Tech Sustainable Food Corps.

Bon Appétit Management Company, a socially responsible food service provider operating on 400 university campuses and in corporate cafés throughout 29 states, has forged a new agreement that frames acceptable working conditions and enforces those conditions with a strict code of conduct. Appalled by what federal prosecutors describe as slavery, one of the largest food service companies in the country has promised to boycott Florida tomatoes unless conditions improve. Bon Appétit’s chief executive called on growers to “do the right thing and our five million pounds of business can go to them. Or they can let the tomatoes rot in the fields.” The new frontier in sustainable food is social justice and pressure from labor organizations is part of that new wave, but defending ‘green’ credentials is at the heart of it.

Under Bon Appétit’s agreement, which goes beyond the Coalition of Immokalee Workers agreements with other food industry companies, tomatoes will cease to be an undifferentiated commodity crop and growers who treat their workers more fairly will be rewarded with more business. Additionally, Bon Appétit is sending a strong message to growers that the company is prepared to cease buying tomatoes altogether if the growers don’t follow the code of conduct adopted by the company.

scottrobertson441

This agreement became a necessity after Bon Appétit, a division of the Compass Group, received a letter from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers which explained that their winter tomato supply was being provided by South Florida farmworkers who currently pick in modern day slavery conditions. The agreement includes: a ‘minimum fair wage’ that will reflect the working conditions of the South Florida fields, a requirement that growers implement time clocks, worker empowerment that will inform workers of their rights, a worker controlled health and safety committee, and third party monitoring of growers.

Bon Appétit’s agreement is the first step towards better worker rights and conditions for those providing campuses across the country with tomatoes, year round. Bon Appétit and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers hope that this mutual agreement will act as an example for other on-campus food service providers including Compass, Aramark and Sodexho.  Check out the Coalition’s Dine with Dignity campaign, which is working with college students across the country to apply pressure to this companies for more information about how.

Allison Archer, an Emory student, did her thesis project on sustainability initiatives at her school– CNN saw it, liked it and condensed it into a 4.5 minute piece, which you can check out here, all about how integrating sustainable food into the equation is an essential component of greening a campus.  This is just one example of how Slow Food on Campus chapters are beginning to take nation by storm.  There are currently 20 Slow Food on Campus chapters, around the country, all working to address the need for a ‘good, clean and fair’ food system in the United States and abroad.  Students who participate in Slow Food on Campus are passionately organizing their peers, faculty and greater campus community to organize around a fairer food system.

Slow Food Emory is one of the newest Slow Food on Campus chapters, which makes it all the more impressive that they already gaining national attention for their initiatives.  As they explain, “Slow Food Emory hopes to heal ties severed by industrial fare and the campus meal plan.”  The chapter has held potluck picnics, developed an edible school garden for the Captain Planet Foundation, and hosted a restaurant raffle that has introduced students to local, sustainable restaurants in the community.

For more information about what other Slow Food on Campus chapters are doing around the country and how to start a chapter at your college or university, check out the Slow Food on Campus page on the Slow Food USA website.

In the United States today, there are currently more people in jail than working on farms.  But in the next couple of months Van Jones the White House Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and former CEO of Green For All, a national organization working to build a green economy, has plans to lift people out of poverty and teach them skills they will need in the green 21st Century.  Both Jones and Green for All are looking for ways to connect the green collar economy with the burgeoning food movement.  And, a great example of how Jones and Green for All might accomplish this goal is already being implemented in Japan to stimulate the economy and encourage farming, giving tangible skills to formerly urban Japanese kids who need work.

The 2400 strong Japanese Rural Labor Squad is made up of urban trainees in a pilot program to put underemployed youth to work on farms.  The program is meant to address both the poor state of farms and young people who can’t find enough high wage work in cities.  Many young Japanese workers have shown an interest in farming as they have been laid off from city jobs.

The agricultural ministry is coordinating this $13 million program, which awards workers $70 a day and free food and board.  One young woman, a management major said, “My friends think I am crazy for coming here but I think people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from and I want to get more involved with that.”

Even though the program’s impact will be limited for now, the government is going ahead with a year-long farm placement internship.  One leek farmer wonders if this is just a fad, ” You can’t learn farming in just a year… I am worried that when the economy picks up, they’ll all flock back to the city.”  Only time will tell.

Investor Environmental Health Network reports that “Responding to shareholder concerns, McDonald’s Corporation has agreed to formally survey and promote best practices in pesticide use reduction within its American potato supply chain.” Further, McDonalds has agreed to share its findings with shareholders and include it in the annual corporate responsibility report.  McDonalds commitment will hopefully have a positive impact on the environment, public health and farm employees.  This agreement is particularly unique because it was initiated and demanded by Bard College Endowment, Newground Social Investment, and the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund.

If the resolution filed by Bard College Endowment, Newground Social Investment, and the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund had been approved, it would have required the company to publish a report on options for cutting pesticide use in its supply chain. As soon as McDonalds agreed, the groups withdrew the resolution. Taun Toay, administrative member of Bard’s Committee on Investor Responsibility (composed of both students and administrators) said, “Part of an education should involve active citizenship including a willingness to engage companies over issues of concern.”

The shareholders and McDonalds developed the plan with the support from the Investor Environmental Health Network, a collaborative partnership of investment managers advised by NGOs concerned about financial and public health risks. “Because McDonalds has such a commanding presence in the marketplace, this commitment offers the promise of significant reductions of pesticide use–which will benefit consumer health as well as farm workers, local agricultural communities and the environment,” said Bruce Herbert chief executive officer of Newground Social Investment in Seattle. Other companies–General Mills, Campbell’s and Wendy’s suppliers have already made pesticide reduction decisions. Dr. Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network added, “We welcome McDonalds stepping up to the plate and look forward to supporting the company’s efforts to reduce pesticides in the future.”

by Slow Food USA Intern Melissa Rosenberg

Minnesota is known for large agribusiness and currently, large scale agriculture is the state’s biggest industry.  In Northfield Minnesota, students at St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, are working to bring healthy foods produced sustainably and justly to the land of 10,000 lakes.  In an effort to strengthen the local food system, protect farmers and preserve farmland, students at both schools, are initiating changes to their respective food services.

Students at St. Olaf have created an organic garden, named STOWGROW.  The Saint Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW) farm project is a student-run community initiative, which aims to practice sustainable farming methods; to provide fresh, local vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers to the community; to foster agricultural awareness; and to provide education about sustainable food production.

All of the produce from the garden is used by the colleges food service provider, Bon Appetit Management Company, for use in the St. Olaf cafeteria, then left over food waste is composted in our school’s industrial composter and used to feed the soil in the STOGROW garden.

On the Carleton Student Farm, almost all the vegetables grown this year are heirloom varieties from Seed Saver Exchange. This past summer the garden sold produce to the dining halls, and aims to sell more in the coming years.

At Carleton, students petitioned the college to choose a food provider dedicated to using fairly traded, ecologically sound ingredients. Bon Appetit was selected and the chefs are now forging alliances with young Northfield farmers.

Cheers to these students who are making change happen.