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Friday, November 4, 2011

Agriculture slaves in America (Why my backyard garden makes me feel like a hero)

In our house, we try to be very conscious about what our money goes to. We do not want to support any business that does not treat its employees fairly. This task can be so discouraging sometimes, when we have so little information about where what we buy comes from. It really seems impossible, too, when almost everything I buy was made far far away from where I am.

There was quite a stir over Halloween about the immoral practices that Hershey knowingly supports in North Africa. Apparently they find it cheaper and more convenient to buy cocoa beans that were harvested by child slaves. I'm not a huge fan of their chocolate, so that's an easy boycott for me. I do try to shop Fair Trade when it comes to buying coffee, chocolate, tea, and a few other luxuries that are commonly known to be produced by immoral practices. I've also heard of Rainforest Alliance Certified products and Direct Trade products which sound pretty good. I'd like to do more research on the different terms to know which is the best option. I'm willing to pay a little more for these items and have the peace of mind knowing that I'm supporting something good. I have yet to find an affordable option for Fair Trade sugar, though. To be honest, I go back and forth on the sugar because I tend to use a fair amount of it making kombucha and water kefir. I need to either start using less sugar or be willing to fork over another few bucks, I guess.

Also, I have a really hard time buying brand new clothes because I know that many major clothing companies  have their clothes made in sweatshops all over the world. I haven't found a great alternative, though. There are options online and occasionally at Whole Foods Market to buy fair trade clothes, but the prices are steep and there aren't many options. At our home, we choose to buy second hand. This doesn't change how the clothes were made, but it changes the hands our money goes into. Especially if we shop at Goodwill or The Salvation Army, where they hire people who are in need and give some of their proceeds to charity. Not to mention that the prices are great and it's like a treasure hunt every time we shop! Of course, we do end up buying brand new clothes occasionally. It's hard to get around that one all the time. I'm NOT buying second hand underpants...sorry.

Now, the thing that inspired this post was an excerpt from a book I found over on the Mother Earth News website. I never knew that even buying U.S. grown veggies can support slavery. The book is called "Tomatoland." Short name. Life changing message. If you want to read the entire excerpt, go here, but I'll summarize the main points for you in the remainder of this post.

In the book, Author Barry Estabrook investigates the practices of tomato farming in Florida. First of all, most of us can tell the difference between a grocery store tomato and a vine ripened tomato with our eyes closed. The flavor and texture just doesn't compare. It's like apples and oranges almost. Or tomatoes and....icky red balls of mush. So that's no fun, anyway.

Estabrooks tomato journey began when his windshield was almost smashed by a tomato flying off of a truck in Florida. He says the tomato did not burst when it hit the highway, it bounced. Odd. This led him to study these freak tomatoes. He found that modern mass produces tomatoes have far less nutrients than vine ripened locally grown ones, and they are routinely sprayed with at least 100 herbicides and pesticides. Even worse, he discovered that it is not uncommon for illegal immigrants to be the ones harvesting these tomatoes without proper pay or any legal rights whatsoever. Their pay is usually so low that they cannot afford a vehicle and they are forced to live right next to the farm in housing often owned by slumlords. They are charged exorbitant prices to live in trailers we probably wouldn't put our dogs in. I (Sarah) have actually done some migrant missions, and I've seen these trailers. Ten or eleven men in a single wide trailer thats only source of running water is a water hose run through the window. Estabrook says that is not the worst of it, though. He quotes Douglas Malloy, chief assistant United States attorney in Fort Myers as calling South Florida's tomato fields "ground zero for modern day slavery." He says that, in the past 15 years, over 1,000 men and women being held and forced to work against their will have been freed in South Florida, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are cases of men and women being locked inside buildings at night with armed guards outside the doors. Some were even in chains. This is not what I think about when I think of a tomato sandwich. This is not something I want to support with my money. Of course, it'll be hard to not buy canned tomatoes or tomato sauce all winter. I'll probably be buying a few. And then, of course, there's ketchup. I know one thing for sure. I'll be growing and canning as many tomatoes as I can next summer now that I know they taste better, they're more nutritious, and no one had to be forced to work in my garden and be chained up at night.

I'll leave you with a few quotes from the end of the excerpt:

"When I asked Molloy [the attorney] whether it was safe to assume that a consumer who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store, fast food restaurant or food-service company in winter has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave, he corrected my choice of words. “It’s not an assumption. It is a fact.”

"It’s a world we’ve all made. And one we can fix."

I don't know about you, but my backyard veggies just got a little tastier.

This post was shared at Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Traditional TuesdaysSimple Lives ThursdayFight Back Friday and Sunday School.


  1. Thank you for this simple reminder just before Thanksgiving. I'm sure there's a lot we take for granted in our food system that we would be horrified to support.

  2. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

  3. Wow, this is eye-opening. My jaw literally dropped. What an important message that really needs to be spread.

    I'd love for you to come share this at our blog carnival, Sunday School. It's up right now if you'd like to come stop by!

  4. I lived in central FL and saw the citrus groves and strawberry fields being picked by migrant workers. Now, I live in IN and see them picking the tomato fields. I new they lived in housing close to the fields or processing plants, but had never heard anything about the armed guards and chains. That's awful. We always put out a garden and I can all of our produce. I so glad that we do.