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Organic Food = Just Food? Not necessarily…

Reflecting on migrant farm workers and injustice in the food system in Ontario

By Erika Del Carmen Fuchs

 

When you bite into an apple, blueberry or tomato, do you stop and think about who produced your food? Under what conditions? Where they come from?

I started to ask these questions, driven by interest in my own and my food’s roots, and experience of growing up as a Mexican-German Canadian in BC’s farming Fraser Valley. When migrant farm workers from Mexico started to come to BC in 2004/5, I knew I had to go see how they were. I had been told that the situation for migrant farm workers wasn’t good in Ontario where they had been coming through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) since the 60s and 70s. From the first visit to the workers, I have been working with and supporting migrant farm workers and integrating this into my work with small-scale and indigenous farmers in Mexico, as well as food security and food sovereignty in Canada.

In Canada, over 30,000 farm workers come from all over the world to produce our “local” and sometimes organic food. The majority of the 20,000+ migrant agricultural workers in Ontario come through the SAWP from Mexico and the Caribbean, but also through the TFWP (Temporary Foreign Worker Program) from Guatemala, Thailand, Peru, the Philippines, and other countries.

You probably heard about the tragic accident involving 10 migrant farm workers and a Canadian near Hampstead*, but did you hear about the death of two Jamaican migrant farm workers, Ralston White and Paul Roach, at Filsinger’s Organic Farm in September 2010? Ontario recently reached a plea bargain with the employer and fined one of the supervisors $22,500 for the two deaths, amounting to essentially $11,500 per each worker’s life.

Karma and other natural food stores in Ontario sell Filsinger’s Apple Vinegar and Apple Cider, but I wonder how many people who buy these products know about White and Roach’s deaths—both pulled out of a vat without vital signs. When you pick up a bottle of this apple vinegar or cider, do you think of these two workers dying due to suffocation in a confined space where vinegar is produced?

Organizations like Justicia for Migrant Workers have asked for a coroner’s inquest into these deaths at Filsinger’s, as well as the 11 deaths (10 migrant workers from Peru –one Nicaraguan immigrant man), and a Canadian truck driver, to bring attention to these preventable tragedies, but also to the farm workers’ working and living conditions.

There is a growing movement for food security that includes promoting local and organic food. But are those involved missing the bigger picture? Just because food is local and/or organic, doesn’t mean that it is produced justly, with regard for the rights and well-being of not only farmers, but also farm workers. We worry about local food security, but what about those that have been displaced from their own lands to come work here in Canada so we can have local and/or organic food? Our food security at the cost of someone else’s food security and food sovereignty? Bringing thousands of workers over every year (sometimes twice a year) so that they can produce for us? Stay tuned for future installments.

Read more: In the quest for just and sustainable food practices, why is nobody talking about the organic farming’s dependence on migrant labour? this magazine, April 2012.

For more information about Justicia for Migrant Workers, visit their website

*Nine of the 10 migrant farm workers were from Peru. Their names are: Cesar Augusto Sanchez-Palacios, 53, Corsino Jaramillo, 47, Jose Mercedes Valdiviezo-Taboa, 49, Fernando Valdiviezo, 24, David Blancas, Enrique Arturo Leon, 47, Lizardo Mario Abril, 48, Oscar Walter Compomanes Corzo, and Elvio Bravo-Suncion. The 10th worker killed was Juan Castillo of Nicaragua. Christopher Fulton, 38, of London, Ont., was the driver of truck in the crash.

Three other Peruvian migrant workers were injured in the crash. Abelardo Javier Alba Medina, 38, and Juan Jose Ariza, 35, both of whom suffered broken ribs in the crash, are being treated at Stratford General Hospital. Edgar Sulla Puma, 26, remains in critical condition at Hamilton General Hospital.