I had the honor this summer to work, grow, and be inspired by Soul Fire Farm located in Grafton, New York. Soul Fire Farm is a family farm committed to the dismantling of oppressive structures that misguide our food system. I was a co-facilitator for the 2015 Black and Latino Farmer Immersion Program (BLFI) which was an incredible experience for me as a Latina, food justice advocate, and educator.
As a Latina Environmental Educator, I had the pleasure to research and learn about the Latino Farmer Movement and History in the United States. This information was gathered to teach two 1-hour sessions in conjunction with Leah Penniman, food justice educator and farmer at Soul Fire Farm. The class was titled: “Black and Latino Farmer Movements”. The information below is a small portion of the great historical presence Latino had and continue to have in the U.S. Food system. The information that has been gathered includes farmer movements and historical anecdotes that are related to Latinos and farmland.
Latino Farmer Movement Timeline
1903: More than 1,200 Mexican and Japanese farm workers in Oxnard, California organized the first farm worker’s union called the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA). “Later, it will be the first union to win a strike against the California agricultural industry” (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).
1933: Possibly the largest agricultural strike called El Monte Strike, was led by Latino unions in California. The strike was lead to protest the declining wages rate for strawberry pickers. By May 1933, wages went down to nine cents an hour. Growers agreed to a settlement in July including a wage increase of twenty cents an hour or $1.50 for a nine-hour work day (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).
1942: The Bracero Program starts. This program was created by executive order to allow Mexican citizens to work temporarily in the United States. The work for the braceros were low-paying agricultural work. A total of 4.6 millions people signed the Bracero contract. The program ends in 1964 (Bracero History Archive, n.d.).
1950: Agreement Governing Employment of Puerto Rican Labor came into place to hire Puerto Ricans for season agricultural employment in the United States (Missouri Farm Labor Bulletin: Division of Employment Security, 1950).
1965: Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huertas funded the United Farm Workers Association (UFWA) in Delano, California. Huertas becomes the first woman to lead such a union. They joined a strike started by Filipino grape pickers in Delano. They organized the Grape boycott in the U.S. and Canada. The grape boycott became one of the most significant social justice movements for farm workers in the United States (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).
1965: Luis Valdez, American playwright, actor, and film director, funded the world famous theater called “El Teatro Campesino”. El Teatro Campesino was the first farm workers theater in Delano, California. Actors entertained and educated farm workers about their rights (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.)
1993: Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida comes to place to raise 1 cent per tomato pound for farm workers (Keshari et. al, 2014). The Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully created the Fair Food Program which growers, buyers, and corporations signed up to raise one cent per pound. Other sections of the Fair Food Program include: industry-wide implementation of a 24-hour complaint hotline and rapid complaint investigation, worker-to-worker education on worker rights and responsibilities, human rights-based Code of Conduct with enforcable zero tolerance policies for forced labor, child labor, violence, and sexual assault, and industry-wide monitoring of the Fair Food Program (Fair Food Standards Council, 2014).
1995: Acequia farmers in San Luis Valley in Colorado joined other local activists-driven organizations to oppose and successfully defeat corporations and mining companies. If not stopped, the corporations and companies would have redeveloped land in San Luis Valley. The major concern was land take over and contamination of water supplies. Acequia farmers also joined protestors to secure a ranch in San Luis Valley (Peña, 2005).
2006: The Great American Boycott took place by immigrants, including Latinos. The boycott was a protest against a legislative proposal which did not go to Congress, however, it was a high vote from the House of Representatives (The Library of Congress, 2005). The bill would have made residing illegally in the U.S. a felony and impose stiffer penalties on those who employed non-citizens. What stood out in the Great American Boycott was that some California’s politicians and religious institutions urge people to not partake in the boycott. Three major companies were supportive of the protestors. The first company was Cargill Meat Solutions which closed 5 U.S. beefs plants and two hogs plants. 15,000 workers from Cargill attended the boycott. The second company was Smithfield Food of Virginia who stated on their press release it will take time during the boycott to help employees write to U.S. Senators and representatives demanding change of immigration laws.The third company, Tyson Food, shutdown meatpacking plants to have workers attend the boycott (Lendon, 2006).
2009: After a dead tragedy of a farm worker in Burlington Vermont, the organization Migrant Justice- Justicia Migrante, comes to light to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights. Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante, has been working on building networks of farmer workers, farmers and allies to pass legislature in Vermont to provide access to licenses regardless of immigration status (Migrant Justice, 2014).
2014: Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante created the Milk with Dignity! Campaign to improve the livelihoods of dairy farm workers and farmers by enlisting participating retailers to purchase and provide premiums to dairy farms that comply with Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct. Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante’s farm worker leaders have been engaged with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to learn their process in regards to the Fair Food Program (Migrant Justice, 2014).
Bracero History Archive (n.d.). About the Bracero Program. Retrieved from: http:// braceroarchive.org/about
Fair Food Standards Council. (2014). Fair Food Program Annual Report. Immokalee, FL: Justice Safer Espinoza. Retrieved from: http://www.fairfoodstandards.org/reports/ 14SOTP-Web.pdf
Keshari, S, Rawal, S, Longoria, E, and Fish, H. (Producers), & Rawal, S. (Director). (2014). Food Chains (Motion Picture). United States: Screen Media Films.
Lendon, B. (2006, May 1). U.S. Prepares for ‘A day without an Immigrant’: Organizers plan massive boycott on Monday to stop business as usual. CNN. Retrieved from:
Migrant Justice (2014). Milk with Dignity! Campaign. Retrieved from:
Migrant Justice (2014). Photo History Timeline. Retrieved from: http://migrantjustice.net/sites/default/files/2014-11%205%20anos%20de%20lucha%20%282%20paginas%29.pdf
Missouri Farm Labor Bulletin: Division of Employment Security. (1950). Recruitment of Puerto Rican Labor for Seasonal Agricultural Employment. (Bulletin No. 5). pp. 40-42 Retrieved from: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/vecportal/employer/pdf/ FarmPlacementHandbookPT2.pdf
Peña, D. (2005) Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra y vida. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project. (n.d.). Latino Civil Rights Timeline, 1903-2006. Retrieved from: http://www.tolerance.org/latino-civil-rights-timeline.
The Library of Congress. (2005). Bill Text 109th Congress (2005-2006) H.R.4437.RFS. Retrieved from: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.4437.RFS: