Keeping Americans Fed: The Power and Exploitation of Immigrant & Migrant Farming Communities

The January 13th, 2022 installment of the Food Justice Series focused on the social, economic, and structural barriers that exploit immigrant and migrant farmworkers and push families to the margins.

Immigrant and migrant farmworkers play a critically important role in putting food on our nation’s tables, making up an estimated 73% of the agricultural workforce in the United States today. Despite this, food insecurity is endemic in the migrant farming community. Low wages have made it difficult for farmworkers to afford sufficient and healthy food. Farmworkers also face difficulty in accessing social safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) due to barriers such as immigration status, misinformation, lack of transportation, geography, and unstable living arrangements.

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Undocumented workers - who make up approximately 50% of the farm labor workforce - are particularly vulnerable, as they live under the constant threat of arrest and family separation, all while working in extremely difficult and oftentimes dangerous conditions that have only been made more so by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ravages of climate change. In addition, immigrant and migrant farmworkers are often rendered invisible by institutions with the power to address unequal and exploitative working conditions.

In this installment, we also heard about new visions for an agricultural industry that values the land and the people who tend to it and examined why improving the conditions of farmworkers should be a legal, economic, and moral imperative for all of us. As consumers, we play a huge role in controlling the food system. We need to use our purchasing power and our right to vote to advocate for farmworkers who deserve justice.

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Speakers

Greg Asbed, Co-Founder, Coalition of Immokalee Workers/Fair Food Program
Greg Asbed is a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and a principal author of the CIW's Fair Food Program and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, a breakthrough, worker-driven approach to verifiable corporate accountability recognized by observers from the United Nations to the White House for its unique effectiveness in combatting forced labor, sexual violence, and other human rights violations prevalent in agriculture. Mr. Asbed is a 2017 MacArthur "Genius" Fellow and received the 2015 President Medal for Extraordinary Efforts in Combatting Human Trafficking, the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award, and the 2013 Roosevelt Freedom From Want Medal on behalf of the CIW. He speaks English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole fluently, and spent 18 seasons harvesting watermelons across the Southeastern United States.
Pakou Hang, Community Activist & CO-Founder/Former Executive Director of Hmong American Farmers Association.
Pakou Hang is a community activist and leader. She serves as the Chief Program Officer for Vote Run Lead, an organization that trains women to run for public office in the United States. Prior to Vote Run Lead, she co-founded and served as the Executive Director for Hmong American Farmers Association, a nonprofit that worked to promote Hmong farmers and build intergenerational and community wealth. Pakou graduated from Yale University and has a Masters in Political Science from the University of Minnesota. She is a recipient of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award, the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, the Bush Leadership Fellowship, and the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, which strives to bolster trans-Atlantic relations. She also served on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen's Board, the Minneapolis Food Council, and the Saint Paul Farmers Market Board of Directors.
Emma Torres, Founder & CEO, Campesinos Sin Fronteras
Emma Torres, MSW, is the founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, a community-based 501 c3 grassroots organization serving farmworker families in the border communities of Yuma County, Arizona. A former migrant farmworker herself, Ms. Torres has more than thirty-three years of public health experience as a migrant health advocate, she holds a master’s degree in Social Work and is a UCLA Johnson and Johnson Health Executive Program Graduate. Ms. Torres is one of the pioneers of the Arizona Community Health Worker/Promotora program starting the first CHW program in Arizona in 1987. She has been a strong proponent and advocate of the CHW model as one of the most effective strategies in reaching and serving the low-income Hispanic and migrant farmworker population. In 2003 and to the present, Mrs. Torres holds a presidential appointment to the US/Mexico Border Health Commission representing the State of Arizona.
Mily Treviño-Sauceda, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Inc
Mily Treviño-Sauceda is the Executive Director & Visionary/Co-Founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Inc. She is also known as the founder of the farmworker women’s movement in the U.S. since the late 80s. Born in Bellingham, Washington to a migrant farmworker family, Mily worked in agricultural fields since age eight, and in her teenage years she became a union worker organizer with the UFW. Mily co-founded “Mujeres Mexicanas” in 1988 and Líderes Campesinas in 1992, serving as Executive Director of Líderes Campesinas for over 12 years and becoming President of Emeritus. In 2011, she co-founded Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the first national grassroots-based farmworker women's organization. She has earned numerous awards including the Cesar Chavez Legacy Award in 2015 & 2018, the “Ingenuity Award: as Social Progress” by Smithsonian in 2018, The Frederick Douglass 200 List in 2019, and Visionary Voice Award by NSVRC in 2019.
Russell Contreras, Reporter, Justice and Race, Axios
Russell Contreras is the Race and Justice Reporter at Axios covering the policies and agencies at the heart of the administration of justice and how it impacts people of color. He is also the co-author of the Axios Latino newsletter — a partnership with Axios and Telemundo. Before coming to Axios, he was a member of the race and ethnicity reporting team at The Associated Press. He’s worked for the Boston Globe and the Albuquerque Journal. A graduate of the University of Houston in History and English, Contreras later attended Columbia University’s School of the Art where he earned an MFA in nonfiction creative writing. He is currently working on a book about JFK and Latinos. He lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

Previous Conversations

November 2021The Significant and Far Reaching Impact of the Criminal Justice System in America

September 2021Facing the Housing Crisis – Keeping Americans Healthy, Safe and Connected

July 2021Food Insecurity and Mental Health: The Silent and Devastating Impacts

May 2021Aloha ‘Āina: Food & Land Justice in Hawaii

April 2021Food Sovereignty: Food and Justice for Native Peoples

February 2021Racism, Hunger and Health

December 2020Hunger as a Racial Justice Issue: Why That Matters and What We Can Do About It

November 2020Black Activists Remember the Radical Origins of the Food Justice Movement