Perspective from a Food Justice Certified Farm:
Farmer Jordan Brown, Grows Organic and Food Justice Certified Mixed Vegetables and Fruit in North Central Florida
On Food Justice Certification:
Some years ago I heard about this certification and looked into it and saw what it stood for. I felt like it would be a good fit for our farm and would be a good way to let people know that our farm is trying to do things a little different than other farms in regards to the workers. Different, than what I have seen on other farms.
Food Justice Certification is important to me because it’s the only way, as far as I know, to certify that anything we’re doing labor-wise is any different than any other farm. We’re trying to pay people a living wage, have a safe and respectful work environment, and trying to offer people some minimal benefits that would be associated with most jobs, but are not common in agriculture. We give people a few paid holidays off, we pay 2 hours a week of sick pay so folks can add it up and don’t have to worry about missing work, and at the end of the season they can collect a check which lets folks take off a couple of weeks, all the produce they care to take from the farm, and one of the long term goals is to offer overtime pay.
On Price to Farmers:
Pricing is the biggest obstacle to providing more benefits to workers. Right now, in my experience as a family-sized farm in the South, there is no retailer who is willing to pay more for produce for this certification. At least in the wholesale market, there’s no buyer who is willing to pay extra for produce that is grown without mistreating people. Any kind of benefit always comes down to money in produce, and America is based off of the lowest possible cost of production at any given time and whoever is doing it cheapest is who sets the market price. And the way we are farming now, the cost of living goes up every year so the cost to farm every year gets more expensive. A lot of piece work farms, at least here in Florida, remain stagnant. Back in the 80’s workers got paid $1.25/flat to pick strawberries and now they get between a $1-1.30.
Having more farms participate in the Food Justice Certification Program will help grow a greater awareness of the labor practices and unfair working conditions in the agriculture sector across America. Ultimately, more farms getting this certification will bring more money back to the farm and the farmer. Real change is needed in the farm labor sector and will happen in one of two ways: wholesalers taking smaller margins or higher prices at the retail counter that reflect the actual cost of food grown with truly sustainable practices that are good for the people and the planet.
People generally don’t care about any type of injustice until they are confronted with it and I think that if more consumers understood the injustices that happen to farm laborers in America and how difficult of a job it is for such a little amount of money, perhaps the Food Justice label would help open peoples’ eyes to those injustices. People are often willing to pay a little more when they understand that it will benefit someone else tremendously. People all over America are paying $10-14/lb for coffee because they think it helps get money back to that small farmer in Latin America. But people may not want to pay an extra dollar for lettuce or something here. The greatest obstacle is drumming up enough money to make payroll every week.
On the Growth of His Farm:
The growth of our farm, from being a real small operation to where we are now, is closely tied to Food Justice Certification; it helped me get more organized because FJC standards required me to start running payroll, get Workers Comp, filing taxes, and start keeping better records. It took some time to get everything in order and get organized because we do have to meet a lot of guidelines, at the same time, I think that organizational component has greatly benefited the farm. There are lots of larger farms that are already very organized and keep records the way we do, but they wouldn’t meet the FJC standards because of their on-farm practices.
On the Recent Move of His Farm:
Moving from Bell to Gainesville (Florida), retail sales will determine the health of our farm. As organic vegetable farms get bigger and bigger the only way for farms our size to stay in business is to move to retail sales, and having this certification sets us apart from all the other farms. In the local food scene, this is something that nobody really talks about and every farmer says they pay their employees well and treat workers with dignity, but that’s not always the case. I was exposed to agricultural injustice from farmers that I know around here. Abuse can be anywhere on any size farm. Success for us comes from the folks who come to our stand or sign-up for our CSA because they know we’re a FAIR farm and want to support good work.
The Family Garden
Jordan Brown farmed for 8 years on 25-acre farmland in Bell, Florida. His farm, The Family Garden, relocated in 2015 to Gainesville, Florida on 20-acres in the southeast of town where they are growing mixed vegetables, while maintaining their fruit production on the property in Bell. The Family Garden strives to improve the land with good environmental stewardship and to treat employees’ right, all while growing quality products at a reasonable price. “We try to have a good work environment and pay a wage people can live on.” The Family Garden produce is available locally through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, local restaurants, and farmers markets, as well as being sold wholesale throughout Florida. “As my workers and I learned together about AJP’s social justice standards, I became even surer that I had made the right decision for my farm and the people who work alongside me and my family here,” said Farmer Jordan Brown. “We’re taking a big step together, being the first farm in the southeast U.S. to participate in this program,” said Brown. “I’ve learned a lot from the process and am excited to see the program grow.”