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CIW Action. Photo: CIW
CIW action. photo: CIW

Sarasota Friends & Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers

Sarasota Meeting has a long tradition of actively supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers‘ (CIW) efforts to secure better wages and safe working conditions for farmworkers. Two Sarasota Friends shared what they learned from a recent immersion visit with the Immokalee farmworkers. Here are their stories:

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Tomato pickers. photo: Labor Notes,Scott Robertson

On Nov. 11th, 2018 I shared the unique opportunity of an immersion experience with 3 other f/Friends. We drove inland several hours to the community of Immokalee, an historical place in the agricultural belt of Florida, and home to a community center building that is the headquarters of the Coalition of Immokalee workers.

I experienced much that day that was new and much that was old. New to me was the evidence which decades of advocacy had yielded progress on the quality of life for those who labor at picking this country’s food. New was the learning that “los derechos” (the rights) of workers now included freedom from unchallenged work exploitation, freedom from sexual harassment on the job, and a slightly improved economic standard of living. New was the amazing understanding that this movement, the Alliance for Fair Food, has stretched its wings over many decades, up and down the Eastern seaboard and across America, as far west as Texas. (New also, was the taste of culturally diverse food on my tongue–like cactus and eggs),

Old were the ribbons of flat, farmed lands that stretched out to far-away horizons– land which mediated both the drama of growing life-giving food, and the drama of suppressing the life of those who picked it.

Old were the winds that blew across the landscape. But new were the winds of hope, which came with the understanding that all of this had been accomplished through the dedication and courageous struggle of the workers themselves, braided together with the support of students, and religious affiliates. Together there has been many companions for the journey.

I recommend the experience to anyone wanting a taste of what it means to be interconnected with people, with the land, with a history of growing not only tomatoes, but also democracy.

It is a taste of sweetness for the soul….and the taste of cactus was not bad either!

—Ande Reiter

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CIW action. photo: CIW

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food program have made — literally — a difference of night and day for farmworkers in the region on the southern third of the peninsula that produces most of the winter produce in the United States.

The community center in the town of Immokalee that is home base for the CIW sits across the street from a big parking lot. The last time I visited the offices a few years back, that parking lot doubled as a kind of a “workers’ market”. Every dark morning at 4:30, would-be workers gathered there to be selected by crew leaders contracted by one of the farms in the region, not knowing whether, where, or how long they would work that day. They would cram into a crew leader’s van or old bus to be driven to the fields, only to sit idle and wait for a couple of hours until the sun was up and produce dry enough to be picked.

Fast-forward to 2018. Ninety percent of Florida winter tomatoes are now picked by workers covered by the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a complex arrangement between the CIW, farms, harvesting and processing companies and grocery store and restaurant chains that passes on an extra penny per pound from consumers to the workers that pick the tomatoes.

—Johannes Werner

Note: Also in November, Sarasota Quakers joined with farmworkers and New College of Florida students for an action at a Wendy’s. Read more>