Special Collections’ Food Chains Screening Opens Discussion on Farmworker Exploitation

by Sarah Block, Library Communications

Food Chains is available for checkout on DVD from Richter Library.

Click the image above to watch a video of the discussion on April 22. More photos from the event can be viewed on Facebook.

Local farmworkers demanding fair labor practices in farm fields are making meaningful changes in one of the nation’s most critically relied on but historically exploited areas of the labor force. An event at the University of Miami Special Collections on April 22 brought together UM students, faculty, and community members for a screening and discussion of the documentary Food Chains: The Revolution in America’s Fields, directed by Sanjay Rawal. The film documents the activities of a group of farmworkers in Immokalee, southwest Florida, in their fight for living wages and workers’ rights.

“Special Collections is a community resource. This is an opportunity to promote meaningful discussion about issues that are close to many South Floridians and affect farmworkers across the country,” says Beatrice Skokan, manuscripts librarian at Special Collections who organized the screening and panel discussion.

IMG_7958-webPanelists included Will Pestle, an associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, Silvia Perez, farmworker leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Natali Rodriguez, national staff member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, engaging in a discussion on the many issues in farm labor described in the documentary, which premiered at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival and is gaining national exposure on Netflix streaming. Food Chains is available for checkout at Richter Library.

Based in Immokalee, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of tomatoes, the film describes the inhumane realities of the largely undocumented migrant workers who carry out long and strenuous daily physical labor in tomato fields for meager pay. Human rights violations ranging from sexual abuse to slave labor often go unreported out of fear of retaliation or deportation.

“The hardest thing is coming to the realization of how little you mean to the people you are working for,” says Gerardo Reyes Chavez, one of the workers featured in the film who helped form the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) as a means to advocate for a better quality of life for farmworkers. One significant step of the CIW is the establishment of the Fair Food Program, which demands that large purchasers of tomatoes acknowledge their reliance on farmworkers. Participating food retailers and farms agree to pay workers one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked and eradicate abuse in the fields.

Since 2011, major corporations including Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Chipotle, and McDonald’s have signed on to the program, meaning they have agreed to buy tomatoes exclusively from Fair Food Program farms. Since its inception, the program has added $15 million to workers’ payrolls.

Following the film, panelists and audience members engaged in a discussion moderated by Will Pestle. Many questions were directed towards Silvia Perez, a leader of the CIW who appeared in the film, about current efforts of the CIW, such as the continuation of a long-fought campaign to gain the support of Publix, and the spread of their mission to other regions and types of agriculture. Click here to view the discussion.

Silvia Perez, a leader in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, discusses the fight for fair labor standards in a panel discussion following the film. Photo by Andrew Innerarity.