Debate Question 4
Does Big Ag or Agroecological Farming provide better jobs?
To answer this question, we share this analysis – Workers and Human Rights from Farm to Plate – by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, an organization made up of organizations representing the nearly 20 million workers involved in the food chain. It describes the reality of Big Ag jobs and speaks for itself about the deplorable conditions for farmworkers, food processing workers, food distribution, and retail fast-food and restaurant workers. To compare that to the situation for workers involved with those working to produce healthy food for local markets is mixing apples with cumquats, but here are some things we can say with certainty.
1) People who choose to grow food on their small farms or urban gardens in an agroecological way, and provide that food to their families and communities, are less likely to be exploited than workers in Walmart or in a corporate produce field;
2) People who are forced by circumstances to take low wage jobs in the Big Ag economy are victims of exploitation that is structured into the economy due to the monopoly-like power of those corporations (technically, oligopolies);
3) Family farmers and those who work for them may not always earn a living wage, but they are not being exploited by capitalists; rather, they are underpaid because the entire food economy is skewed by the predominance and power of Big Ag.
Are people working on agroecological farms less likely to become ill due to exposure to pesticides? Absolutely.
Do they typically enjoy better working conditions than workers on large farms and in the corporate food chain? Yes.
Is this beginning to change with the new “sexy” status of agroecological farmers we see in local markets? We certainly hope so.
Has the work of growing, processing and preparing our food typically been among the least paid and lowest status jobs in the U.S., and does it take advantage of those without official residency status? Yes.
Is supporting these local farmers and buying local enough to guarantee fair labor conditions and pay? No.
Increasing the production of local, organic food alone will not solve this problem. As long as corporations are able to exploit food chain workers and undercut the true value of food, the value of labor throughout the economy, including those of smaller-scale family farmers, farmworkers, and local food economy workers, will be devalued.
To ensure a universally superior wage and better working conditions for workers producing, handling, packaging and cooking food produced agroecologically, we will need to transform the economic structures of the larger economy to level the playing field. Together we must reverse the corporate welfare and comparative advantages of destroying the environment and exploiting workers, along with the government policies the Big Ag corporations influence and enjoy.