Sunday, May 29, 2005

Organic Farmers and the Farmworkers' Union

I was catching up on my High Country News this weekend, which is an excellent newspaper on environmental issues in the West, and ran across a very interesting article on how the major organic farmers are strongly opposed to the United Farm Workers and how they are, in fact, reimposing some of the horrible conditions that the UFW organized against 30 years ago. While organic farmers obviously don't use the kind of poisons that farmworkers rallied around, they do demand backbreaking labor, particularly hand-weeding in order to protect the crops. Specialty crops, particularly those related to the organic salad craze, such as baby lettuces, are very tender and cannot take weeding with a hoe. This problem is getting worse as organic farming becomes big business and thus is increasingly susceptible to industrial methods and with an eye on profit.

I think there are a couple of lessons here. The first is that organic farming isn't just a bunch of people getting together and farming during the day and then smoking a bowl and drinking wine at night. It can be, and is becoming, as ruthless as any capitalist business operation. Second is that just because we buy organic doesn't necessarily mean that we are consuming responsibly. We are treating our bodies better but of course a selfish, even if highly justified concern, for our own well-being is not the basis for a fair and just society. We should pay attention to the kind of labor practices organic farmers are using and consume accordingly.