A version of this piece originally appeared on Food First’s webpage.
The following is the eighth installment in our Dismantling Racism in the Food System series, and is abridged from 2017’s forthcoming book Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons. This brief is based on an interview by David Bacon with farmworker activist Rosalinda Guillen. The transcript has been abridged and edited for clarity by Erik Hazard.
Large tracts of agricultural land offers farmers the opportunity for increased production and profit—but not without a cost. While soy, corn, and other grain farmers barely afford it by using expensive, labor-saving machinery, genetically tailored seeds, fertilizers, and chemical inputs, that is not the case for other types of farmers. Farmers of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and livestock rely on human labor and skill. Most often, farmers find such labor in migrant and immigrant farmworkers.
The same market economy that compels the intensification and consolidation of agricultural land in the United States has also pushed farmers off their land, depressed local economies, and driven mass migration across Latin America. For generations, displaced peasant farmers have come to the United States seeking work. They often find it on farms, where they bring extensive knowledge and appreciation for growing food. However, what they often find here are dangerous working conditions and appallingly low wages.
This interview with Rosalinda Guillen highlights the interlocking destinies of farmers and farmworkers and the ways in which the land and its people can resist the exploitation and discrimination of migrant farm work while offering a deep, restorative land ethic. It reminds us that the knowledge and skills that farmworkers have gained over lifetimes and generations of farming is a precious resource essential for a new food system.
Click here to download this Backgrounder, view in full below, or read the interview in its entirety in Food First’s upcoming book Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States.