(image courtesy trek earth)
I try to be aware of the path food takes from origin to my plate. I just finished reading The American Way of Eating, by Tracie McMillan, where the author went undercover in the food supply chain, working in grocery retail, as a restaurant employee, and as a worker picking fruits and vegetables in the fields. That last job really fascinated me, because not only are fruits and veggies integral to my diet, but sadly the treatment and wages of those workers are ripe for abuse.
Coincidentally, one of my favorite blogs, Meals and Miles, was invited to check out the Rainier farms system for Whole Foods to see how cherries and blueberries were harvested. More importantly, she was able to learn how Rainier treats their employees and the ways they try to make it a positive work environment.
During their harvest season, Rainier will employ up to 10,000 seasonal workers. The field we visited today currently has 1,000 seasonal workers on staff. Of the 1,000 workers, 50% are local and 50% are “guest workers” who come to Rainer from all over the world (but, mainly Mexico) through a government assisted work program. Rainier pays for their travel to Washington and pays for their housing while they are working.
Harvesting typically runs from June to early November, which will take them through cherry season, blueberry season, and apple season. The workers stay on site and work 6 days a week (they have Sunday off), and will return to their home country once the season is over. They have a 75% repeat worker rate.
We had a chance to take a look at some of the guest worker housing on site. These houses were built within the last year and can hold up to 12 workers. They all have central AC and a cleaning crew comes twice a week to clean the house for the workers.
This already sounds better than the cramped apartments and trailers McMillan encountered in California, and according to Meals and Miles, Ranier makes sure their workers make at least minimum wage (though on average they make more; they are at least paid a normal wage as a cushion). This is something I don’t think I would have known to even consider if I hadn’t just finished Tracie McMillan’s book, so it has certainly succeeded in raising my awareness. In addition, it’s great to see farms and food bloggers addressing this issue, and hopefully the more this is discussed the more positive changes can occur!