Food News Bites

May 12, 2017

US farms face worker shortages due to deportation scares, the Trump administration outlines cuts to rural development programs, and Bay Area restaurants tackle racial inequalities in the industry. In sunnier news, a number of our farmers market businesses have made headlines for their growth, leadership, and innovation. Here are a few recent news stories we’ve been reading.

Proposed Bill Would Protect Immigrant Farmworkers

Federal immigration crackdowns pose serious concern for farm workers and  the future of our nation’s food system, with an agricultural work force made of up to 70 percent undocumented immigrants. With workers fearing deportation raids, growers are having trouble finding enough labor to harvest crops in the field. Earlier this month, several senators, including Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris, proposed the Agricultural Worker Program Act, a bill that would protect farmworkers by creating a “blue card” visa offering a path to citizenship. While the bill is considered a long shot, it offers hope for farmers and the immigrants who labor to grow our food.

Trump Administration Focuses on Ag Deregulation and Cuts

The nation’s new Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, has set his sights on deregulation and proposed a “massive reorganization” of the United States Department of Agriculture that will focus on “improving efficiency” and shifting the department’s focus to international trade. But sustainable agriculture advocacy groups like National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are concerned that the shakeup will downgrade rural development and conservation programs, threatening rural communities and farmers. The White House also announced a rollback of school lunch standards put forward by the former first lady Michelle Obama, including relaxing guidelines for whole grains, sodium, and milk.

Barack Obama Speaks Out on Food

President Barack Obama and former White House chef Sam Kass took to the stage at a global food summit to discuss the current state of our food system, touching on climate change, global food security, food waste, health care, and the future of ag technology. “When we think about issues like food security or climate change, ultimately politicians can help guide policy, but the energy to bring about change is going to come from what people do every day,” he said.

Bay Area Grapples with Race/Wage Gap

Though the Bay Area prides itself on having a large, thriving, and inclusive restaurant industry, it has the highest race-based wage gap in the country. According to a study by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, white male workers in San Francisco restaurants are hired and promoted faster and earn $6 more per hour than workers of color. ROC will be taking measures to help turn the tide in the Bay Area, with plans to open a restaurant/cooperative in Oakland that will serve as a training site to support workers of color to move into higher paid positions in fine dining. They’ve also launched a pilot program to address occupational segregation in restaurants, working with a couple of Bay Area restaurants, including Alta CA.

CUESA’s Farmers Market Community in the News

Recently named a Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle, Reem Assil of Reem’s is opening her brick-and-mortar bakery on May 16 to bring Arab flatbreads, hospitality, and living-wage jobs to Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Go, Reem!

While several notable Jewish delis have closed in recent years, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen is expanding, with the recent opening of a new outpost in Larkspur and broader distribution of their breads and bagels in San Francisco.

Primavera is known near and far for its famous chilaquiles, a brunch favorite at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Is Primavera’s sister restaurant El Molino Central in Sonoma home to the best Mexican food in the Bay Area

Oakland-based Hodo Soy Beanery is on the cutting edge of an American tofu renaissance, introducing fresh yuba (a creamy, custard-like tofu skin) to Bay Area restaurant menus and supermarkets across the country. See Hodo Soy founder Minh Tsai discuss the future of tofu with Brandon Jew from Mister Jiu’s, Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and The Progress, and Annie Somerville of Greens at the Asian Art Museum on May 18.

Farmworker photo from Reem Assil photo courtesy of Reem’s.

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