Farm laborers and other food system workers (truck drivers, meat packers, factory workers, etc.) often endure dangerous working conditions for little pay, few benefits, and even less job security. Seasonal farm workers in the US earn an astoundingly low wage—an average of only $11,000 a year. And many farm owners—small-scale, sustainably-minded ones included—struggle to make a decent income themselves.
In a truly sustainable food system, workers are fairly compensated for their work and business owners treat them with respect and care. However, because labor costs are often the biggest expense for farmers, justice for workers can seem at odds with another important aspect of food justice: keeping healthy food affordable.
Even if they cannot offer high wages, small-scale farmers and business owners can always provide safe working conditions and an environment of dignity and respect for their employees. Some farms offer housing for workers’ families, give fresh produce, and extend the growing season throughout the winter when possible to provide job stability.
A few examples:
- La Tercera Farm, a side-project of Star Route Farm’s Annabelle Lenderink, was started in part as a way to help supplement the income of some of Star Route’s most loyal workers.
- Swanton Berry Farm not only holds a contract with the United Farm Workers, it also offers a co-ownership program for long-term workers.