Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Bon Appétit’s “Stories from the Field” encourages diologue among students

“I wear my food goggles every day. It’s a great lens to see the world through,” said Bon Appétit West Coast Fellow Vera Chang, who visited campus on Tuesday, Nov. 2, to give a talk entitled “Stories from the Field.”

As a Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) Fellow, Chang tours the farms with which BAMCO partners. She also visits colleges like Whitman that have Bon Appétit cafes.

Chang displayed an easy way with the audience, which may or may not have been helped by the big tray of locally-sourced desserts made by Bon Appétit and the basket of food documentaries waiting to be raffled off.

Chang graduated from Carleton College in 2009 with a degree in Global Ethics. After graduation, driven by her love of farming, she apprenticed at the University of California Santa Cruz farm.

“Growing food is like watching the best rock symphony orchestra,” she said. “Soil becomes plants, which become food, which become a part of us.”

At the UC Santa Cruz farm, Chang noticed the workers in the neighboring farms. She began to volunteer at a farm up the road and got to talk to some of these farmworkers and hear their stories. Many came from far away and were unable to get back. One man she met was able to pick a flat of strawberries in under five minutes.

For Chang, and for BAMCO as a whole, the ethical treatment of farmworkers is extremely important. Chang is currently researching and working on a BAMCO Foundation report about farmworkers’ rights, which will be published within the next couple of months.

Chang stated that she sees farmworkers as the Atlases of food.

“Just like Atlas holds up the world, farmworkers hold up the food supply chain. Without farmworkers, there would not be very much food at the supermarket, restaurants or even farmers markets. They are integral members of society.”

The problems that farmworkers face in America are multitudinous, according to Chang. They are in one of the most dangerous professions–subject to heat stroke, chemical pesticide and fertilizer poisoning, seasonal downturn and injuries due to lack of training. Farmworkers have been intentionally excluded from many federal and state labor protections, the most prominent being exclusion from overtime payment, minimum wage and child worker laws. Lastly, there is inadequate public data on farmworkers. Many accidents go unreported and many farmworkers go unaccounted for.

An issue to which BAMCO has been responsive is the slavery of farmworkers at tomato farms in Florida. The model for this enslavement involves worker debt that is impossible to pay off, which is then passed down generationally. BAMCO stopped buying their winter tomatoes from these farms until they are able to agree to a much more ethical and fair situation, as defined by a code of conduct.

Chang went on to talk about some of the local farms which BAMCO works with and which are run completely differently from the farms she described in Florida.

Full Circle Farm features a break room for workers with a Foosball table. The farm also has a flat rate for workers, in addition to paying by produce picked. They are also looking into getting health care for their workers, but only if they can afford to get it for everyone, even the lowest paid worker.

Shepherd’s Grain is a cooperative of many wheat farmers who have been in the business of farming for generations. Shepherd’s Grain farmers practice a more sustainable form of agriculture (no-till) than most farmers do, and the co-op allows for their grain to have a face and their farm a name, as opposed to earlier when anonymous grain was deposited in a silo. This grain can be found in the pizza crust and other foods in Whitman’s dining halls.

Each Bon Appétit branch follows their Farm to Fork initiative, which means they source 20 percent of their food locally. This is defined by the farm being owner operated, having less than five million dollars in annual sales and being located within 150 miles.

“We use what we can get as long as we can get it,” said Prentiss Dining Hall Manager Susan Todhunter, who was present at the event. “You guys eat a lot. There aren’t very many farms that produce enough of a single thing, so we need to be creative.”

An audience member asked if BAMCO is planning to raise the 20 percent standard. Chang pointed out that for many schools, especially those in the Midwest, 20 percent is a great goal because of the short growing season and sometimes the lack of many local farms.

However, Chang also pointed out that Farm to Fork began in 1999 “before [being sustainable] was popular.”

“We [BAMCO] like to be cutting edge,” she said.

To conclude, Chang encouraged students to begin a dialogue about farmworkers’ rights and other food issues. BAMCO’s cage-free shell eggs initiative, she pointed out, began with a student.

“I was really excited to see that Bon Appétit was doing more than I thought they were, and that it’s more in line with my views than I expected,” said sophomore Abby Salzer, who is an environmental studies-sociology major. “I’m excited to see that they want to work with students and that they care not only where their food is coming from but where it’s going.”

Information about what BAMCO’s Fellows are seeing and doing can be found on Twitter (@bamco) or on their blog at www.bonAppétit.typepad.com.

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