Food Day Cause For Celebration

Emily Lin-Jones

Washington is the largest producer of apples in the nation, so it’s not out of the ordinary for Whitman students to snack on fruit grown and picked nearby – but how often do we think about the work it takes to get an apple from tree to table? At the annual Food Day celebration in the basement of Reid on Wednesday Oct. 22, students were offered locally grown fruit, and some food for thought as well.

Food Day is a national event sponsored by Center for Science in the Public Interest that promotes healthy, affordable and sustainable food and better food policy. Junior Genevieve Jones organized Whitman’s first Food Day celebration last year with the help of food and sustainability groups on campus like SAW and the Organic Garden. This year the celebration was themed around labor practices in the farming industry.

“In a lot of dialogues about food, labor is a missing component,” said Jones. “It’s a very pertinent issue at Whitman because Walla Walla is an agricultural town. The standard of food is really high and it’s great to be a foodie here, but we don’t talk a lot about labor.”

Roger Bairstow from Broetje Orchards spoke about ethical labor practices at this year’s annual Food Day. Photos by Allie Felt.

Jones collaborated with the Whitman Events Board to invite Roger Bairstow, a representative from Broetje Orchards, to give a presentation on the farm’s approach to ethical labor practices.

Broetje Orchards, located about an hour’s drive northwest of Walla Walla, is one of the largest privately owned orchards in the United States. With its “faith-based” business model it seeks to re-invest profits in improving conditions for its laborers, largely Latino immigrants.

Founders Ralph and Cheryl Broetje were inspired to help Latino migrant workers after a visit to Mexico in the 1980s. There they saw the oppressive economic and social conditions that drove individuals and families to the U.S. for work, where they were likely to live in poverty.

“We heard these stories and decided, we’re walking in our faith, we’re trying to be socially responsible and we need to do something,” said Bairstow.

Broetje Orchards employs workers year-round and attempts to provide fair wages and benefits such as on-site healthcare and affordable housing. The company also distributes a portion of profits to charitable projects around the world, allowing workers to select which projects they want to fund.

Bairstow took students’ questions and discussed other aspects of the company’s practices, including its commitment to minimizing environmental impact and attitude toward immigration policy. He addressed the recent shortage of apple pickers in Washington state and the relationship of legal and illegal immigrants to the farming economy.

“It’s a question for us to ask as a country: Do we want to actually have a fair immigration system that recognizes the contribution of these [immigrant] families?” he said. “If we nailed down the immigration system [the farming industry] would be in far better shape.”

Bairstow said he encouraged students to volunteer at the orchard and learn more about the labor that goes into producing food.

“Whitman is an important partner within the Walla Walla region,” said Bairstow, who noted that two kids raised in one of Broetje’s worker communities later went on to attend Whitman.

“The more understanding we can bring to our food system and the politics surrounding it and the workers, the better.”

Broetje Orchards-grown apples were available for attendees.

Following the presentation students were given the chance to try some Broetje Orchards-grown apples with vareties ranging from Red Delicious to Honeycrisp, along with locally produced apple cider.

“[The presentation] was fantastic. He captured the difficulty of trying to maintain land stewardship and human rights … and the paradox of trying to donate abroad while also trying to care for local communities,” said junior Teaghan Phillips.

According to Jones, discussion about labor and immigration and sweet, healthy treats go hand in hand on Food Day.

“The idea is that we learn about some hard topics, ask lots of good questions and celebrate as well. I think celebrating is a good portion of the day,” said Jones.