Harvest of Justice 2023: Farm Workers & Racism

Farm Workers & Racism: The Struggle for Justice, Respect, & Fair Pay

From slavery to sharecropping to exclusions in labor laws, our food system is rooted in racism. Today, our nation’s farm workers continue to face challenges and risks connected to this legacy. 

This educational program features interviews with farm workers and organizers addressing the many ways racism impacts the daily lives of farm workers. The goal of the program is to raise consciousness and encourage NFWM supporters to take action alongside workers. 

We encourage you to schedule an event amongst your congregation, community, or loved ones in which you utilize our resources about farm workers and racism. Feel free to use this HOJ 23 Presentation as another educational tool. If you need help planning an event or would like someone from NFWM to speak at your event, contact us at communications@nfwm.org

Please help spread this important educational program by utilizing our HOJ 23 Social Media Toolkit between Labor Day and World Food Day on Oct. 16.  

Follow the complete 6-week program or choose what works best for your community. We are happy to provide our resources free for everyone. For grant reporting purposes, it is helpful to know who is using our resources. In exchange for using our free resources, we ask that you fill out this short form:

Download Introduction to Farm Workers & Racism (Introducción a los campesinos y el racismo) to read an overview of the topic, including discussion questions. Watch our bilingual video Farm Workers & Racism: The Struggle for Justice, Respect & Fair Pay to hear directly from farm workers.

Take Action: Support farm worker-led campaigns and initiatives across the country.

Starting from the indentured servants from Europe who were recruited as cheap labor to help care for the land to the first African slaves who arrived in Virginia in 1619, the United States’ agricultural system is deeply rooted in exploitation and racist policies. Learn more by exploring Condensed Agricultural Timeline in the U.S. (Cronología de la agricultura)

Take Action: Tell Congress to pass the Fairness for Farm Workers Act. The bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide overtime and additional minimum wage protections for farm workers. Use these Talking Points to help craft your communication to your legislator.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are some of the reasons lawmakers give for why farm workers still need to be exempt from overtime pay and other labor laws? Are these reasons justifiable? 
  • The majority of farm workers are people of color, but the most common ethnicity among farm managers is White. What steps need to be taken for managerial positions to be more equitable?

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. From temperature changes to natural disasters, farm workers are on the front lines of climate change. Farm workers are also at a disproportionate risk from exposure to pesticides, which can cause short- and long-term illnesses for workers and their families. Although farm workers are often recognized as an environmental justice community, the U.S. government’s regulations and policies offer workers little to no protections against environmental hazards. Read more about this week’s topic in Environmental Racism Handout (Racismo Ambiental).

Take Action: Contact your legislators and urge them to stand with farm workers and their families by passing the Banning All Neurotoxic Organophosphate Pesticides from our Food Act (The BAN OPs Act). Use this BAN OPs Fact Sheet and Email Copy to help create a personalized letter/email to your legislator. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do environmental issues disproportionately impact communities of color?
  • How can we work towards environmental justice for all communities?
  • What environmental injustices exist in your community and/or state?

In some cases, farm workers experience physical and psychological abuse in the fields. In the worst cases they live in modern day slavery conditions. Read Modern Day Slavery Handout (La Esclavitud Moderna) to learn more. Please also watch our short bilingual video of two CIW staff members discussing their anti-slavery program and cases of modern day slavery within the U.S.

Take Action: Boycott Wendy’s fast food chain until they sign on to CIW’s Fair Food Program.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is modern slavery prevalent in agriculture? 
  • What steps need to be taken for modern slavery to be eliminated from our food chain?
  • What organizations are working to combat modern slavery and how can consumers join in their efforts?

In 1920, Black farmers made up 14% of all farmers. It is estimated that Black farmers lost around $326 billion worth of land within the 20th century. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) farmers now make up less than 5% of all U.S. farmers. While farming is hard work and it isn’t uncommon for farmers to leave the profession, that does not account for this staggering loss of land. Much of this loss is due to discriminatory practices from the United States Department of Agriculture and other unjust dealings around heirs’ property. We encourage you to educate yourself more about how a long-history of loan denials as well as violence and intimidation lead to farmers of color being forced off their land. Explore HOJ 2023 Farmers of Color Resources to learn more and connect with organizations serving farmers of color. 

Explore Further: Fill out the form to download The Land Cries Out: A Guide to Racial Land Loss in the U.S. from Rafi’s Come to the Table. The guidebook helps readers understand the depth and breadth of the ways in which land ownership, access to land, and the benefits of self-determination and sovereignty that come with it have been withheld, stolen, and mitigated through race-based policies, laws, and violence directed at communities of color. The guidebook also examines the ways in which faith communities can respond theologically and practically.

Take Action: Tell your legislators to support the Justice for Black Farmers Act and Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act

Discussion Questions:

  • How did farm owner become one of the top five whitest professions in this country?
  • What is land hunger and how does lack of access to land hurt communities?
  • How can people of faith and conscience better support farmers of color?

To turn around the unjust agricultural system, farm workers are organizing to demand a seat at the table with the people and institutions that have the ability to change their inhumane working and living conditions. Farm worker campaigns include creating consumer pressure on companies, boycotting, calling on elected politicians, and/or supporting certification programs. Campaigns may be local, regional, national and even global.

Take Action: Use our handouts in English and Spanish to educate your community about issues affecting farm workers and encourage them to support farm worker-led campaigns. 

Discussion Questions:

  • Why are many managers, owners, corporations, lawmakers, etc…unwilling to respond adequately to the needs of farm workers?
  • What would our agriculture system look like if we prioritized the safety and well-being of workers?
  • What accountability do consumers have in helping to change agricultural practices?

NFWM is committed to intentional, antiracist work to dismantle white privilege and white supremacy, opening ourselves to personal and organizational transformation as we resist all unjust relationships and systems of oppression. We encourage you to embody antiracism in your communities too. We have listed resources that can help you on your learning journey. 

  • Confront the need for change and check out The National Council of Churches antiracism resources broken down into denominations 
  • The Discipleship Council of the Baltimore-Washington Conference has issued an opportunity for you and your congregation to make a Commitment to Becoming an Anti-Racist Church. Explore their resources and learn more. 
  • Read essays and articles from Alliance of Baptists centered around antiracism. 

Explore The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s list of antiracism resources, which includes articles, books, videos, and more. They also have resources geared towards fostering conversations about race, racism, and resistance with children.

Here is a pdf downloadable version of the Harvest of Justice 2023 Lesson Plans.

Explore our works cited: Harvest of Justice 2023 Research