Migrant workers in Food industries.

Through our visit to many farms and factories, one topic that stood out and caught my attention is labor justice in food system concerning migrant workers in particular. This trips has been a wonderful chance for me to view what I learned about US food system in my seminar through a real-world lens. Believe it or not, migrant workers are the major forces that keep US food system operating. indeed ,among 20 millions workers employed in US food industries,more than half of them are migrant workers and most of them come from Mexican. Migrant workers contributes about 80% of profits in the food industries. In Adam County, which is one of the biggest apple produces in the nation, migrants workers are the major labor sources for labor intensive tasks like picking up apples during harvest season. They leave their home for a better future in the united states. They are hardworking and determined to earn money to send back home for their families. Talking to the owner of the Hollabugh fruit farm and market, I saw the same appreciation for workers. Hollabaugh farm’s owner really appreciate for all the work of her workers. She created good relationship with them, never let anyone imposed the stereotype of uneducated, lazy migrant workers on them. On the contrary, the workers are skillful, hardworking, responsible and very patient. I was also impressed by her treatment towards the workers. They are not mistreated like what I saw in documentaries about big fast food companies.The workers are paid fairly like anyone. Everyone starts with minimum wage of $8/bin but as they continue working the majority of them earn $20/bin. On the contrary, the manger of turkey processing facility “Plain Ville Farm” didn’t show much support to his workers. In our conversation, he addressed more about workers’ productivity and profit than ethic and healthy issues that a  workers at a fast assembly line may encounter. Our visit to Hollabaugh farm also interested me as the owner address many issues concerning migrant workers. There has been a lack of documented migrants in the United States, which has led to a shortages of labor for many farms  in the United States. Thus, many farmers may risk taking in undocumented workers as long as they pass basic checking procedure like presenting identification documents. Another problem is that although undocumented workers are deprived from many legal benefits, they have to pay all the taxes like other documented workers. This makes us wonder that if they work hard and contribute to the economy, whey can’t they receive legal identification to have better chance of finding job and living an easier life. 



SNAP, we got EBT

As we learned on our food justice immersion project, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) took effect in 2008, revamping the federal Food Stamp Program. This newer program gives families greater opportunities to buy from farmer’s markets and from farmers directly, promoting the purchase of healthier foods, and continues to provide a safety net for low-income families. SNAP evolved mainly as an effort to maintain the Food Stamp Program’s relief for low-income families, while increasing such families’ access to fresh produce; SNAP, in theory, both supports families suffering from economic hardship and encourages healthier eating options. Our immersion project suggested, however, that– as helpful as SNAP is–obstacles to healthy food access remain and low-income families still struggle to climb out of poverty under our current food support system system.

On the positive side, we witnessed first-hand how SNAP benefits a good number of people. For example, the program’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) machines make the use of SNAP money in farmer’s markets possible to begin with. Furthermore, markets like the  Adams County Farmer’s Market (which our group visited this week) further support SNAP recipients through additional programs. The Adams County Farmer’s Market, for example, has a double dollars program, which grants SNAP recipients an extra dollar to spend at the farmer’s market for every SNAP dollar they use there. Still, SNAP remains inefficient in reaching a large numbers of farmer’s markets, limiting healthy food access for many individuals. Because of SNAP’s equipment requirements–markets need EBT machines in order to accept SNAP–many farmer’s markets remain blocked off from the SNAP program. Local farmers and farmer’s markets must also rely on outside funding and grants to support SNAP-related programs (like the double dollars program mentioned above), funds that may not always be available. While SNAP encourages healthier food options in a good portion of the population, many individuals still struggle with affordable healthy foods.

On the positive side again, SNAP does continue to support many families in need, providing vital food dollars as a supplement to low incomes. Families we spoke with at Circles specifically mentioned the great aid they receive(d) from SNAP. After all, SNAP provides for low-income families one of life’s biggest necessities: food. Yet the uneven distribution of SNAP benefits creates a food gap, actually discouraging some families’ in the climb up the economic ladder. A short film we watched this past Wednesday, made by a Gettysburg graduate, highlighted the struggles individuals face as their benefits decrease faster than their income increases. For example, a raise in income of a single dollar per hour can put a person beyond the reach of benefits like SNAP,her loss in benefits outweighing her new income. As useful as programs like SNAP can be, they actually discourage economic improvement at times.

Examining issues related to SNAP throughout the week, it became clear to many of us that SNAP certainly provides much needed assistance and has even improved healthy food access for many. It became just as clear, however, that complications still hinder the system, preventing SNAP from completely realizing its goals. As necessary as SNAP is in our hard economic times, the program could stand further improvements both in encouraging access to healthy food products and in supporting low-income individuals in their rise out of poverty.

Growing with the new generation

During this week long project, we have been exposed to various ways in which younger generations are presently affecting local agriculture and getting involved in more sustainable farming practices. From small, student initiated projects such as the Painted Turtle Farm and the Shirfy Heirloom garden in Gettysburg to larger scale projects such as the  Young Grower Alliance (YGA) and the Farm Alliance, it is apparent that these younger generations, often recent college graduates, are driven to follow unique and sustainable initiatives. These future faces of farming are analyzing the way in which agriculture has been developed since farming became industrialized in the mid 20th century, and as to how they can be more mindful about the effects of farming on the environment and the people in surrounding communities.

The YGA (http://extension.psu.edu/plants/tree-fruit/yga) aims to build a sense of community between these young growers and to serve as a platform for them to openly ask questions and actively communicate and learn. During our visit with Ben Wenk, the current chairperson of the YGA, he mentioned that he valued the alliance because it brings younger generations of farmers together, enabling them to pursue more varied agricultural skills practices such as transitioning into specialty crops, marketing/CSA models, and incorporating food/social justice issues such as immigration and supplying food for those within the food gap..

Similar to the YGA in the respect that it is aimed towards youthful initiatives, the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City (http://www.farmalliancebaltimore.org/the-alliance/about/) is geared towards community building, awareness of food availability and the benefits of urban farms. Through the Farm Alliance and the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program, individuals,  usually young growers, can access vacant lots in the city and transition them into growing spaces. These newly formed green spaces prove as a sort of nature sanctuary. While visiting Hidden Harvest, one of the farms set up through the Farm Alliance, we learned that their initiative was primarily to create a place within the community that would harness a sense of local involvement and achievement through healthy food, while benefiting the local ecosystem. One young gardener mentioned how she appreciated how the farm acts as a sanctuary for beneficial insects and birds that would otherwise not have a home in that area of the city. Image

Jackie, a participant at Hidden Harvest Farm, enjoys a sunny visit with the chickens.

There is no denying that the agricultural business has old roots. From 2002-2007, the number of farmers who were senior citizens grew by 22 percent, and the USDA estimated that for every one farmer under 25, there are five over 75 years of age (http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/04/12/rogue-farms-corps-trains-young-farmers-agriculture-careers). But now, as seen by initiatives such as those we visited, there is a youthful uprising of citizens concerned about food justice and our effects on local ecosystems. Students and graduates alike are taking an interest in agriculture, whether or not they have a background in the field, and actively participating in initiatives within their communities (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/12/143459793/who-are-the-young-farmers-of-generation-organic). Whether the draw to farming and alternative agriculture is simply the beneficial feeling of being physically connected to food, a concern for the environment, or the independence and practicality of the job, these younger generations are seemingly sowing the seeds of an agricultural movement that surrounds social, food, and environmental awareness and justice.

What is CSA and how does it relate to our trip?


Community Supported Agriculture

Before the Food Justice in Adams County immersion project I had not heard about community supported agriculture, or CSA. However, this idea of community-engaged struck my interest. Throughout the week we visited a couple of different farms and urban gardens that were good examples of the CSA model. There is an important distinction between a community-shared garden, where the members of the community come and volunteer from time to time, and a typical CSA farm, where each member of the CSA gets their weekly or biweekly share of the produce they had grown. The way a CSA model works is that a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the community members. These shares may include vegetables and fruits grown on the farm but sometimes eggs, milk and meat are also shared. Interested consumers can either purchase a share and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season or they can volunteer with the farming process and receive the produce as a payment. This is a great project that is used to build strong community relationships. The consumers receive fresh and healthy produce from a known source. They can also engage in the production process and supervise how a farm is managed. The farmer, on the other hand, has a consistent source of income. There is an important concept in the CSA model, which is the notion of shared risk. In most CSAs, members pay up front for the whole season and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. However, in a case of any natural disaster, such as a hailstorm, the consumers do not get reimbursed for the lost produce. Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community. Everyone gets a fair share of the produce and everyone suffers when something goes wrong if there are no fruits or vegetables to share. On the first day, we went to Elaine’s Everblosom Farm, which is located in East Berlin. Elaine with her amazing crew grows organic produce using bio-intensive method of agriculture, which does not involve using any conventional fertilizers or pesticides. At the Everblosom Farm, community members are encouraged to come out to the farm and volunteer. Elaine has a website where she advertizes all her products and invites people to buy various shares. The next day, we went to a poultry farm called the Rettland Farm, which is, a small but diversified, family-operated farm. The owner gave us a tour and explained how he sells shares of both chicken and pork meat to interested community members. He slaughters the chickens on his farm in the most humane way possible. The meat is left outside in a cooler and people can come get whatever they want and just leave the money in a cool Care Bear tin. People know that their meat comes from a reliable source and they trust the owner just as he trusts them with the shopping process. These two examples showed how agriculture can be used as a means of community construction. We also visited a couple community-engaged urban gardens on our trip to Baltimore. Despite their small size, these gardens were thriving and did not have any problems with finding enough volunteers to help out with weeding and planting. Not all farms or gardens, which are shared between a community, are CSAs. The kind of urban farming that we saw in Baltimore relies on community members being actively engaged in the process of farming. However, they did not purchase CSA shares and did not necessarily receive produce on a regular basis. Community-supported agriculture is a great project, which not only provides for stronger community relationships, but also helps assure the customer of the quality and handling of their foods. I am hoping to see more CSAs emerge, which hopefully will be able to compete with commercial food production.


Community Change

We started the day early so that we could get to Baltimore City early to work on the Hidden Harvest Farm with Tara. The farm is one of the city’s many open lots that was transformed into an urban farm. We weeded the front so in preparation of an inviting flower bed. Ten people split the responsibility and eggs from chickens that also live on the farm.Then we had lunch at Joe Squared, a restaurant that uses local ingredients when they are in season.

IMG_20130516_101305The group, weeding a sunflower patch at Hidden Harvest Farm



IMG_2641Eric and Autumn hang out with some chickens

We went around to three more farms in the Farm Alliance in Baltimore: the White lock, Boone Street, and Real Food Farms with Maya, who works at Real Food Farm. The first two were small community plots that were started by community members and support the social mission of distributing fresh produce to the neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods in Baltimore City do not have a supermarket that has fresh produce. The  corner markets that sell pre-packaged food, soda, and alcohol. The Farm Alliance allows the farms to aggregate their products and sell them under one stand in weekly farmer’s markets and it also allows them to share resources like lawn mowers, which may cost a lot of money.

IMG_2646 IMG_2645

Afterwards, we went home and did a seminar at PTF building rain collection bins with the PTF families. They were very enthusiastic about their beds and growing food, and building the bins together allowed them to use tools that they may not have.

Weed your life

Camille and Helena weeding at Sherfy
Camille and Helena weeding at Sherfy

We began the day with a visit to the Sherfy farm with senior Hannah Grose. She has been working on the farm to make it more period-accurate with the garden in the Civil War era. Some of us weeded and others begin planting flowers in the front beds. Using the garden as a way to go beyond monuments and battlefields to learn about the time period. As health science majors, Autumn and Helena were especially happy to know that health benefits of the plants would be spread through learning about history.


Then we went to the farmer’s market at the Gettysburg Recreation Park. There were only a handful of vendors, as we arrived at he end of the day, it is Wednesday, and it is still early in the season. Carol’s desserts looked irresistible and called for an unplanned treat of the week. We talked to Kathy Glahn who talked to us about her experience with planting and selling to restaurants; how the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) improves Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients’ access healthy foods.

Nearby, on a picnic table, we were able to talk to Camille about the social justice issue at hand at Gettysburg and Adams County. For example, 35% of individuals in Gettysburg are living in poverty and 75% of adults are overweight or obese. These statistics are shocking and there must be a change. Camille works with the Food Policy Council, which works to coordinate efforts to try change this issue. She also talked about her work with Healthy Options, a program that encourages healthy lifestyles through building a support system and learning network of community members.



At Campus Kitchens, the gang prepared some dinner for the Circles meeting. We made garlic bread,  a killer salad with four types of lettuces, herbs, pickled beets and beans; spaghetti, bok choi, and an apple cobbler. Tammy, Eric, and Uyen gave us a background of the kitchen and guidelines to follow when preparing food.


Then at SCCAP, the South Central Community Action Program, we were able to meet some participants over dinner. We had an in-depth talk with some of the Circles leaders that were struggling or had struggled because of the Food/Wage gap. They gave us a better picture of what it means to be in poverty and how SCCAP was able to provide a strong community support and resources like classes, seminars, and discussions to climb out of it. As they were mothers, it was also interesting to also hear about what effects their decisions  have on their children. For example, single working mothers must take care of their kids, work to earn money, improve their educations, but effort to any of these means sacrificing in another area, which makes it hard to juggle all of their responsibilities.

IMG_2622 During our de-brief of the day, we used working at the Sherfy Farm as a metaphor for the theme of the rest of the day. Weeding and planting in a garden is like your life. You don’t choose which weeds or seeds may fall on your plot, without care it may grow into a jungle. However, it takes initiative to make a difference. It takes knowledge of the weed and sometimes serious digging to the root of the problem and to get rid of it. Only then can you begin to lay a solid foundation of dirt and begin to plant flowers and other plants you choose for yourself. Some of the things you will leave in original conditions, and how much varies from person to person, but it is a decision you make. Granted, the conditions in which you are in cannot change, like the weather, the sunlight, but like your past, you must accept them and find ways to use them to your advantage rather than succumbing to it.