Last Thursday I had the opportunity to tour the town of Immokalee, Florida, where the overwhelming majority of our tomatoes in America are grown. The farmworkers in Immokalee work unbelievably long days under grueling heat. They usually wake up at 4:30 or 5:00am, head to a pick-up site where they hope they will be chosen for work that day, and then are charged $7/day to ride the bus to the fields. They spend the next 8 hours hauling buckets of tomatoes from the field to the trailer. And for every 32-lb. bucket of tomatoes they pick, they are paid 45 cents.
To put that into perspective, if they were to make minimum daily wage, they would have to gather over two and a half TONS of tomatoes. Usually, time or tomato supply doesn’t allow that to happen. After they have finished picking for the day, they ride back on the bus, usually arriving home between 6-8pm. These men work from 5am to 6pm, doing hard labor, to be paid quite literally nothing.
We drove around Immokalee and saw the trailers that serve as the farmworkers’ homes. A regular trailer (not a double wide) usually holds 8-15 occupants who have mats laid out one after the other along the length of the trailer. They are required to pay $55/week (A WEEK) for this. And let me be clear- these are not nice trailers. These are falling down, non-air-conditioned, rusting and rotting trailers. I wouldn’t pay $55 to own one. And do the math: 8 men at 55/week is $1760/month. If there are 15 men, it’s $3300/month. So if these men were in Dallas, rather than living in that trailer, for that kind of cash they could rent in a high rise like this for $1200/month, including a pool and a workout room and other amenities:
Instead, they are paying for this:
Two years ago just blocks from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers building where we were sitting, a man was arrested and charged with slavery after men escaped the truck trailer where they were held against their will for 18 months. The men were taken to work in fields by day and padlocked in by night, forced to use one corner of the truck trailer as the bathroom. There were no windows. There have been 7 slavery prosecutions in Florida in the past 12 years, which is why people call Florida “ground zero for modern day slavery.”
So when you go to a restaurant, or a fast food place, or your grocery store, or your child’s school cafeteria, and you see a tomato, think of these men. And feel angry enough and guilty enough to do something about it. Demand that you will not eat tomatoes that come from farm growers who treat their workers like this. So far, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway have agreed to buy tomatoes only from growers who adhere to a Code of Conduct. Whole Foods Market, Bon Appetit and Aramark have also signed on. If you eat or purchase tomatoes anywhere else, your voice is needed. Find out how to help here. If you’re a person who asks grace over your meals, shouldn’t you be a person who asks grace for those who have toiled for your meal?