Our Ties with Skagit Valley Workers (And Why Their Protests are Important)

In 2009, four members of BSB traveled the west coast to visit farms, work with migrant farmers, ask questions about our produce industry… and film every second of the journey. The resulting footage became our self-titled documentary. Sure, it all happened over three years ago—but our project seems more relevant than ever in light of recent protests from Skagit Valley farm workers.

A program in the Skagit Valley—the Youth Migrant Project—inspired the documentary in the first place. And in the past week, workers from Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, WA protested wages, management, and the hire of temporary visa workers for the late summer harvest, among other things.

Here's one of our founders picking tomatoes.
Here’s one of our founders picking tomatoes.

Knowing what we know about migrants after the documentary, their wage demands aren’t surprising: they want a raise from 30 cents to 70 cents per pound. But we also know that picking berries can be tedious labor—even just picking enough to reach a couple cents.

Though the Sakumas have accommodated some worker demands, others have been tabled for an unknown period of time. The farm owner, Steve Sakuma, says that he can’t financially afford to raise wages—but overall, he was glad to address the protests quickly.

Many factors (and hands) go into the produce you buy at the market—and sometimes farmers are forced to compromise worker wages and conditions in the process. We’ve found that the situation is far more complex than farm owners simply withholding money from their laborers.

Check out some of our documentary clips (here and here) to learn more about BSB’s experience—and click here for a short history of the Youth Migrant Project. Let us know what you think: about farm management, worker rights, or the situation in Burlington. Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Food Forests in Seattle?

Seattle’s urban fabric is about to have a new addition: a forest.

On a seven-acre plot in Beacon Hill, plans for a food forest are going ahead. The idea began in 2009 as a project for a permaculture class, and has since received funding for the design and procurement of seeds, and a land grant from Seattle Public Utilities.

So the question is: what is a food forest? Fair question. The concept of permaculture has been gradually gaining traction as issues of sustainability and green practice are pushed to the fore. And therein lies the idea for the food forest. A perennial, self-sustaining garden, operating as a public park and open to all. Blueberries in season? Feel free to harvest as many as you like. The same with anything else growing in the garden.

673893_orig

The idea isn’t necessarily new, but what is new is both the scale of the project, and the location of the park within the fabric of the city. It is this convenient location that raises a lot of questions amongst critics, primarily how to monitor collection and avoid abuse of the park by individuals. But then, the answer to that question could be the largest positive of the project. Those who harvest the most are those who need the most.

In response to the question of who is the food grown in the park available to, lead landscape architect Margarett Harrison responded: “Anyone and everyone. There was major discussion about it. People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season, then it means we’re successful.”

And ultimately, that should be the mentality. Until the park actually opens and the first fruit is produced, no one can accurately predict the response. However, the community response simply to the development of the project, and the coverage the idea is getting, has already largely proven it a success. If further to that it can provide nutritional assistance to the underprivileged, well then, the negatives will be hard to find.

 

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.