Words from Tom… Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Prompted by The New York Times article on April 25, 2014, titled “In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress,” Lady Moon Farms founder Tom Beddard wanted to share a few of his thoughts on the amazing work the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has done since 1993 and his decision to be the first Florida tomato grower to sign-on with them in 2009. Lady Moon Farms was a pioneer participant, leading the way for larger growers to eventually sign-on and support the CIW’s mission as well.

I remember the weather that day very well. Looking back it was mid May 2009 when I was in the field at our Mercersburg, Pennsylvania farm when a representative from Whole Foods Market called me. It was a mild sunny spring day, the kind of day anyone who works outside loves and I was looking over a cucumber field that had been planted a week earlier. Whole Foods wanted to know if Lady Moon Farms would be willing to sign-on to the CIW’s program of paying a penny a pound more along with adhering to a code of conduct that our farm would follow for all the employees. Though I was aware of the CIW, I had never given it much thought as to how it would affect us or how Lady Moon could affect it. This was mainly because at Lady Moon we always prided ourselves on treating all our employees in a way that was fair and just and extremely honest.

For me it was always personal. I  wanted to treat my employees like I would want to be treated. I always felt it is a part of being organic farm and social justice is part and parcel with a good farm plan. Our employees were then and still are paid an hourly rate, they were never paid by how much or how fast they could pick. They are paid to do the job right. And that’s what they do.

Our employees handle the plants and the fruit coming off them with care, so that our customers receive the highest quality produce available. They were never expected to come to work and sit unpaid even for 5 minutes. They were not expected to work three 12-hour days and then not work for three days because the farm didn’t need them. Instead our employees are year-round workers who work a consistent and year-round schedule.

There was never any yelling or abuse of any kind with any of our employees and as anyone who knows our general manager Lisa, there isn’t a sweeter person around and she sets this tone for all our employee relations.

Since we treat our employees as I would want to be treated, it is no wonder that in a very transient industry, Lady Moon has a remarkably low turnover rate.

When we would read the horror stories about the working conditions in Immokalee, about the slavery allegations or sexual abuse of the women farm workers it all seemed like some distant alien world to us.

So it was for all these reasons that on that warm May afternoon I didn’t hesitate one minute to tell Whole Foods that sure, Lady Moon would join the CIW. It made the national wire that Lady Moon Farms, along with Alderman farms were the first two Florida tomato growers to break the longstanding stalemate and sign on to the CIW’s program – something the CIW had been attempting to do for 15 years.

What really amazed me was that within months one of the largest Florida tomato growers agreed to sign on and it was just a matter of a few more months and the entire industry followed. To have read the article on April 25 and to realize how much better life is for some of America’s most forgotten workforce and for some of the hardest working and most honest people I know, I think back to the days when although I was aware of the CIW, I did not see how it was relevant to me or my operation. And it is that which reminds me that often it’s taking that first step in life, following your heart and doing what you know is right that can make a change for the better in this world and not even realize it. And lest we all forget, there is still much work to be done and may we take an extra moment to look upon farmworkers everywhere with a great big smile, for surely they are all deserving and because without them many of us would not eat.

-Tom Beddard

For more information about Lady Moon Farms’ support of CIW, you can read more here.