There’s a lot of talk these days about the gap between available jobs and the skill sets of people looking for work. It’s an issue many of us have experienced, whether manager or job seeker.
But the problem is even greater for farmers, ranchers and food processors. Finding laborers to tackle their often back-breaking—and increasingly tech-heavy—work is a challenge across an agriculture and food industry that knows no geographic barriers.
The issues are the same from Florida citrus groves to California strawberry fields and the countless dairy operations and food processing facilities in between.
U.S.-born workers often refuse jobs on farms, ranches and in food processing plants, forcing those employers to hire foreign workers. Add to this issue growing consumer concerns about “fair food” across the supply chain, and the food system finds itself in uncomfortable territory.
As autumn begins, the fresh produce and dairy segments of agriculture—as well as processors and big grocery retailers like Walmart and Whole Foods—have weathered a summer of discontent.
Organizations focused on workers’ rights won concessions about working conditions and wages from buyers of Florida tomatoes, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers committed to take its Fair Food program to other states and other types of produce.
In June, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s agreed to demands from Migrant Justice to require its milk and cream suppliers to meet a code of conduct for treatment of Vermont dairy workers.
Clearly, the “fair food” movement is gaining traction. Long an issue for religious organizations, labor unions and NGOs, consumers today are asking hard questions about how agriculture and food production workers are treated as part of their desire to know every aspect of how their food is produced.