A Just Food System
How students are advocating for farmworkers’ rights in Ohio
In the fall of 2013, students at Denison University worked with Professor Rusty Shekha to create a Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) chapter at Denison, and held the first Big Red Fair Food Festival. Instead of just learning about food justice, the students desired to have their voices heard and push for corporate policy change to better farmworker conditions.
In partnership with Ohio Fair Food (OFF) and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), students and community members rallied for farmworker rights, fair food policy, and called-for corporate sustainability. As a student, cofounder, and current chapter president, Yasmine La Salle says, “So often in justice work you are asked to fund the movement and fund those lobbying on the movement’s behalf. But we wanted to be a part of the change. We wanted to bring farmworkers to Denison to have their stories heard. To hear from someone who is being affected, and not just listen to another person advocating on their behalf.” In the spring of 2014, the SFA at Denison University was officially recognized as a student organization.
The SFA is a network of students throughout the country organizing with the CIW while advocating for justice and dignity for farmworkers. The SFA has played a vital role in the CIW’s “Campaign for Fair Food” and significantly contributed to key victories, including Chipotle and Trader Joe’s signing on to the “Fair Food Agreement.” These agreements focused on the U.S. tomato industry and require corporations to support a wage increase through paying an additional penny per pound and implement a human-rights-based Code of Conduct on the farms that grow their tomatoes. Through students’ organizing, four of the nation’s top food management companies, all of which hold university contracts here in Central Ohio, also agreed to “Fair Food Agreements” in just 16 months. This timeline is unheard of in corporate policy reform.
Many of the students marching with farmworkers today were barely in elementary school when the CIW held its historic 230-mile “March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage” in 2000. Yet the pace of the policy change is not a detractor for them. As students, their passion and excitement is infectious and should be an example to all food citizens in building a just food system.
In January 2014 the SFA launched a campus-based targeted market effort against Wendy’s. The “Boot the Braids” campaign is reminiscent of the CIW’s first major watershed victory in the early 2000s against Taco Bell entitled, “Boot the Bell.” Ohio SFA member Henry Anton Peller is working with his fellow students and charging ahead with almost constant negotiations, marches, and demonstrations demanding Ohio be accountable to the ethical practices with the corporation it does business with.
With Central Ohio being the home to Wendy’s Corporate, The Ohio State University’s (OSU) SFA has been the host to national spotlight. In May 2014, an OSU SFA student delivered a letter to Wendy’s CEO at its annual shareholder meeting calling on Wendy’s to sign on to CIW’s “Fair Food Agreement.” Students did not stop there. Together with Ohio Fair Food, almost 800 individuals marched from OSU to the shareholder meeting. This was followed up with hundreds of Central Ohio residents’ attending the Ohio premiere of the documentary, “Food Chains,” in December 2014.
“Student-bodies are incredibly powerful and history has shown that through them, change is achievable,” says Henry while describing how OSU’s SFA has been working to dissect each issue, such as wage theft, and bring to light the injustices happening right here in the United States. “Most students are unaware of what is happening,” says Henry, “but we see the power in numbers and the power of the students.”
In January 2015, after months of good faith talks between the SFA and OSU administration a renewal lease with Wendy’s on the OSU campus required that local franchise owners must work to meet the demands of the SFA before the two-year lease period is up, or face nonrenewal. While Wendy’s was not “booted,” Henry still noted the huge milestone before quickly noting the five upcoming demonstrations and events being held within a two-week period.
While the pace of change is slow, it does not deter the students from moving to push the issues forward every day.
Today’s youth are leading the way to a just food system. To organize on a local campus, or get involved in your community at any age contact: email@example.com.