U.S. Farming Exploitation and How to Get Around It

One farm worker dies on the job every day in America.1

In 2013, the average tomato harvester was earning 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes he/she picked, a rate that hasn’t changed in over thirty years.2

In December 2012, farm worker advocates filed a complaint with the United Nations decrying farm practices of denying legal aid, health care, and other basic needs to their laborers.

Large-scale farms can get away with this exploitation because of the availability of contingent labor – farm workers hired out by short-term contractors.

In the U.S., about half of farm workers are undocumented immigrants; only 2 percent of farm workers are unionized; 5 percent have an education beyond high school, with the average level completed being seventh grade; 44 percent said they could speak no English, and 30 percent had a family income under the poverty line.3

Farms are able to prey upon these workers’ needs and fear of deportation to pay scant wages and skirt regulations, sacrificing worker safety and well-being for profit.

And that’s just in the U.S.; don’t forget all the imported produce we can buy.

The U.S. has funded civil wars just to further its interests in the banana industry in Central America.

What are we, as socially aware and critically thinking global citizens, to do in response to these atrocities?

The obvious answer is to get out of the system!

But, unfortunately, homesteading takes a lot more resources and time than any of us have, and means that you have to pass up on delicacies like Frito’s and almond milk iced coffee.

You may ask, “Is there a way to flip off the system, and still partake in its luxuries?”

The most common deterrent to dumpster diving is the germ aspect, but you’re already touching fecal E. coli, pneumonia, and staph infections on your dollar bills and doorknobs.

What’s a little cantalope slime going to hurt?

Inspect your melons, bags of coffee, and bacon packages for any rot or mold, or punctures in the packaging/ rind before running off with them.

When at home, inspect them more thoroughly, and sanitize.

Another turn-off is the common fear of being arrested.

However, once an item (other than certain goods like government documents) is thrown out, it enters the public domain, and is available to anyone willing to get it.

The one thing to be cautious about is diving in dumpsters that sit against store walls or in fenced areas. Then, you’re technically on store property, and can be ejected.

I’ve been shouted at to leave a Charleston, W.V. Kroger’s at midday, so that’s why I advise going at night after the stores are closed.

One Harrisonburg diver I know was spotted by the police and kindly apologized to, then asked to leave.

Ultimately, the main reason most people begin dumpster diving is that it’s free.

As college students and soon-to- be graduates struggling for financial independence, it can be hard enough to buy Ramen, much less steak, fresh vegetables, or greek yogurt.

By augmenting or basing your diet on dumpster diving, you better your diet with a higher variety of foods, spend less money, and refuse to contribute to systems of oppression that want $1.70 for a morally questionable Totino’s pizza.

1, 3 – The Center for Progressive Reform’s report: At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions.

2 – Huffington post article, “Farm Worker Conditions Likened to Modern Slavery,” by Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington.

-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief


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