I have thought carefully about what I am about to say. I am going to be intentionally vague about some of the details, places, and people because I don’t want to take a chance on causing more trouble for people who already have a world full of it.
So, at Jackson City Farm, we believe that by growing and giving away food and teaching people to grow food, we relive suffering and give people agency over their food choices. And this year has been mostly about building the infrastructure to do that, and what crops we are growing this year are mainly test crops, to see what grows well, to grow out seed, or to test methods. What food is generated from these tests we usually give to folks in the neighborhood who have helped us out.
But this week our usual takers were full, and because of the holidays some of the neighborhood pantries are closed, and it has been raining and everything is lush and vibrant and we had several beds (each 4 ft. by 24 ft.) full of mustard greens and collards that needed to be picked, and I didn’t have a ready place to send it.
A friend of mine is an organizer in the Latino community here in Central Mississippi, where we process much of the poultry that gets bought by people like you, and that work is hard and brutal. People get paid by the piece, and they stand in their feet for hours and hours, and they get cheated out of their pay and they get their wages stolen from them by their employer, and they have to pay the boss hundreds of dollars for a better place on the line, and it is all a damned mess, is what it is.
So she heard about my bumper crop of greens, and she told me about the people she is working with. How, as if their brutal working conditions and thieving employers were not enough, ICE had swept through their plants back in August. How many of them never got paid for that month, how they are paying for attorneys and how some of them can’t legally work after their arrests, and how all the bills keep coming anyway.
So, last Friday night I went to a small town in Central Mississippi and was invited to attend a labor organizing meeting in a Pentecostal Spanish speaking church, and after being introduced, I gave away nearly 75 pounds of kale and collards and mustard greens to some of the hardest working, proudest, most admirable people I have ever met.
As an observer in the meeting, I got to hear their concerns and things they were asking for. These were radical things like wanting to get paid for the work they did. Not being threatened if they asked to be paid what was agreed to. Not having their children threatened at school, not to live in fear that they would not be able to provide for their families. To be able to work hard and prosper from their labors.
When I write about things like this, the temptation – almost the nonprofit playbook – is to emphasize how important what we do is, and to play up our role in the good that is happening. But I have to tell you that while I was the person who drove the backroads of Mississippi to bring the food to share, I was the least impressive person in that room.
The people in that room – more than 100 of them who work long, crappy hours in subpar conditions while in a constant state of harassment so that you and I can get boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store – those people, who are daring to organize and demand they be taken seriously and that their employer understand the power they bring to the table – those people are far more impressive than anything I’ve ever done.
It was an honor to be taken into their trust. It was impressive as hell to see what they are pulling off. And to see their strength, their resilience, and their hope was life-giving.
If you want to help support the families affected by the raids, my friends doing that work here recommend you donate here, where 100% of the funds raised go directly to provide financial assistance to the families affected.