Durham News: Opinion

Julia Sendor: SAF growing food, relationships with dignity

Julia Sendor
Julia Sendor

A butterfly wearing a gas mask hovers in one corner of the Student Action with Farmworkers mural. In the other corner “Day of the Dead”-style banners display images like a graduation cap and a listening ear. In the middle, working hands are picking cotton, offering tortillas, holding a water glass and a toilet paper roll, and lifting up a crew of workers.

This mural was designed and created with farmworker youth, through the Students Action with Farmworkers (SAF) Levante Leadership Institute. It represents the reality these youth live and the world they imagine – the work they believe is needed to build that world.

This kind of creative, collaborative, deeply grassroots work is central to SAF’s mission to bring students and farmworkers together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change.

Why is this work important?

Read some of the statistics about farmworker conditions, and you will find unacceptable facts. Nearly five out of 10 farmworker families cannot afford enough food for the family – even though they grow the food for our families (according to Public Health Reports). Most farm owners aren’t required to pay the minimum wage, and all are exempt from offering overtime benefits, despite long work days during peak harvest, according to Department of Labor surveys. A farmworker in North Carolina needs to pick and haul 2 tons (4,000 pounds!) of sweet potatoes just to earn $50, found a report by the N.C. Farmworker Institute.

To address conditions like these, SAF has worked since 1992 to bring over 700 young people into social justice work and support 80,000 farmworkers to gain access to a more just agricultural system. Over 150,000 people have advocated for farmworker justice through SAF’s campaigns.

In addition to youth in Levante Leadership Institute, SAF student interns organize side-by-side with farmworkers to campaign for better living and working conditions. The interns support rural health clinics, legal aid offices, migrant education programs, community-based programs, and farmers’ unions.

For all of us who’ve eaten a food raised by farmworkers – and that’s all of us – the SAF End of Summer Celebration on Saturday, August 8, is a perfect time to meet farmworkers and students (and farmworkers who are students). It’s a chance to celebrate students’ work supporting farmworkers throughout 2014-2015. From 6-10 p.m., at the Full Frame Theater at American Tobacco Campus Power Plant, in Durham, the celebration will include a theater performance, locally sponsored appetizers and drinks, children’s activities, traditional music, and dancing. It’s open to the public, with a suggested donation of $20.

Students will screen a new documentary, “I Am, I See, I Think, I Wonder,” featuring farmworkers’ stories that include:

▪ A worker who was broken-hearted that his first son was born this summer in Mexico while he was here in North Carolina.

▪ A group of H2A workers who had to leave their camp early, mid summer, because of a crew leader’s broken promises.

▪ A grower who considers his workers as part of his family and keeps in touch with them on Facebook when they return to Mexico.

The celebration also includes the farmworker health theater groups performance, “A Beer A Year Doesn’t Hurt” theater performance and an “Ask a SAFista” student storytelling booth.

I work on a farm. I chose the work because I love it, because growing good food, and sharing it, is the most joyful and meaningful work I can imagine. But I know that the majority of our crops are grown in a way that is inhumane and unhealthy. There’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a way to feed ourselves without destroying the health and disrespecting the dignity of other people, and without poisoning the world around us.

I invite you to join me in supporting, and learn how to work towards, a better way.

Julia Sendor is the HarvestShare Community Supported Agriculture coordinator and manager at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove in northern Orange County.

If You Go

Interpretation from English to Spanish is available. The Full Frame Theater at American Tobacco Campus Power Plant is located at 318 Blackwell St. in downtown Durham. Free parking is available in the North Deck. Visit tinyurl.com/SAFeos2015 to register or for more information.