Thursday, December 30, 2010

Presentation by the Student Farmworker Alliance and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

In the news over the past few years, you may have heard phrases like "Boot the Bell" and "One Penny More" amongst stories of abused farmworkers and debt slavery on American soil. These phrases and the public knowledge of farmworkers rights' abuses are the responsibility of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA). And on December 9th, these groups paid a visit to Tufts' Fletcher School.

Meghan Cohorst of SFA and Cruz Salucio of CIW came to Boston and spoke at dozens of events for over a week while they were in the area. The Friedman School's Slow Food Tufts and the Fletcher School's Human Rights Project, Migration Club, and PRAXIS journal worked jointly to coordinate and sponsor the event, including providing catering from Central Square's Harvest Co-op.

The Crowe Room was quickly filled with over 20 undergraduate and graduate Tufts students, who listened eagerly to the discussion lead by Meghan and Cruz. Their discourse made for a fascinating scene, as Meghan largely spent her effort translating for the audience as Cruz, a former teacher and farmer who emigrated from Guatemala, spoke comfortably in Spanish. They began by describing who they were and why they were going around the country. The CIW and SFA are working jointly to speak up for farmworkers in Immokalee and elsewhere in Florida as well as around the United States who are abused by their employers, most often in the pocket but also physically and psychologically. Often these workers are held in a form of slavery wherein they receive below minimum wage pay and are hit with exorbitant "fees" for basic employer services and are not allowed to leave their work for any reason including family, healthy or financial issues through fear of violence. In these situations, their status as undocumented workers leaves them with no legal recourse and little hope of escaping the oppressive cycle of debt slavery.

After their introduction, Meghan and Cruz showed a film, a news report made several years ago that documented their efforts to better the lives of farmworkers. The workers in Immokalee, Florida typically harvest tomatoes and citrus fruit. They are paid by the bucketful; therefore, the faster they can harvest, the more money they make. However, even the fastest worker is rarely able to make anything close to a living wage because the pay received per bucket is simply too low. The film captured the effort by CIW to increase the pay of these workers by going straight to the top. Much of the tomatoes harvested in Immokalee goes to fast food restaurant chains, so the CIW took their protest to YUM! brands, namely, Taco Bell. Through their "Boot the Bell" campaign, the CIW worked for years through letter-writing, boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes to increase the pay that workers receive per bucket by one penny. After nearly a decade of effort, the film captured the triumph of the CIW to secure the pay raise.

Cruz Salucio (L) and Meghan Cohorst take questions from the audience.

After the film, Cruz and Meghan took questions from the event attendees, who conversed with the presenters in both English and Spanish. Meghan and Cruz discussed their upcoming campaign to take on other players in the food system supply chain, including several grocery store chains, and their continued efforts to pull back the veil that hides the abuse and debt slavery of farmworkers in the United States. The event served to explain the history and rationale for these major campaigns, and also to bring these efforts to new people and regions, who can both learn from them as well as get involved in the struggle.

David Sussman of the Human Rights Project signs up to get involved with the SFA and CIW.

Thank you to Meghan Cohorst and Cruz Salucio, as well as Beth Tuckey, Elise Garvey, Elizabeth Burgess, Rebecca Nemec, Signe Porteshawver, Isabel Leon, Sarah Strong, Ronit Ridberg, Slow Food Tufts, PRAXIS, the Migration Club, the Human Rights Project, the Fletcher School, the Friedman School, the Harvest Co-op, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Student Farmworker Alliance for making this fantastic event possible.

Upcoming CIW/SFA event:
On February 27th, 2011, farmworkers and allies from across the Northeast will gather in Boston for a major action to call on Stop & Shop - and its parent company Ahold USA - to work with the CIW.
Organizers will be in Boston from mid-January through February in preparation for the event. If you are interested in organizing a presentation in your class, congregation or organization, please contact Meghan Cohorst at or 239-503-1533.

-Jeff Hake

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Garden party at the Friedman Student Garden

Volunteers, last greenery, and one of our two new cold frames in the garden.

It has been another successful year for the young Friedman Student Garden. The tomatoes grew tall in their fenced corner, the heirloom bean vines scrambled up the rails and produced delicious mottled pods, and the plot planted by the Quincy School students flourished, growing thick with kale, peppers and carrots.

But as the seasons have turned, so has the garden. To close the year and put the beds to rest, Becca Weaver and I hosted a garden party on November 24th. We had two objectives for this event. The first was obvious: the vines were dried on the fences and the garden was ready for a rest. But our other objective was more far-reaching: to build cold frames.

Laura Held (L) and Kyle Foley harvest lettuce, mesclun greens, and senposai.

We, by chance, chose an appropriate date for our end-of-season work. After an unusually warm fall, that Wednesday was the first day with a real bite to it, a sure sign that we were undertaking this labor just in the nick of time. Aside from Becca and I, a small contingent of other folks showed up. Fortunately again, it was also the perfect amount of helping hands, with Michelle Sisson, Kyle Foley, and Laura Held in attendance, and an appearance by Amelia Reese Masterson later in the afternoon on a break from work.

We got started by removing old plant material and putting it in our compost bins. We filled both bins up very quickly! Then we harvested what remained in the garden before the hard frosts moved their way in. Being thrifty, we had a healthy harvest of all kinds of greens, lingering peppers, stubby Tonda di Parigi carrots, and a bounty of green tomatoes.

While clean-up and harvest in the garden continued, some of us got started on building the cold frames. The idea behind cold frames is the same as that behind greenhouses. Using a translucent, airtight material, one can capture ground heat and sunlight to warm a space for growing plants. For the modern greenhouse, the material of choice is almost always 6 mil plastic,
but for small spaces, home gardeners and hobby farmers will often make use of old windows and build cold frames.In our case, we found a large set of free old windows being given away by a fellow who lives in Billerica. They are all of different sizes, but with cold frames, you can custom-build the frame to suit your recycled material. Typically, a cold frame is built as a wooden rectangle, with one long side being higher than the other, creating a slope. The window is then placed on top, secured with hinges, and the slope is angled towards the sun, which follow a low southern path in northern winter months. This allows for maximum "solar gain".

Using guidance from Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest, Becca made a design suitable for our needs. We used funding provided to us by the Friedman Student Council (thanks again!) to purchases our other necessary materials, including lumber, connectors, and hinges.

Senior cold frame engineer Becca Weaver treats the wood with linseed oil before construction.

Michelle Sisson gives the cold frame sidewall the business.

We then placed our cold frames over some remaining greens for which we wanted to extend the season. We also transplanted one of our rosemary plants (which performed spectacularly in our garden this season) into the cold frame and mounded it with hay to see if we can overwinter what is normally a tender perennial.

Jeff Hake transplants rosemary to the cold frames.

Our end product was two beautiful, double-lighted (windows on cold frames are referred to as "lights") cold frames that we hope will last for many more years in our garden. Not only have our greens remained growing and harvestable, but we will also plant into them earlier in the spring than the rest of the garden, taking advantage of cold-hardy crops like various greens, carrots, peas, and onions.

Towards the end of our time at the garden we had a wonderful visit from a father and son who were out on a walk. Though the father spoke almost no English and his son could not have been much more than a year old, they stuck around for awhile, the boy dawdling around us while the harvest and construction continued. He was hesitant to try a carrot that Becca handed to him but was nevertheless fascinated by what we were doing, mouth hanging open at the sight of our activity.

The garden is now closed for the winter, buried under next spring's first flush of moisture. However, it was an excellent year for our little plot, and Becca and I would like to thank our wonderful volunteers, Michelle, Kyle, Laura, and Amelia, the Friedman Student Council, the Friedman School administration, Jen Obadia, and the grounds and maintenance folks at the school for helping and supporting us through another year with our hands in the soil.

-Jeff Hake

Monday, December 27, 2010

Slow Food Meets America's Test Kitchen

Earlier this month, a group of Slow Foodies from Tufts visited the home of the popular cooking show America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) and the magazines Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country. We were given a behind-the-scenes look into the busy operations of the company and its myriad activities (filming cooking shows, recipe and equipment testing, cookbook production, magazine publishing – the list goes on), all taking place right in Brookline, MA. Bailey Vatalaro, Sponsorship Coordinator, gave us a great tour, filling us in on all sorts of fun facts about how recipes and equipment are tested and chosen for the magazines and TV shows. America’s Test Kitchen and both magazines run on the premise of testing out recipes and equipment until they find the most surefire methods and products, and then presenting their findings (and the reasons why some tactics worked and others did not) to readers and viewers. As Bailey explained to us, the idea is that if you follow the recipes exactly as they write them, the dishes should truly come out just as they do for the chefs in the test kitchen. (Speaking from personal experience, the recipes really do work well!)

We were able to meet some test cooks in the midst of trying out pork chop recipes (which smelled great), and learned about the volunteer testers all over the country that try out recipes from home. The feedback from thousands of volunteer testers plays a major role in what recipes are featured in the magazines and on the shows, making the recipes customer-approved before they hit the general public. We decided that the test cooks have one of the best gigs in the food industry, being able to invent their own recipes, test them in an amazingly well-stocked kitchen, and potentially have them published, all while working a 9 – 5 job (elusive hours for most chefs!). Another unique aspect of the shows and magazines is that their sponsors are never companies whose products they might test, so as to keep their recommendations as neutral and evidence-based as possible. We were all impressed by the diligence and exhaustive testing that goes into every single recipe and product they recommend. As part of our tour, we were able to walk through the active test kitchen, where rehearsals were going on for some filming, and we were pleased to briefly meet Bridget Lancaster (see photo below), deputy editor of Cook’s Country and on-screen test cook. (We also caught a quick glimpse of founder Chris Kimball passing through, bowtie & all!)

Our last stop on the tour was the extensive library of cookbooks owned by ATK, organized into an astounding variety of topics ranging from poultry to pastry to Peruvian food (literally). While America’s Test Kitchen does not necessarily focus on the Slow Food principles related to knowing where our food comes from, they do focus on making cooking a more accessible, less intimidating activity by zeroing in on popular, traditional dishes and making them easy to execute. Their model is one-of-a-kind, and I appreciate their desire to draw in as many people as possible to the world of cooking. Without people knowing how to cook or wanting to cook, it will be difficult to even begin talking about such things as preserving biodiversity in our food sources. Cooking can be a crucial step to starting bigger conversations about food, and we had a great time discussing cooking and food on our tour of the test kitchen.

(If you're not familiar with America's Test Kitchen, you can watch the show on your local public TV station (check for listings), and you can also learn more about Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines on the same website.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Slow Food, Youth and Boston

Check out this article about the Slow Food movement in Boston, that was recently posted on Emerson College's Survive and Thrive Boston blog.

"Youth Participation is Backbone of Slow Food movement in Boston"

Slow Food Tufts Co-chair Ronit Ridberg was interviewed for this piece, which provides a great snapshot of the importance of youth involvement in the Slow Food community here in Boston.