Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Organic Strawberries and a Fair Wage

A nice story about the pioneering ways of Swanton Berry Farm in Saveur:
Eliminating pesticides and prioritizing flavor have given him a business reason to rethink labor, too. Most growers pay temporary workers to strip the plants as quickly as possible; it's all about high yield. But with lower yields and delicate fruit, Cochran couldn't afford to lose berries to manhandling; he needed workers who would pick carefully. But above all it was a moral question: "If I'm doing something good for the people who buy strawberries, why wouldn't I want to make things better for the people who grow them?" So Cochran paid a better wage and started growing other crops that ripen at different times so that he could employ a regular staff year-round. Then, in 1998, Cochran made organic farming history a second time, when he invited the United Farm Workers to his fields, making Swanton Berry the nation's first unionized organic farm. Today, his workers have health insurance, paid vacation, and an employee stock ownership plan. This way, says Cochran, he has assurance that his fields are tended by a staff of agricultural professionals. And he gets a marketing boost among conscious shoppers by putting the union label on his package.
Not a story you hear often about farming in this country.