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First Food Justice Certified Farm and Food Stores in New York

Long overdue, Food Justice Certified “measures what matters,” ensuring that workers on farms and the farmers who hire them are fairly treated and paid.

By Elizabeth Henderson

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Joe Romano, Marketing Manager at Green Star Coop, greets inspection team, including 10 trainees.

Food Justice Certification is the first social justice labeling program to launch in the US and Canada. So far, a cooperative of organic grain growers in Canada and a family farm in Florida have been certified. In January 2014, Swanton Berry Farm and Pie Ranch became the first farms to be Food Justice certified in California. And in May, the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) announced the first three certifications in New York State – West Haven Farm, Green Star Coop and The Piggery Eatery and Butcher Shop, all in Ithaca. Leah Cohen, AJP Program Director, confirms that the farm and both stores meet the rigorous AJP standards for respectful treatment of farm and store employees, living wages, safe working conditions, and commitment to continual improvement, and have earned the right to display the Food Justice Certified label.

AJP is a program jointly sponsored by four not-for-profits that work on behalf of farmers and farm workers. Since 1999, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), CATA (the Farmworker Support Committee, Comite de apoyo a los trabajadores agricolas), Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), have been engaged in a stakeholder process to write standards for fairness in the food system. The program is designed for all agricultural production systems, fiber, and cosmetics, as well as food. Candidates must meet high bar standards that have been negotiated among food system stakeholders including both farmers and farm workers. The standards (which can apply to farms, buyers, distributors, processors and retailers—every link in the supply chain from farm to table) include:

  • Fair pricing for farmers
  • Fair wages and treatment of workers
  • Safe working conditions
  • Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers
  • Workers’ and farmers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Clear conflict resolution policies for all throughout the food chain
  • Clean and safe farmworker housing
  • Learning contracts for Interns and apprentices
  • A ban on full-time child labor together with full protection for children on farms
  • Environmental stewardship through organic certification

West Haven Farm, Green Star Coop and The Piggery Eatery and Butcher Shop will be carrying this new label – Food Justice Certified. They filled out applications in late summer and inspections took place in early November as part of an AJP training for certifiers and worker inspectors held in Binghamton and Ithaca. To qualify as an AJP certifier or inspector, a staff member of an organic certification program or a member of a worker organization must study AJP standards and policies, participate in 3 inspections, observing the first, helping with the second and doing the third under the watchful eye of a trainer, and then pass an exam. Among fair trade market claims, including an inspector from a farm worker organization is unique to AJP.

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Denise Aguero from Quality Certification Services and Jessica Culley from the Farmworker Support Committee (CATA) interview farmer Jon Bokaer-Smith during the audit of West Haven Farm for Food Justice Certification.

West Haven Farm which rents 10 acres from the Eco-Village in Ithaca, NY, has been providing certified organic vegetables, herbs and fruit to the Ithaca area for over 20 years through a CSA and a popular stand at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market. Farmer John Bokaer-Smith employs 5 workers but has also made the farm a center for new farmer training as part of the Groundswell Program. John says, “The success of West Haven Farm depends on the hard work of the terrific, dedicated people who help make it run.”

Green Star Coop, one of NYS’s outstanding retail stores, has been a pioneer in food justice, initiating an array of programs to provide access to high quality food for low income people and to diversify staff. Operating two stores and a warehouse/community center, Green Star has over 200 employees. The store is committed to cooperative principles and to management by a team that makes decisions by consensus and welcomes the creative contributions of all staff members and owner-volunteers. “Providing fair and supportive treatment of our own employees, and being sensitive to the working and living conditions of those whose labor produces the goods we sell,” are top priorities for Green Star.

Confused about the labels you see on food?

In recent years there has been a proliferation of social justice and fair trade market claims leading to consumer confusion. Consumers are bombarded with claims, many of which are not applied consistently, lack relevant meaning, or do not tell the whole story of a product or program. At the same time, many organizations and companies are making tremendous progress in setting standards for fair trade and social justice or implementing fair business practices. There is a danger that these legitimate programs and practices will become indistinguishable from false or misleading claims without a more objective consumer education and outreach campaign. To address the need, the Domestic Fair Trade Association created an evaluation program using its own principles as criteria for distinguishing between claims. Thus far the DFTA has evaluated six prominent fair trade and social justice certification programs to help consumers identify programs that reflect the DFTA’s vision of just, healthy, and sustainable food system. Food Justice Certified received high ratings. To view the evaluations please visit www.fairfacts.thedfta.org

Joe Romano, Marketing Manager, says: “Green Star is thrilled to partner with the Agricultural Justice Program by receiving their Food Justice Certification. We are pleased not only to receive Food Justice Certification ourselves, but to promote the fair business practices it represents to our members, shoppers and to our community as a whole. Having a standard that “measures what matters” ensures that workers and producers are fairly treated. This type of certification is long overdue, and we are happy to be one of the first of what will hopefully be many businesses committed to this kind of objective evaluation, so that “Food Justice for All” becomes the standard for businesses, communities, and individuals.

The Piggery Eatery and Butcher Shop in Ithaca sells meat from its own farm’s heritage breeds of pasture raised pork as well as providing an outlet for other area livestock farms that adhere to its rigorous standards for humane treatment of the animals and sustainable growing practices. Guided by owners Heather Sandford and Brad Marshall, the staff of seven makes gourmet charcuterie and sausages as well as butchery, and is expanding into wholesale markets. Heather Sanford, co-owner and manager explains their decision to apply for AJP certification: “The Piggery has long been interested in supporting and recognizing the faces behind agricultural work. There have been many wonderful discussions and actions centered around the treatment of our lands and livestock, but we strongly feel that more needs to be done to honor the people behind agriculture. Food Justice Certification has been integral in helping us work toward that goal.”

Growing numbers of the customers in NY who are enthusiastic shoppers for local foods want to know how the people who grow, wash, process and serve that food are treated. By adopting AJP standards, West Haven Farm, Green Star and the Piggery are providing this kind of transparency with the assurance that a third party has verified compliance.

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Heather Sanford, one of the owners of The Piggery, answers questions surrounded by trainees and certification inspector Denise Aguero

If the local food movement begins demanding that farmers, farm workers and all food workers make living wages with full benefits, (health care, compensation for injuries and unemployment, and retirement) from a 40 hour week, we may start moving towards an agriculture that will sustain us into a future worth living. And that is what the Agricultural Justice Project is all about – a set of tools to help build value chains, changing relationships to bring into practical everyday life the Principle of Fairness that is basic to organic agriculture all over the world.

For the full standards in English and Spanish, and more information about the Agricultural Justice Project and Food Justice Certification, visit www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org.

Elizabeth Henderson, an organic farmer and member of the Board of NOFA-NY, is the representative of NOFA to the Board of the Agricultural Justice Project. She can be reached at 585-764-8471, elizabethhenderson13@gmail.com

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