My name’s Sarah Elligott and I’m an American University Junior who is focusing on sustainable development, however, I think the best way forward with that is through agricultural reform. That being so I decided to add this extra credit to an International Food and Agriculture Policy course. Being in the School of International Service, I was also drawn to the more humanitarian side of things even in agrarian practices.
Growing up in Northern California in a small agriculture town I was able to really see the connections or lack thereof between the different people that worked within the agricultural food chain from farm laborers to the massive monopsony’s that are controlling wages from the top down. Even as demand increases at an exponential scale, farmers are pressured to keep prices the same, thus, they continue to try and find the cheapest way to manufacture goods or grow crops.
Out of this realization I began to work with a food justice focused organization called DC Fair Food. The fair food program is focused on farm laborers rights, particularly based out of the tomato belt of the US, Florida. It partners with the Coalition of Immokolee Workers to give farm laborers a better platform to ask for fair wages, report slavery conditions as well as sexual harassment. The Fair Foods Standard Council is the main body of who tries to field this enforcement, but it is however a 501 3(c) so even though it’s a legally binding program, it’s often not enforceable due to its ambiguity.
For DC Fair Food I essentially helped them do table events such as Rooting DC as well as school symposiums, just trying to get the word out about our cause and how we can give farm laborers in the US a living wage. Besides tabling and distributing information at events, I was also fortunate enough to have been able to present on a couple guest lectures; on to so bunch of Emory University Students and the other to some Georgetown Law school students and surrounding community members. This is particular has really helped speaking in public for me as well. Lastly, we went on a full-blown protest march in New York City on the head of the board for Wendy’s corporation, trying to get them to sign onto the Fair Food program like many other major corporations such as Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Giant, McDonald, etc.
I was honestly expecting to be doing more administrative work of the grassroots side of things; putting in email, going door to door, making phone calls, which I’ve had to do some of don’t get me wrong, but it was much more hands on volunteer work than I was expecting. I got to engage with other intellectuals as well as present what I know being an (semi) expert in the areas of labor rights. It definitely challenged me, particularly the Georgetown Panel because I think that was the most people I’ve ever spoken to in one room! I was quite nervous, but it was really fun to overcome that and to be able to contribute to what I knew about the subject of farm workers’ rights.
This coincided with my course work well as the majority of it was about going over workers’ as well and land sovereignty and historical racism ingrained throughout our food chains. In the Food and Agriculture policy course I took many of the injustices and human rights violations that were brought up while working for DC Fair Food. This organization was a perfect fit for this class and the two really broadened my understandings of what goes on throughout every level of our food chain and that even if we decide to cut out animal products, we still have to be aware of where our food is really coming from.