Oaxaquenas en Oregon
Last night I learned that among Oregon’s predominantly Mexican farm workers, some 70 percent hail from the indigenous state of Oaxaca, the one state we’ve visited in Mexico. Half of those Oacaquenas speak languages other than Spanish, like Zapotec. That makes organizing the workers to stand up for their rights quite the logistical challenge, said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, Oregon’s only farmworkers union, during this talk sponsored by Slow Food Portland and Ecotrust (scroll down).
Sure, organic labels ensure an absence of pesticides but they don’t reveal labor conditions under which the produce was grown: whether the farmworkers were paid legal wages, for overtime and under safe conditions. The movement is just now starting to push for fair trade or union-approved agricultural products in the U.S. We will have to pay more for this. But what about the indigent farmworkers, who then ironically can’t afford to purchase the wholesome produce they themselves help grow? And what about the small farmers who often barely make minimum wage themselves and live in fear that an immigration raid will shut their livelihood down.
You can read more about these weighty issues that the food community is just now starting to wrestle with, even here in oh-so-progressive Portland. See “Hand Picked, Row by Row, Day After Day” in the Summer 2008 issue of Edible Portland.