For the past few months, farmers in India have been protesting new laws about agricultural trading regulation. With nearly 800 million people working in agriculture, farmers represent a significant percentage of the population in the country. As I’ve followed the protests from afar, it has got me thinking about the essential nature of a farmer’s job, especially this past year, and how I can best support local farming communities while traveling. Though we might not see such significant protests outside of India, I realized it’s easy to take the food that makes it to our plate for granted.
Throughout the pandemic, agricultural workers have faced immense pressure to keep production up even with significant obstacles. Social distancing has been nearly impossible in many agricultural enterprises, resulting in high rates of Covid infection and mortality. It is worth noting that many agricultural workers have higher rates of chronic diseases and do not have access to adequate healthcare. In the U.S., the current politically charged environment has posed an additional challenge for migrant farmworkers in seeking social and economic justice.
HOW WE CAN HELP
While it may seem that we cannot, as individuals, effect change to tackle these systemic issues, small and collective efforts can indeed make a meaningful difference. Here are specific ways in which we can support local farming communities while traveling and also within our hometowns.
Buy goods directly from agricultural co-ops or farms if possible. Farmer’s markets can directly support agricultural workers, stimulate the local economy and increase the availability of high-quality produce. Tourism centered around farmer’s markets is incredibly popular in some countries, where entire regions collaborate to stagger their market schedules and post information online for the traveler’s benefit. In Southern France, for example, many small towns host a farmer’s market on different days so that travelers can attend multiple markets in a week.
Consider agricultural tourism on your next vacation. In recent years, agricultural tourism has become a popular form of travel, wherein travelers have the opportunity to stay on working farms, orchards, and tea/coffee estates. These stays offer an authentic and unique experience and provide supplemental income to the farm owners where their farm produce may provide only seasonal earnings. Search for ‘agritourism’ resources for the area you will visit and you will find directories that list the types of activities and stays in which your family can participate. If you don’t have the opportunity to stay on a farm, you can visit local farms where you’re visiting by finding the “U-Pick” places where you can pick in-season fruits and veggies. Even activities that don’t necessarily strike you as agricultural tourism can still benefit the local farming community. For instance, many porters around the world for expeditions are actually farmers by trade who work as guides to earn money during the off-season.
Research produce that is in season. When traveling, research which fruits and vegetables are in season during your visit. This helps to ensure that local produce, rather than imported produce, is consumed. Eating local produce is also a great strategy for staying healthy while traveling, since local fruits and vegetables are more likely to be fresh.
Understand the pressure of tourism on local commodities. Local goods that spike in popularity with tourists can lead to a depletion of that resource for the local community. A poignant example of this is the popularity of argan oil. Argan oil had been a miracle oil for the North African community for centuries and was used for everything from cosmetics to cooking. Ever since the properties of argan oil have been popularized in the western world, the price of this prized resource is so high that it is no longer affordable for local residents. This Guardian article explains in detail the history of argan oil consumption, it’s commercialization, and how to support sustainable and fair trade enterprises.
Contribute to funds that support the well-being of farmworkers. The pandemic has exposed systemic issues in access to adequate healthcare and advocacy services for farmworkers. Fortunately, many institutions have taken notice and have set up funds specifically to better the lives of agricultural workers, and small public contributions can make a big difference. This recent article from Food Tank, lists 18 organizations that advocate for farmers’ rights and protect their health and wellbeing.
Support businesses in the food industry that have a social responsibility program. The agricultural industry has long been plagued with workers’ rights scandals, namely for keeping workers for long hours without breaks, creating unsafe working conditions, using child labor, and creating a fear of deportation for migrant workers. Over the years, many large businesses have become more vocal in their fight against these human rights issues. In the early 2000s, The Fair Food Program was the leader in establishing strong relationships with Florida farmworkers such that it transformed the Florida tomato industry. Recently, Ben and Jerry’s followed suit with a similar program, called Milk with Dignity, which advocates for better working conditions in the dairy industry. Our support of socially responsible companies can provide the impetus for more industry leaders to follow suit.
As always, we encourage you to include your kids in discussions around the decisions. Talk to them about why you’re visiting a farm and how seasonal growing works. If you don’t know the answers to their questions or even to the questions you have, include your kids in the research for that. Knowing where our food comes from can be a very powerful way to teach about the people and systems involved in getting the food on their plate and a great way to start conversations around climate change. It can also make an issue that seems far away (e.g., the farmer protests in India) and see how close to home their concerns are. And the bonus is that farms are incredibly fun for kids and adults alike.
Do you have any additional ways you support local farming communities while traveling? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!
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