Grange Notes by Tim Swartz, Grange President (with everyone’s help), April 20, 2021
“Re-opening” the Grange: ideas for food and celebration
One idea with a fair amount of traction is to sponsor a coffee-and-baked-goods “cafe” for vaccinated folks, which we’re calling the “Two-Shot Cafe”. This would be a weekly event staffed by (vaccinated) volunteers at the Hall, offering fresh coffee and pastries baked by volunteers to Central Vermont citizens who have had their 2 shots and 2 week “recovery” periods. Want to take part? Contact me: Tim Swartz, at: email@example.com. We are not planning to charge for the goodies, but will accept donations!
We also would like to plan an outdoor get-together for Grange users (previous renters, and anyone else who is interested), tentatively scheduled for early August, by which time we hope that COVID infection rates will be considerably reduced in VT. We’ve talked about having demonstrations of the talents of Hall renters, like dancers and singers, plus maybe a “bouncy-house” for kids, and barbecuing, and potluck food. Our goal is to remind the public of all the good things that happen at the Hall, as we hope to be opening up to more events by then.
We also need to plan a Grange Clean-up party to get ready for more users to be in the Hall: washing windows, cleaning the lights, vacuuming the carpets in the foyer, stairway and basement, cleaning and weeding the flowerbeds, etc. We can do this while maintaining “physical distance” spacing, and wearing masks, as VT still deals with relatively high COVID infection rates. Join us to help us plan–or let us know by you’re interested by emailing me at the address above.
We’ll be talking more about these ideas at the Saturday, May 1st Grange Meeting, from 4:30 to 6:00. We will need to look at the public health situation and figure out details–and what group of Grange members and friends will be in charge of planning. Put this on your Calendar!
The farmworkers who help keep VT dairy farms: collective action and one man’s story
The first and longer video “Milk with Dignity” told the story of the Migrant Justice organization of VT immigrant farmworkers, and the development of their campaign for major milk-buying corporations to require fair treatment of the workers who produce the milk they buy. The model was a worker-led social-impact certification campaign called the “Fair Food Program”, developed in Florida by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). It’s designed to “Harness the power of consumer demand to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations.” The CIW educated consumers about the labor conditions behind the food they eat, and asked them to put pressure on the agribusinesses selling that food to commit to a “Fair Food Certified” code of conduct. The “Fair Food Standards Council” was set up as a third-party monitoring organization to watch over the actual effects on the farmworkers.
Migrant Justice built a similar campaign for VT farmworkers, with a worker-led group developing the “Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct” for how farmworkers must be treated, tied to a premium on the price of milk to be paid by corporations who join the campaign, to farmers who also join, and commit to following the Code of Conduct. The money from the premium gets shared between the farmers and the workers to increase the income of both. There are many more requirements for safe housing and working conditions, plus fair and transparent wage policies. You can learn more about the details on the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct website.
The video told about the extremely long hours commonly demanded of workers on some farms, with poor living conditions, high rates of worker injuries, withheld wages and other abuses, before the Milk with Dignity campaign began in 2015. The film had images of the housing problems, and interviews with farmworkers telling their stories.
The next video, “Impact of Milk with Dignity” took up the story, telling about the first major victory of the campaign, getting Ben & Jerry’s to sign the “MD” contract. Now, about 65 farms in VT and NY are covered, and over 250 farmworkers are protected by the Code of Conduct. Annual audits of all farms by the MD Standards Council enforce compliance with the Code; workers have access to a 24/7 worker support line, as well. Farmers who own these farms receive premiums on the milk price for sales to Ben & Jerry’s, and share the additional income this provides with workers.
Since signing up Ben & Jerry’s, Migrant Justice has been focusing on the Hannaford supermarket chain, another major purchaser of milk in New England. You can visit the MigrantJustice.net website to learn about this campaign, and how consumers can take part.
After watching the films, Carl introduced us–via Zoom of course–to Arturo, an immigrant farmworker in Central VT. Arturo told us some of his story, and then answered some questions. He is pleased to now be working for a farmer who pays fair wages and provides good working conditions–especially since he has experienced much worse.
Arturo came to the Vermont about 10 years ago, after growing up and working on cattle ranches in Mexico. owned by relative. One of his brothers had already come here, and sent back word that there was work here for people with experience working with cows. He paid about $5,000 to smugglers who helped him get here. His first job was at a farm which required workers to start milking the approximately 330 cows at 4:30 AM, and finishing up evening milking after 7:30. Besides the stress on the farmworkers, he says farms like these are also not good for the cows. Like many other immigrant workers, his housing and work conditions were uncomfortable at best.
For the past 7 years, Arturo has had better working and living conditions, on an organic dairy farm. He has about 50 cousins also working on VT dairy farms now, and many are envious of his more comfortable living quarters. But he still faces the limitations of being an immigrant with no way to gain legal status. Going off the farm to buy groceries exposes him and fellow workers to the risk of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) capture and imprisonment. He’d like to visit his family in Mexico, but that would be an even bigger risk–even before COVID. He has had a case of COVID already–but it’s risky for him and others to leave the farm to get vaccinated. VT Dept. of Health does have plans to send vaccination teams to visit farms and give shots to farmworkers, but this will take time.
Arturo’s future is far from guaranteed, as the farm on which he works is losing its current contract for milk purchases soon. He supports the efforts of Migrant Justice to improve working and living conditions on Vermont dairy farms, and to support paths to legal status for workers who have risked so much, and worked so hard to keep VT dairy farms going.
We really appreciate Arturo’s willingness to speak openly with us about his story and what he has seen of the general situation of the many (as high as 1500) immigrant farmworkers in Vermont. We intentionally were not given more information to identify him or the farm on which he works, to protect his privacy. To see this whole program, including the films and the interview with Arturo, please check out the audio and video recordings on the Grange Calendar listing for April 3rd.
Grange Policy note: in 2017, the VT State Grange passed a resolution submitted by our Grange, supporting a Senate bill at that time, S. 1034, which would have set up a “Blue Card” system for agricultural workers, similar to the “Green Card” system currently available to allow legal working conditions for other professions. This bill never made it out of committee in the 115th Congress.
Some action in the U.S. Congress on immigrant workers’ rights, but…: H.R. 1603, the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act” has been passed by the House. This bill, which originated in 2019 under the former President, would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented agricultural workers–but it would require up to 8 more years of agricultural work to qualify. There are also expansions of the H2A visa program for ag workers in this bill.
Farmworker advocates are divided on the balance of benefits in this bill, and the compromises made with agribusiness companies to win their support. Migrant Justice is raising these concerns, along with the Food Chain Workers Alliance. I found an informative article which presents both sides, in an online publication about where our food comes from, “thecounter.org“.
This bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is supported by the Biden administration. I’ll try to keep tabs on it, and urge you to do the same! In the 21st century, Granges must support all facets of agriculture, certainly including the less-visible undocumented workers who are so important to VT dairy farming, as well as to agricultural production in many parts of the U.S.
April 26th: Another Migrant Justice initiative: Fair and Impartial Policing Policy for Barre
On Monday evening, April 26th, from 6:30 to 7:45, Vermont Interfaith Action will hold an educational session with Migrant Justice called “No Mas Polimigra!“; here’s how the Interfaith Action group describes this online event:
Migra = Immigration agents
No Polimigra = Ending the collaboration between local/ state law enforcement agents and federal immigration agents.
FIPP = Fair and impartial policing policy.
Join us on Monday, April 26th at 6:30PM as we hear from Migrant Justice about what the “No Mas Polimigra” campaign is all about and we can do to strengthen FIPP in our community. You must register to get the Zoom link at this link: http://bit.ly/BarreFIPP.
I am planning to take part in this Zoom event, hope you will join me! –Tim Swartz
Bottle Bill expansion: moving forward in Vermont legislature
Since then, other states have expanded this deposit system to cover containers for juices, waters, sports drinks and other bottled and canned beverages. But Vermont has continued to limit the system to beer, soda and other carbonated items (plus liquor bottles).
Back in 2004, the State Grange in Vermont passed a resolution supporting expansion of the scope of the law; in 2011, with beverage distributors attempting to repeal the Bottle Bill, our Capital City Grange submitted a resolution supporting the expansion also, and advocating an increase in the deposit amount.
Well, this year the Legislature is working on the expansion we were looking for, and an increase the deposit amount to a dime. The bill, HR has been passed out of the House, and “crossed over” to the State Senate. I’ve been told by Washington County Senator Andrew Perchlik that it is unlikely it will make it out of the Senate Committee in the waning days of this session, but will be considered in 2022. I’ll keep Grange members posted; if you want to write to your Senators about this bill now as well as in next year’s session, please let them know that the Grange supports this change!
As one who bikes and walks on the roads near where I live, it’s clear that the current bill is not stopping people from tossing bottles and cans out of the windows of their cars. That’s why I’m supporting the expansion and increased deposit amount.