Soil Yourself: Colbert and UFW want YOU on a farm

(TheWeekIntro's first ever non-events post......don't fret, just look to the last post for a guide to SF's events)

Soil Yourself: Colbert and United Farm Workers want YOU on a farm

Get thee to a granary, and get thee some green. Running with a (maybe?) joke, Stephen Colbert and United Farm Workers have teamed up to create a legal workforce on our nation’s farms. The July 8th launch of the “Take Our Jobs” campaign combines* economic savvy, workers’ rights, immigration issues, and satire to get people back onto the land. With the country’s unemployment rate way above zero, and food production being an ever-growing sector, it makes sense to put our citizens into a flourishing field: the field.

Basically, UFW and Colbert dare those who say immigrants “steal” “American” jobs to visit and complete the “I want to be a farm worker” form. Participants will be matched with experienced farmers and learn the tricks of the spade. They’ll also encounter what most field workers endure to feed the country: toxic fertilizers, hot hot heat (temperatures and immigration raids), lack of health insurance, and long days of physical stress (you’ll get the gist from these Grist and AP articles). What will happen if we lift the Nitrogen Curtain and US citizens get a behind-the-scenes view of conventional farming by taking advantage of this employment offer?

The possible pros of this collaboration abound. Exposure to food production (artichokes don’t grow marinated in cans?) is key to getting people to care about how food gets to the plate. Soil underneath your or a loved one’s fingers reinforces a connection to what you eat, and also brings the working conditions of farmers closer to home. If a bona-fide US citizen gets an “American” job, they would expectedly demand minimum wage and a safe working environment. As many on the current workforce on today’s conventional farms don’t have these luxuries, I predict the newly recruited workforce would not put up with this manure. After experiencing the current conditions, hopefully they would advocate for more organic practices, more labor and safety standards, etc. If these changes were made, and if amnesty were granted to current workers, the country’s fields would be lush with a legal and healthy workforce. It would once again be patriotic to plow, à la Victory Gardens in the early 20th century. Maybe they would learn more about genetic engineering and confined animal feeding operations, educating their families and friends about these issues….

Before too much idealism, here are some cons: The ugly truth of how big agribusiness treats workers and the earth is quite depressing. The harsh reality of industrial farm jobs could deter people from all interactions with chlorophyll, even backyard gardening, urban community plots, or small-scale organic farming. Another risk is reinforcing the apathy the average citizen has regarding our food system. If growing food takes so much effort, let others in other countries do it for us. While farming is no joke, this could have some viewers, who might be disconnected from food issues, laughing this off as a passing stunt. Which it kinda sorta is/isn’t.

While I don’t predict this quasi-comic campaign to topple Monsanto or procure workers’ rights immediately or revolutionize school lunch programs or shut down factory farms for good by next month, I do think this is a positive side effect of social parody meeting reality. The UFW will get exposure for their proposed AgJobs legislation, which aims to secure amnesty for undocumented farm workers. Colbert will get some funny camera shots with hoes and maybe a Grim Reaper costume. Agricultural science students and young people choosing farming as a career are rare these days, this article states. With Colbert’s popularity with colleges and hip young demographics, maybe this campaign will succeed beyond satire, planting at least a seed of caring about farming. Audiences might be agri-vated enough to take action, asking themselves: “Should I Stay or Should I Sow Now?”

By: Lea Troeh

(*farm wordplay)

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