Palmetto tomato grower welcomes Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers on way to Publix protest

dgraham@bradenton.comMarch 12, 2013 

PALMETTO -- Pacific Tomato Growers welcomed the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers to lunch Monday at the company's packing house here as the workers marched from Fort Myers to Publix headquarters in Lakeland to lobby the grocer's support.

Farmworker Gerardo Reyes was particularly impressed that, when they stopped at Pacific Growers' packing house, all of the staff came out to greet them.

"Today was a beautiful moment, because for the first time in history a company that produces tomatoes decided to have food for all of us on our journey," he said. "It happened with one of our farmers, and it was the first company that signed our agreement."

The changes that have come about, thanks to this kind of cooperation, include a "partnership where workers are encouraged to use the Fair Food Program when there are issues in the field that need to be addressed. The difference is that there is a system that was created exactly for that," Reyes said. "Now we can identify the problems that happen and, working together, be able to bring those problems to an end. It's never been perfect, but never before was there a system to bring these issues to an end."

Pacific Tomato Growers was among the first of the farms to join the Fair Food Program, a volunteer organization of growers that monitors its members around fair wages, treatment of workers and prices.

"Their leadership is making possible the changes we're seeing in the fields now," said the Rev. Noelle Damico of the Presbyterian Church USA Hunger Program, who is on the march and working with the coalition. "It takes all of us. Right now we have 11 Florida food buyers participating with us. We're hoping that through this 200-mile pilgrimage that Publix Supermarkets will come on board."

The grocery giant has thus far not associated with the Fair Food Program.

The corporate policy states, "We believe all par

ties would be better served if appropriate wages were paid by growers to their workers, and we were charged accordingly."

The farmworkers were also treated to refreshments along their route Monday by Saint Joseph Catholic Church and by Lakewood United Church of Christ of Saint Petersburg at Palmetto's Family of God United Methodist Church.

Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.

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