The first step in the Dummies guide to dicing an eggplant begins with rinsing the fruit: "You want to remove any dirt and grime that got on the eggplant in its long trip from the fields to the kitchen," the guide warns. But how does our food get from the field to our kitchen?
The answer is farmworkers and YAYA, the Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farm Worker Ministry, which is a network of young people who work to educate people on the plight of farmworkers while standing in solidarity with them.
Nico Gumbs, who graduated UCF in 2011, is the Florida state coordinator for YAYA.
"YAYA's important to me because farm workers are the backbone for our agricultural system. A lot of folks ignore the fact, or maybe aren't as aware of the fact, of how food arrives at our table. So through my activism with YAYA, I've learned to build relationships with farmworkers and former-farmworkers as well," Gumbs said.
A distinction that YAYA makes is that the organization isn't only about spreading awareness, but it actively works together with farmworkers to improve conditions on the field.
"We're not helping them; we're working with them," Gabriela Raquel Rios, assistant professor of writing and rhetoric, said. "We really want to recognize their agency, their expertise, so we're not coming in as saviors or giving them a voice they don't have; we're recognizing voices that they already have."
One organization YAYA works closely with is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).
"[The CIW has] this Fair Food Program (FFP) act that they want corporations to sign, which would ensure a code of conduct that the farmers or the growers have to instill in their fields [so] the farmworkers are treated with respect," Cristina Berrios, a YAYA volunteer, said.
Ninety-eight percent of the annual tomato produce sold nationwide is picked in Immokalee, Florida, Berrios said, and another goal of the FFP is to get corporations to pay a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they buy.
"A penny more per pound sounds like nothing, but really it's like a 10,000 to 15,000 dollar annual increase for the farmworkers," Berrios said.
Gumbs said learning about the issues farmworkers face is the first step to making a difference in their lives.
"Farmworkers face a number of challenges on and off the fields. While they're on the fields, women especially, face sexual harassment; they face pesticide exposures. Oftentimes most of the farmers will spray pesticides while they're working, and they're inhaling these fumes. The fumes are going through their skin which can lead to infertility in women; it can lead to birth defects," Berrios said.
Thursday, YAYA hosted a chili cook-off where it showcased all the work its members have done in the past year.
"One of the things that we always say is all of us are impacted and affected by what happens to farmworkers because all of us eat, and the only way that we eat is because of farmworkers," Rios said.
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.