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Respect the Farmers: Addressing Inequalities in our Food System

Main Stage



    • Farm workers across the U.S. earn unacceptably low wages and work under substandard conditions. Some 125,000 farm workers are reported to have contracted COVID-19. Mónica Ramírez reminded the audience this figure only represents confirmed cases; many farm workers may have had COVID-19 but were not able to get tested, so the real figure is likely to be much higher. 
  • “Farm workers who do the work to feed our nation and feed our world are currently being treated as second-class workers, and that is not something any of us can stand by,” Mónica Ramírez 

    • For Ramírez, the COVID-19 crisis has made it clear to everyone that farm workers are the backbone of American society. When farm operations ceased in locations across the country owing to COVID-19 outbreaks, everyday consumers started seeing products they have long depended on disappear from grocery stores. Despite dedicating themselves to producing the food we all eat—food that is oftentimes wasted—many farm workers suffer from food insecurity.
    • Ramírez stressed that, time and again, both employers and the federal government have failed farm workers. Employers have not provided farm workers with essential PPE, while the federal government has long denied farm workers even the most basic employment rights. Moreover, COVID-19 relief bills have almost entirely left out the farm worker community. 
    • Ingrid Hoffman explained that, at full retail, a typical restaurant’s profit margins are already small; COVID-19 has rendered these margins virtually nonexistent. In order to remain in business and offset unused ingredients, many restaurants have converted into mini markets. 
    • Hoffman highlighted the extent to which small businesses are being left behind during the COVID-19 crisis. The insurance industry, for example, is largely refusing to step up to save small businesses; accustomed to protecting against shorter-duration catastrophes such as floods or fires, many insurance companies are unequipped and unwilling to take on the risk of protecting small businesses during a crisis as long-lasting as COVID-19.
  • “We are going to really need to re-examine the entire broken system […] from the field to our tables, kitchens, and restaurants,” Ingrid Hoffman




Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Ramírez called on global leaders to ensure that laws protecting farm workers are being enacted. 
  • Employers need to make sure that farm workers are provided with adequate PPE. Farm workers also need premium pay, access to childcare, overtime eligibility, paid leave, and collective bargaining rights. 
  • Public-private partnerships between farm workers and the government are crucial. Ramírez proposed a system to reduce food waste wherein the government purchases food that can’t be sold to restaurants from farm workers and then distributes this food to food banks across the country. 
  • We desperately need to fix our broken immigration system. The overwhelming majority of farm workers are undocumented; we need to provide them with rights through immigration reform so that they don’t continue to be exploited. 
  • Hoffman called on Congress to enact measures to support the restaurant industry.


Session Speakers