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A few months ago, a vendor reached out to Ceriann Price, wanting to sell peppers from Florida. Price, the produce purchase manager at Each Peach Market in Mount Pleasant, was aware of farmworker labor issues in Florida. Some of her friends are members of DC Fair Food, the local chapter of the Alliance for Fair Food, which highlights the Fair Food Program and its work to eradicate abuse in the U.S. agricultural industry.
After talking with Fair Food’s Tiffany W. Goetzinger, Price pitched a sponsorship program to the founders of Each Peach—Each Peach would sell Fair Food-certified tomatoes, donate to farmworkers through Fair Food, and help educate customers about the tomato industry. The founders jumped on the idea, and last week, Each Peach officially announced they would be moving forward.
Emily Friedberg, the co-founder of Each Peach Market, says the sponsorship is another way for the grocery store to live its values. “A lot of customers come because Each Peach is a neighborhood grocery store, but also because they know the values we speak for,” she says. “Source locally. Care about sustainability. Care about justice.”
Each Peach is the first independent grocer to become a Fair Food sponsor; the other two sponsors are co-ops. “The sponsor program was created so that stores like Each Peach or co-ops would be able to join in the movement without having the big buying power that other places have,” Goetzinger says, calling it a “small-scale but deeply impactful way that we’re trying to grow together.”
The sponsorship has three components: selling produce, donating a percentage of profits, and participating in peer-to-peer education. Each Peach will stock tomatoes certified by the Fair Food Standards Council, an independent governing body that monitors growers and ensures they follow the program’s legally binding code of conduct.
“It becomes a win-win,” Goetzinger says of the contract. “Workers win. Growers win, because they’re getting improvements to their farms and their systems, and buyers win because they’re getting a safer, fairer, more transparent supply chain.”
Each Peach will also donate a percentage of its annual total produce sales to Fair Food, which then distributes those contributions directly to farmworkers. This is distinct from how partnerships work between Fair Food and large corporations like Whole Foods, McDonald’s, and Trader Joe’s, where penny-per-pound premiums serve as the contribution to farmworkers. Goetzinger estimates that Fair Food has directly supplied farmworkers with $36 million since its founding in 2011.
As for the education, Friedberg sees it as a natural component of Each Peach’s existing customer service. Each Peach trains its staff to have extensive product knowledge, and Price and her produce team label each product and share its story—whether it’s organic or conventional, for example, or locally sourced. Through staff engagement and this signage, Friedberg says, the store “communicates our values to our consumer.”
The Fair Food Program is part of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group Florida farmworkers formed in 1993 to organize around labor issues in the tomato industry. CIW also runs an Anti-Slavery Program. Over its decades of activism, CIW has earned numerous awards, including the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2015.
Tomatoes are an important part of Florida’s agriculture system. In 2020, the state planted 22,500 acres for tomato crop, about 15 percent of the 172,400 acres Florida planted that year. That yielded a tomato harvest of three quarters of a billion pounds.
While the Florida Heartland Economic Region of Opportunity heralds Immokalee as “one of the major centers of tomato growing in the United States,” it is also what a former U.S. Attorney called “ground zero” of modern slavery in America.
Immokalee, an unincorporated community in Florida’s Collier County, is small, isolated, and poor. According to the 2010 Census, Immokalee’s population is less than 25,000, with 70 percent of residents identifying as Latinx, and 43.9 percent of residents born outside the United States. The closest major city, Fort Myers, is one hour away by car. Nearly four in 10 people live in poverty.
In 2015, the Christian Science Monitor published a lengthy story about the tomato industry in Immokalee, detailing reports of abuse, beatings, death threats, wage theft, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and rape.
Fair Food tomatoes are a step, however small, toward eliminating the abuse that farmworkers face. That’s why Goetzinger sees sponsorships like Each Peach’s as “the perfect avenue [to get] the Fair Food Program out into public consciousness.”
“When I think about a place like Each Peach having a sign up about what this program is, I think about a person taking it [in]and going back to their family,” she adds. “I want consumers to be educated about what worker driven social responsibility looks like so they can spot it—they know what they’re looking for, they know what measurable human rights look like.”
Each Peach anticipates stocking Fair Food-certified tomatoes this fall, after D.C.’s tomato season ends.
Each Peach Market, 3068 Mount Pleasant St. NW; (202) 525-1725; eachpeachmarket.com