And you can’t even see the labor camp

Behind the camera taking this picture was a labor camp. You can’t see it, because we decided to take a picture in front of the beautiful landscape, rather than the reminder of a persistent inequality and injustice. Now we aren’t in former Nazi Germany looking at retired camps of Holocaust victims, but rather we are in Adams County, PA, home to Gettysburg battlefields, the dreams of reenactors, and a whole lot of apples. Adams County has a more hidden darker side, however, as it is also home to as many as 250 labor camps hidden from passersby in the depths of vast orchards. I wish I could say the owners of many of these farms worked hard to provide safe, comfortable, housing for their workers, but in reality over 100 of those camps are unregistered, therefore evading federal regulations. Even those that are registered and up to code, like the one camp we were able to see, are too similar to prison cells for comfort. Cement walls and floors with only a mattress on the ground, are by no means the making of a comfortable home. Rather it is only a place to sleep before returning to work in the fields or the factories.

I have no doubt that many of you reading this post may question the protection and support of those who are working in the United States illegally or even those who have migrated here from Mexico and other countries legally to work for a better life. Perhaps you worry that they are taking jobs from other Americans or are wasting your hard earned tax dollars. My question then is, where did the food in your refrigerator come from? Whose hands went into getting that food to your table? Unless all the food you consume was grown in your own backyard, I am willing to bet someone not born in America or to American parents played some role in the production of your food. Our current food system revolves around the exploitation of these workers, who are, as I would like to remind you, HUMANS.

It is a heartbreaking reality to realize that our food system is not only sustained by injustice, but I am willing to say that much of migrant farm labor should be classified as modern slavery. This is a truth we like to avoid in America, thinking modern slavery could never happen in our homeland, I mean isn’t it illegal after all? But many of these workers who legally have the right to leave, do not have any plausible way to house and feed their families without this work. Therefore I ask you, do they really have the freedom to leave? Many workers are underpaid, and are neglected from the protection given to legal laborers in our country, including the right to organize, job security, and health insurance. This isn’t a fact that comes lightly, but it is something I urge you to contemplate and even discuss.

My friends this is a reality we must face. Our food system is neither free nor fair. The food we eat on a daily basis is more than likely linked to injustice in its production or distribution. From turkey processing to apple distribution, I have seen many instances this week of “fair” and “lawful” companies working to feed the masses, however, even in conditions such as these many workers are exploited and their humanity and overall well being are not cared for. So today I urge you to think about the food you are eating and how you might be able to fight for justice through the food you are buying. Perhaps spending the time to check on the practices of local food distributors or spending a couple extra dollars to buy local food at your farmers market, could help to decrease the injustices your money supports.

Alyce Norcross ‘17
Gettysburg

Photo credit: Jorge Perez-Rico

 

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