Tomato Growers, Fieldworkers Work Together For Progress

In October, one of the country’s largest tomato growers announced that it had reached an agreement with the Florida-based farmworker group Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Pacific Tomato Growers agreed to establish several practical systems designed to implement cooperatively the key principles of CIW’s code of conduct. Those principles include a joint — and, when need be, external — complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process aimed at insuring that farmworkers themselves are active participants in the social responsibility efforts.


“Pacific Tomato Growers believes that it is time to speak out publicly about working conditions in agriculture,” says Jon Esformes, operating partner, on behalf of the board of directors of Pacific Tomato Growers. “We, along with many other responsible agricultural firms, work daily to provide safe and fair working conditions, yet continued abuses within the industry demand that we speak out.”


One of the biggest efforts by CIW has been toward increasing wages for the farmworkers. In the past few years, its efforts to gain workers an extra “penny-per-pound” has been widely reported in the media. The agreement with Pacific Tomato Growers provides for third-party auditing of both the systems needed to implement the code and payment of the penny-per-pound, the price premium designed to raise farmworker wages that is part of the CIW’s agreements with nine major retail food companies, including sector leaders McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Compass Group.
“This breakthrough is a testament to the leadership at Pacific Tomato Growers, who truly came to the talks that led to [the agreement] with an open heart,” says Lucas Benitez of the CIW. “Without that spirit of partnership, it wouldn’t have been possible to even talk about the kind of changes contemplated in this agreement, much less hammer out the concrete systems necessary to make those changes real and sustainable.”
Last year, East Coast Brokers and Packers entered into an agreement with CIW, making it the first large commercial grower and packer in the state to do so. Its penny-per-pound agreement was made with Chipotle Mexican Grille.

Greater Good

News of the agreement between CIW and Pacific Tomato Growers was widely covered and praised by the national news media. Unfortunately, when a story like this breaks, the media will often portray the news like it was the “first” good thing growers have ever done on behalf of farm labor. Those in the industry know there are plenty of examples of actions taken by growers for the greater good.
The Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) is a prime example of growers working to help the families of farmworkers. The group provides childcare in 21 locations across the state and has two charter schools. It serves roughly 8,000 children in the state with childcare, education, after-school programs, health care, and disability services.
Over the years, growers have been generous benefactors of the RCMA program. Here are just a few recent large contributions to the group:
• Palmetto-based tomato packers Taylor & Fulton donated $125,000 toward the expansion of the RCMA Wimauma Academy to include the middle school grades.
• Lykes Brothers donated $25,000 toward a new childcare center in Lake Placid.
• Six L’s Packing Co. has donated more than $200,000 to support literacy, after-school, and childcare programs.
• Wishnatzki Farms hosted its fifth Annual Tennis Pro Am, raising $80,000 for RCMA’s Wimauma Academy.
• RCMA’s 10th annual golf tournament raised a record $100,000, thanks to support from the Florida Tomato Exchange. Florida tomato growers donated $25,000 to sponsor the event; then they kicked in another $581 afterward so RCMA could reach its goal of $100,000.