Richard MacMaster, speaking here at a rally, is chair of
the Southeast Mennonite Conference Task Force on Farmworker Justice. He is a
retired history professor and a member of Emmanuel Mennonite Church,
men, women and children who harvest the vegetables and fruits we eat are
invisible to most Americans. We Mennonites may be familiar with migrant farm
workers, but how many of us have heard their stories and know what life is
really like for them?
our congregation, Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Gainesville, Florida, a Sunday
morning sharing time with workers from the tomato fields of Immokalee in 2009
was an eye opener. We learned about difficult working conditions, the
impossible number of huge buckets of tomatoes needed to earn close to minimum
wage, the prevalence of sexual harassment, and what farm workers themselves are
doing to change this.
invited the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to bring their Modern-Day Slavery
Museum to our new meeting house. When they came, our local newspaper was
running stories about an unscrupulous Haitian labor contractor who recruited
laborers in Haiti. These laborers agreed to pay him large sums for a legal job
in Florida. They then worked eighteen months on a farm a few miles from
Gainesville while the contractor pocketed their wages to pay the debt. We
learned that this kind of servitude is commonplace in Florida.
workers found allies in churches and on campuses. In 2010 Kimberly Hunter asked
Eve MacMaster, her pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite, to help organize the churches
of Gainesville. Kimberly drew up a statement for the initial meeting, showing
that the call for justice was a Biblical imperative rooted in the prophets and
the words of Jesus.
Mennonite Church (Atlanta, Ga.) had a similar experience hosting the Immokalee
workers when they came to Metro Atlanta. Pastor John Wierwille and his
congregation reached out to other Atlanta churches and to our own conference to
enlist their support for farm workers.
forward to 2014. In January the Leadership Board of Southeast Mennonite
Conference created a Task Force on Farm Worker Justice. We on the task force
are committed to helping congregations Southeast Conference and Mennonite Church
USA connect with farm workers and support their efforts to improve their living
and working conditions. We expect to soon have curriculum and study group
resources. We hope to bring our concerns to the conference assembly this year
and to Kansas City next summer.
if you would like to bring a speaker to your church or want more information
about the Fair Food Campaign, contact Claire Comiskey atClaire@interfaithact.org. To learn
more about our Task Force or our community efforts e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org