No Piece of the Pie

From ACORN International organizer Wade Rathke:

The Food Chain Workers’ Alliance released an updated state of the industry report entitled “No Piece of the Pie,” and it’s not just sobering, it’s depressing, because even as employment is soaring in this critical industry, the workers are falling farther and farther behind. There is no way to separate the precariousness of the workforce from any final conclusions about food quality and safety.

The report’s executive summary speaks for itself and includes the following findings:

· Fourteen percent of the nation’s workforce is employed in the food chain, over one in seven of all workers in the U.S. The number of food chain workers grew by 13 percent from 2010 to 2016.
· The food chain pays the lowest hourly median wage to frontline workers compared to workers in all other industries. The annual median wage for food chain workers is $16,000 and the hourly median wage is $10, well below the median wages across all industries of $36,468 and $17.53.
· Thirteen percent of all food workers, nearly 2.8 million workers, relied on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) to feed their household in 2016.
· Eight-two percent of food chain workers are in frontline positions with few opportunities at the top.
· For every dollar earned by white men working in the food chain, Latino men earn 76 cents, Black men 60 cents, Asian men 81 cents, and Native men 44 cents.1 White women earn less than half of their white male counterparts, at 47 cents to every dollar. Women of color face both a racial and a gender penalty: Black women earn 42 cents, Latina women 45 cents, Asian women 58 cents, and Native women 36 cents for every dollar earned by white men.
· Injuries are up and union protection is down.

 

Bob Dylan and Contract Theory

As excited as many are about an American folk/rock singer composer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the economic prize is also worthy of mention here. First though, my favorite song lyrics of Mr. Dylan:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind Pa
She’s sixty eight, but she says she’s fifty four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Many of Dylan’s interpreters suggest this is a criticism of capitalism or of the military industrial complex. That actually leads us to a chat about the economic prize this year, given to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory. (Disclaimer: not only am I not a economist or a lawyer, my understanding of these theories is very casual and centered on my community organizing work. I may over or understate many of these theories and will always edit when better information comes my way. Feel free to add to my knowledge via email as needed.)

Contract theory focuses on the relationship between the parties in a contract, including those which are asymmetrical in terms of information. The world contains scads of examples of information asymmetry: media, police or military, employers, technology providers etc. When one party has access to more information than the other, the fairness of the contract can be questioned. The other issue that is relevant here is what are called incomplete contracts. This covers the likelihood that a contract in present time cannot always cover every possible outcome and so often must be renegotiated at some time; in that case it is possible that renegotiation can off the rails because of lack of trust.

In many ways, this describes much of our alternative food and farming movement impetus. Certainly, the desire for fairness and trust for both producers and for eaters has led to transparency being one our chief indicators.  The heart of our movement is direct marketing  which offers straightforward ways to create fairness between its agents. But even within those models, there can be an information asymmetry. For example, some farmers markets have created systems where information only flows from vendor to market and not the other way around. In others, vendors cling to systems that ask little of them as far as information sharing with the market. One way to gauge whether this is an unequal contract is at the time that the agreement is being changed by starting to ask for sales data or to request changes in other rules over time. The difficulty in negotiating that update may signal the need for a more detailed market agreement that outlines the requirements and benefits for the market and its vendors.

Still, the very nature of the mutual dependency and face to face nature of farmers markets and their vendors can correct any imbalance. Same goes for other type of direct marketing contracts, especially CSAs which began as a elegantly simple contractual relationship between producers and eaters for a single season and a single farm. Now,  when there is an imbalance it often benefits the shopper and not the farmer because many CSA farmers move outside of the implied agreement in the desire to build consecutive-season relationships. An example of this is when a farmer offers a credit for lost crops, even when the contract in a CSA explicitly states that the shopper loses their investment if the crop fails. Or, when a CSA farmer begins to morph into an aggregator of goods from nearby farms and cottage industry producers without creating a updated contract with their shoppers that outlines the new rules of bringing those goods to the shopper.

However, the concern over unfair contracts really “scales up” for me when systems move into intermediate (back door or bin sales) and wholesale (middle-man or pallet sales) contracts. We certainly hope that restaurant owners and wholesale buyers will build contracts with our producers with the same transparency and information sharing as those in the direct marketing sector, but often that has not been the case.

The key to mutually beneficial agreements on all levels of our food work relies on building contextual contracts and incentivizing them for all  involved. What are the main benefits for a producer to sell at a  lower cost to a chef? Well, two might be consecutive sales and the ease in delivery, and yet rarely are these benefits described in agreements for most of our producers when they sell at these levels. What is the main benefit for the buyer? Often it is either the quality of the product or the name recognition of the producer attached to the goods and yet rarely are those benefits understood and outlined in these agreements.

One way to incentivize the fairness of the contract in these situation may be to create a shared asset owned by all of the parties. Another way to make them contextual might be to have an external party monitoring the agreement. Maybe this is where farmers market leaders can grow their influence?

And of course, markets managing transactions through card technology has led  to lopsided contracts with processors. Markets scramble to understand these complex agreements which exist over different eras of management and open markets  to many new layers of liability.  Another issue is that the energy that markets must reserve for reaching and encouraging benefit program shoppers is often wasted by the lack of good information about the client lists from local or federal government authorities. Too many markets I talk to have no idea how and where to reach these shoppers in their area and when you take in the short time that the majority of these shoppers remain on these programs at any one time (also not shared by most government entities), successful outreach becomes even more unlikely. The vendor in this situation is also underrepresented in a fair contract, as most markets – or the processors working directly with farmers – use boilerplate agreements about card processing with their vendors.

So, one can see from just these few examples that center around direct marketing and intermediate farmers how many contract issues arise. So maybe before the alternative food system becomes another one of Maggie’s farms, let’s spend some time on increasing transparency and incentives for everyone’s benefit.

Inside Aleppo: the tale of the flower-seller

I swear this story was already set up to go live this week long before Libertarian Party  Gary Johnson’s fail this week. Okay maybe it was due to go live next Monday and I sped it up a little.

This incredibly moving and tragic story is a glimpse at how some people share beauty and kindness even in the face of ugliness and despair. We must honor this level of selflessness and belief in the power of community, anywhere and anytime that it happens. And remember.

 

(For another view of life in Aleppo click here)

Food Price Monitors Needed for First Nations Study

LONGMONT, CO–(Marketwired – August 04, 2016) – First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is seeking up to 75 people or organizations — located on or near Indian reservations across the U.S. — to monitor and report food prices on a monthly basis over a 12-month period.

Participants each will be paid $500 at the end of the study. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

The participants will collect prices on a list of food products sold in Native communities by monitoring their community/reservation grocery outlet, and then report the prices via an online database. First Nations will use the information to update and significantly expand its initial 2015 report titled Indian Country Food Price Index: Exploring Variation in Food Pricing Across Native Communities (a PDF of the report can be downloaded athttp://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center).

Most reservation consumers believe they pay more for food products than consumers in urban areas, but there is little data on food prices in Native communities to fully substantiate the claim. In 2015, First Nations piloted an attempt to collect food prices in Native communities, and an overview of that effort was documented in the initial Food Price Indexreport mentioned above. That report found that, on average, many food products were more expensive with the exception of some junk foods. Building on this initial effort, First Nations is seeking individuals, organizations or tribes to collect monthly prices in their local community’s retail outlet.

Monthly food prices will be collected on the following food items:

  • Loaf of white bread
  • One pound of ground beef
  • Whole chicken (price per pound)
  • One dozen large eggs
  • One gallon of whole, fortified milk
  • Red delicious apples (price per pound)
  • Pound of tomatoes
  • Coffee (ground, cost per pound) of a common brand such as Folger’s
    • Regular
    • Decaffeinated

Project participants will enter their monthly collected prices into an online database provided by First Nations by the 15th of each month. This data will be analyzed and shared with all project participants. Moreover, at the end of the 12 months, the information will be shared with Indian Country at large via the revised Indian Country Food Price Index report.

The project will begin as soon as all of the participants are selected.

To apply to participate, individuals, organizations or tribes must complete a short online application at this link: https://www.grantrequest.com/SID_1243?SA=SNA&FID=35135. Please note that not everyone who applies will necessarily be selected. The selection process will involve consideration of geographic locations, retail outlets to be monitored and other factors. The online application will ask for information such as name, physical address, tribal affiliation, email address, distance to nearest grocery story, whether the store in located on a reservation, if it’s a tribally-owned outlet, and other similar questions. Reliability and accuracy are highly desired traits in those who will be selected. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 36 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information about First Nations, visit www.firstnations.org.

Image Available:http://www.marketwire.com/library/MwGo/2016/8/4/11G109314/Images/Food_Price_Cover_large_500-b61d945bdaab9229896530f92708d1ad.jpg

CONTACT INFORMATION

  • PROGRAM CONTACT:
    Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President of Grantmaking, Development & Communications
    rfoxworth@firstnations.org or (303) 774-7836 x207

    MEDIA CONTACT:
    Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer
    rblauvelt@firstnations.org or (303) 774-7836 x213

Sign up for Food Tank’s live stream Summit

I’m a big fan of Food Tank and thought last year’s summit was thought-provoking and lively. I kept the live stream on all day while I worked to be able to stop and take notes when necessary.

Program found here

 

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Amid Climate-Fueled Food Crisis, Filipino Forces Open Fire on Starving Farmers 

Police and army forces shot at about 6,000 starving farmers and Lumad Indigenous people demonstrating for drought relief in the Philippines on Friday, ultimately killing 10.

 

On Monday, local farmer Noralyn Laus gave Democracy Now! a firsthand account of the disaster:

“Why we came down here is not to make trouble. We just want to demand for rice, because of the situation of El Niño is leaving our tribes hungry. What happened yesterday, we didn’t start it. They started it by beating us. We wouldn’t be angry if we weren’t beaten up or attacked. We’re having a crisis. We don’t have anything to eat or harvest. Our plants wilted. Even our water has dried up.”

“Our farmers—the country’s food producers—are battered the hardest and are left in poverty and hunger,” Rapollo said. “Civil disobedience will continue to escalate until the government stops playing deaf and blind to the genuine cry of the people.”

Source: Amid Climate-Fueled Food Crisis, Filipino Forces Open Fire on Starving Farmers | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community