Buying organic food from reputable sources is a good first step, but it won't solve some of the most egregious problems in the industry -- namely farmworker exploitation.
"Most organic food we find in our stores is a result of industrialized agriculture and not from small farms," said Athens. "And with that comes worker rights issues." (Watch her TED Talk on this issue here.)
There are about 3 million farmworkers in the United States, some of whom rise well before dawn and spend 10 hours or more under the hot sun picking a variety of produce. Those that work on organic farms encounter some of the same conditions found on conventional farms, namely grueling labor, low wages and sexual abuse.
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Even those who work on organic farms can be exposed to chemicals.
"There are times when farmworkers can work on organic lettuces in the morning and then cross over to the pesticide-laden fields in the afternoon," said Jessica Romero of the Washington, D.C.-based Farmworker Justice.
Pay is low. For their time, woman earn on average about $11,000 a year and men earn about $16,500, according to the Department of Labor.
Julia de la Cruz, a farmworker who has spent 10 years on both organic and conventional farms in Michigan, North Carolina and Florida, spoke to DNews through an interpreter. She explained that on most farms, workers are paid by the piece and get a certain amount for every bucket or box they fill with produce. But workers aren't always paid for all of the pieces they harvest.
"We see this across the board on nonorganic farms, too," de la Cruz said. "If they are paid an hourly wage, they aren't paid for all of the hours they work. If they leave to go work for another farm, they aren't given their last week's pay."
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Sexual abuse is common. The geographical isolation, as well as language barriers, make women especially vulnerable to male bosses and coworkers. Surveys reveal that 77% to 90% percent of women farmworkers report sexual abuse.
"It's sad that something as terrible as sexual harassment happens to create this product, which is sold at a premium cost," said de la Cruz.
De la Cruz is a member of the powerful Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a grass-roots movement that started in 1993 in Immokalee, Fla., to campaign for the rights of farmworkers. They started the Fair Food Program, which fights against abuse and gets farmers and retail food companies to provide humane working conditions and wages.
Not all food companies and organic farms have signed on, but you can see the current list of partners here. To promote food justice beyond just voting with your fork, sign up to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program or support another organization fighting for fair labor.