A (Great) Smoky Mountain Welcome

Sunripe Certified Brands and hundreds of workers at Smoky Mountain Family Farms welcome the CIW Education Team to Tennessee!

Sunripe CEO, Jon Esformes: “[CIW] is our partner in making sure that we’re meeting and exceeding the highest standards of compliance, not just with the law, but with our moral and ethical responsibility as human beings.”

Tennessee farmworker: “Thank you for working to make sure that we are taken care of.”

On Monday, the CIW Education Team touched down in Tennessee for the first Fair Food Program worker-to-worker education sessions in the state. Nestled among the hills and valleys of its namesake, Smoky Mountain Family Farms (SMFF) – one of the Program’s newest growers, farming in partnership with Sunripe Certified Brands (formerly Pacific Tomato Growers), the very first grower to sign a Fair Food Agreement way back in 2010 – provided a breathtaking backdrop to a monumental occasion.

Co-managed by Sunripe CEO Jon Esformes, SMFF considered the unparalleled protections provided by the Fair Food Program to be a fundamental element of its strategic expansion plans in Tennessee. Smoky Mountain’s affirmative commitment to human rights guarantees a safe and respectful work environment for the hundreds of farmworkers who arrived this month to harvest tomatoes under the Volunteer State’s hot summer sun.

In the July issue of the leading produce industry magazine The Snack, Esformes describes how collaboration with the CIW through the Fair Food Program helps the company meet both its business needs and its ethical goals:

“Given eleven generations and three strong-willed families, I doubt there would be many visions so unified as that of the Pappas, Esformes, and Hellers. If Smoky Mountain’s clear logistical innovation alone does not convey this, its partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Tennessee certainly does. ‘Smoky Mountain Family Farms is the first Fair Food Program-certified farming operation in Tennessee,’ Jon relayed. ‘Our number-one priority is to ensure all our employees have access to a safe and fair workplace. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is our partner in making sure that we’re meeting and exceeding the highest standards of compliance, not just with the law, but with our moral and ethical responsibility as human beings.’”

The contrast in topography to Florida’s vast expanses of flat farmland was a sight to behold for the CIW’s traveling Education Team, and fortunately for the rest of the (admittedly envious) CIW crew left behind in Immokalee, they documented their visit in some gorgeous photos! Here below is a slideshow, fresh from the front lines of Fair Food, of the first education sessions of the week!

The photos paint the picture: Starting early each morning, as the sun begins to peek over the cloud-covered ridges, the Education Team gathers with workers for an interactive, outdoor session to describe the protections of the Fair Food Program, leading discussions on popular education drawings to deliver critical information about everything from farm accidents, dangerous weather, and field truck safety, to sexual harassment, discrimination, verbal use, workers rights under the H-2A visa, and even modern-day slavery. And this year, with the global coronavirus pandemic gaining momentum once again behind the rise of the dangerous Delta variant, Smoky Mountain’s recently-arrived workers were greeted with ready access to life saving health care: With the company’s assistance, and thanks to a partnership with local public health officials, nearly all of SMFF’s hundreds of workers received vaccinations against COVID-19 upon arrival.

The spirit of the visit was perhaps best captured by a worker who, at the end of the first session, approached the team to express his gratitude for the efforts of the CIW and FFP: “Thank you for working to make sure that we are taken care of.”

And before we go, a sneak preview: Two more growers (and a great new partner) join the Program!
Meanwhile, about 260 miles east, members of the tireless Education Team completed another first-time education session just last month with sweet potato workers at Watkins Farm in Oxford, NC, a brand new addition to the Program thanks to a blossoming partnership with organic produce distributor Happy Dirt.

And, that’s not all. The Education Team is gearing up for its first deployment to the West Coast! Sun Valley Farms in Valley Center, CA, has just joined the FFP as our newest fresh-cut flower Participating Grower, bringing its stunning sunflowers into the leading human rights program in the US agricultural industry.

Stay tuned to this site for more updates on this summer of expansion in the growing Fair Food Program!

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