Five Questions with Baldemar Velasquez, President of Farm Labor Organizing Committee

From by Baldemar Velasquez
Five Questions with Baldemar Velasquez, President of Farm Labor Organizing Committee

Food Tank, in partnership with The George Washington University, is hosting the 1st Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington D.C. on January 21-22, 2015.

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policy makers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Baldemar Velasquez, President of Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?

Baldemar Velasquez (BV): Right now, there are many inequities in the supply chains that feed large food manufacturers and retailers. These inequities arise from the marginalization of workers at the bottom. As long as workers are trafficked here from other countries, forced to live in squalor, and threated with retaliation any time they attempt to speak up for themselves, these inequities will continue to exist. The only proven method for combating this situation is to create a strong, worker-led organization and have them negotiate their own contracts.

FT: How are you contributing to building a better food system?

BV: FLOC is organizing farm workers in an effort to guarantee them freedom of association. Farm workers are best equipped to address the injustices they face when they have a platform from which to voice their grievances and negotiate their working conditions. The model of advocacy falls short in this situation because it fails to empower the actual workers. What FLOC is doing is building institution amongst the farm workers. It’s wresting power from major corporations and big advocacy groups, and giving it directly to the workers.

FT: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization's goals?

BV: When power becomes concentrated, as it has in our food system, the controlling parties are always loath to give it up. FLOC has routinely picked fights with some of the most entrenched corporations, and always entered facing astronomical odds. Our mantra has always been that we don’t enter these campaigns preparing for victory; instead we come ready to fight. That’s what’s been successful for us. We don’t go away, and eventually the controlling parties have to listen to us.

FT: Who is your food hero and why?

BV: The over seven thousand workers in Kentucky and North Carolina, who have signed up to join FLOC and liberate themselves from the exploitation and oppression they face daily. It takes courage to stand up to those who have power over you.

FT: In 140 characters or fewer, what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?

BV: Spread the word and grow the movement for self-determination of the oppressed.

The event is SOLD OUT, but interested participants can sign up for the live-stream HERE. Or JOIN US for dinner and a reception to celebrate Food Tank's two-year anniversary on January 21st at 5:30pm EST. This event will also sell out fast, REGISTER NOW.