Seven Questions with Hannah Freeman, Director of Produce and Floral at Fair Trade USA

Seven Questions with Hannah Freeman, Director of Produce and Floral at Fair Trade USA
From foodtank.com, by Lani Furbank

Food Tank, in partnership with the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Farm-to-Fork Program, and University of California, Davis, is excited to announce the 1st annual Farm Tank Conference at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento on September 22–23, 2016. This two-day event will feature more than 35 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels.

The event will feature interactive panels moderated by top food journalists, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Hannah Freeman, Director of Produce and Floral at Fair Trade USA, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Hannah Freeman (HF): In college, I had the opportunity to study in Latin America for a year and was able to see first-hand how our food systems affect some of the poorest people in the hemisphere. How our supply chains are set up can mean prosperity for some and a cycle of poverty for others—the communities producing the food. I saw that thoughtful systems in agriculture have a tremendous opportunity to make a positive impact on those communities.

When I found my way to Fair Trade, I thought, “this is a win-win”—for businesses and for farmers and farmworkers. I realized that if I could help businesses do the right thing while also being profitable, we could build a strong, transparent, and meaningful food system. 

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

HF: In my opinion, we absolutely must find more (and scalable) ways to engage farmworkers as partners in agricultural businesses. Starting with the people on the ground—the people on the frontlines of our food system—is a way to address the root causes of many challenges we see in the industry today. We have to ensure that farmworkers make enough money to feed their families and keep their kids in school. We have to invest in professional development and support leadership opportunities. We have to create safe, open, and healthy working environments so that farmworkers feel supported and want to stay. If we can do this, we can address the labor shortages, improve food safety, address reputational risks to brands and retailers, and help growers become better stewards of the land. 

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

HF: I’m excited about innovations that are bringing greater transparency to our food system. Transparency helps us identify, address, and minimize risk. It ensures that farmworkers know their rights and have a safe way to express grievances. It brings greater economic value to supply chains by addressing problems early, and it allows shoppers to make more informed purchases. 

Transparency is a critical component of Fair Trade. It is something that is built into our standards, processes, and supply chain work from the beginning. One example of Fair Trade USA’s commitment to transparency, specifically in the produce sector, is the 24-hour farmworker hotline we’ve been piloting. This hotline allows workers to anonymously voice their concerns and start an actionable dialogue for change at a given farm.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

HF: The people that are perhaps the least visible inspire me the most. The farmworkers.

I met a woman in Mexico who was recently elected to the Fair Trade committee. The Fair Trade committee is a democratically elected group, representative of the worker population, which is responsible for creating a platform for dialogue with management and managing the Fair Trade Premium at each farm. (The Premium is additional money from every Fair Trade sale that goes directly to workers for community investment.)

This woman told me that she had begun studying agronomy in high school and dreamed of being an agronomist, but that she had to drop out of school to help support her parents and siblings at the farm. When she learned about the Fair Trade committee, she saw it as an opportunity for growth and leadership. It was a place for her talent and passion to shine and for her to be able to make an impact on future generations of kids. There is so much latent talent in the fields harvesting our food. I love meeting those people and seeing how they’re able to grow and develop professionally and personally through leadership opportunities like in Fair Trade.

If we can recognize all that farmworkers have to offer, we’ll have a much richer food system.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

HF: One of the biggest differences, which I would say is actually a positive, is the unlimited access to media and information. We’ve never known more about our food, and we’ve never been more empowered to take action. For example, we’re seeing more stories being written and shared on social media about farmworker justice (or injustice) than ever before. Knowledge can be a burden, but it’s also power in its greatest form. I can’t wait to see what future generations do with that power.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

HF: Choose Fair Trade! And if you can’t find it, ask for it. When people demand better practices, companies listen. I know that there are so many problems and challenges out there in the world, and it can feel so overwhelming at times. Paying a tiny bit more for a product grown with social and environmental responsibility is an easy way to make a difference—entire supply chains are being transformed thanks to those seemingly small purchase decisions.

Next time you’re in the supermarket, look for a Fair Trade Certified™ bell pepper or banana. It tells you that rigorous standards were met, that farmers and workers protected the environment and worked in safe conditions, and that communities can work to thrive, not just survive.   

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

HF: Hands down, immigration reform. Some people may not like to talk about it, but our food system relies heavily on manual labor from both within and outside of our borders. If we can address this deeply complex and controversial issue, we can further humanize the food system. We’d be able to address labor shortages, reduce human trafficking and exploitation, and even save lives as willing workers have a safe way to cross the border and work in our fields. 

 

Buy your tickets today—we're offering $50 off in August, use "Save50" at checkout. 

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the live-stream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil, Summit in October 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL, Summit November 16, 2016, please click HERE.

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

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Want to watch videos from previous Food Tank Summits? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Sacramento include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Fair Trade USA, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, and VegFund. More to be announced soon.

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