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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reporter to Share Firsthand Experience of
Working on Western New York Farms

St. Bonaventure University will welcome agriculture reporter Tom Rivers to campus to share what he learned firsthand about working conditions facing migrant farm laborers in Western New York.

Rivers will present “From Field to Fork: A Reporter Experiences Farm Work” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in Dresser Auditorium of the John J. Murphy Professional Building. The public is invited.

Rivers will share his experiences working with farm workers at 13 Western New York farms in 2008. He planted onions, milked cows and harvested fruits and vegetables with workers from Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti.

Rivers, who covers agriculture and other community issues for The Daily News in Batavia, wrote a first-person series about farm work that won state and national awards. The farm labor series was later adapted to a book, “Farm Hands: Hard work and hard lessons from Western New York fields.” Rivers is also a contributor to American Agriculturist magazine.

“Rivers’ visit has the potential to open up some wonderful discussions about our food system here on campus and in the local community,” said Maggie Morris, program director for the Warming House. “Rivers’ work brings to light the true human, environmental, health and economic costs of the cheap food we in this country are so accustomed to.

The presentation is intended to inform the public about the working conditions farm laborers regularly confront when producing food.

“Rivers, and others doing work like his, do well to question the pillars of our food system, including government subsidies for high-input industrialized farming, exploitation of undocumented workers, consolidation and highly-processed cheap foods. These that fail to value the work of farmers while robbing them of their natural role as stewards of the land and water must be challenged and reimagined so that there may be nourishing food and justice for all,” said Morris.

Through Rivers’ experience, “We can all better appreciate those who supply the food to our tables,” said Sr. Jean Sliwinski, a member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. “His stories about the lives of migrant farm workers will leave you full of respect for the work they do despite many hardships. Catholic Social Teaching’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the key role immigrant farm workers play in the agricultural industry highlight the need for immigration reform in our nation.”

Rivers lost 40 pounds working at farms, and ran a marathon after the experience. He discovered running 26.2 miles is easier than spending a day picking cucumbers or cutting cabbage.

The program is sponsored by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Buffalo, as well as St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern and Clare College.

Photo provided by St. Bonaventure University

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