Our History

Origins of the AJP

The Agricultural Justice Project came to life when immigrant farm workers and community-scale farmers came together to envision a food system that was fair and just. As Nelson Carrasquillo describes in the interview above, farm workers wanted to demonstrate an alternative to the gross injustices of farm labor. At the same time organic farmers and ranchers sought to go beyond the USDA’s National Organic Program’s limited standards which ignored the organic movement’s commitments to social justice. Recognizing their shared interests, these workers and farmers reached out across the US and internationally to learn and share with other movements for fair and ecological farming. In the process they convened fellow workers, farmers, and food system stakeholders to hash out the first draft of the AJP’s Food Justice Certification standards.

In the years that followed, the AJP’s founders built on these rigorous social standards to establish our Food Justice Certified program. Along the way they also compiled knowledge and resources to support farms and food workplaces seeking to meet these standards. Through all of our on-going work, we strive to make the AJP a vehicle for growing the leadership and power of frontline communities–those who face the worst injustices as they grow, process, and sell food, and those who lack easy access to fresh, healthy food and the means to grow their own food.

See below for a more detailed timeline of AJP’s history.

Timeline of the AJP


USDA issued the first version of a Rule for the National Organic Program. Some of the farmers and farmworker delegates to the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture Organic Committee were dismayed that the Rule said nothing about fair prices for farmers’ products or fair treatment of workers on farms or in other organic food businesses. At the same time, long-running campaigns by farmworkers had highlighted the grave injustices in farming and food production, and farmworkers wanted to show that fair farming was possible and achievable.

It was then that founders of the AJP came together: Michael Sligh, then a staff member of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI – USA); Nelson Carrasquillo (General Coordinator) and Richard Mandelbaum (Farmworker Organizer) of Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas/Farmworker Support Committee (CATA); Oscar Mendieta of Fundación RENACE, Bolivia; Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Organic Farm and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Interstate Council; and Marty Mesh, then Executive Director of Florida Organic Growers (FOG). Together they began a stakeholder process to develop standards for the fair and just treatment of the people involved in organic and sustainable agriculture.


AJP’s founders organized international exchanges among stakeholders in organic and fair trade agriculture, from the IFOAM Organic Trade Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, to meetings of the International Union of Food (IUF) in Montevideo, Uruguay. These meetings set ambitious goals and commitments, including to advance a social agenda in organic and sustainable agriculture, to build cooperation between the organic and fair trade movements, and to strengthen the voice and participation of indigenous peoples.


After a review of existing social standards from fair trade and organic programs from around the world and four years of stakeholder engagement, AJP published a first draft of the AJP’s own social stewardship standards. These initial AJP standards included rights and protections for farm workers, farm interns and apprentices, farmers, and indigenous communities – with a stated purpose of upholding food sovereignty. The published standards also outlined AJP’s vision for a sustainable food system.

AJP circulated these standards to organic farmers and organic farming associations, non-profits, certification programs, eco-labeling experts, and labor and farm labor organizations. CATA also engaged their farmworker members to reflect on the abuses they had suffered at the hands of farm employers and draft standards to correct these abuses and establish fair and respectful social relations on farms. For two years, AJP circulated successive drafts of their standards in the US and abroad, in English, French, and Spanish, incorporating comments and suggestions from stakeholders around the world.


The AJP team performed a pre-certification audit at Jim Cochran’s Swanton Berry Farm to test the AJP’s new standards and the practicality of farms adopting them.
Through outreach and collaboration across the US, the AJP continued to build relationships with farmers, retailers, non-profits, and farmworker organizations interested in developing a model for a just food system. The AJP also convened for the first time an Advisory Council representing a broad array of stakeholders to advise and inform the group’s progress through regular meetings.
During this time, Quality Certification Services (QCS), the certification program of Florida Organic Growers, assessed the AJP’s standards and helped design a third-party certification program that also included participation by and accountability to farmworker communities.


AJP joined with the Minneapolis-based Local Fair Trade Network (LFTN) to pilot AJP’s new social justice certification process in the Upper Midwest. LFTN was exploring how to develop and promote fair trading practices among its members which included family-scale farmers, food co-ops, farmworker organizations, and consumers. LFTN facilitated access to farmers, co-ops, and consumers who were already engaged in the regional movement, and provided networking and marketing expertise. The Agricultural Justice Project provided its internationally vetted standards and certification capacity.


Co-op manager receives certificate from AJP.

Bluff Country Co-op receives Food Justice Certification as part of our pilot program.


Quality Certification Services (QCS) and the AJP team conducted pilot certification audits of four farms and two co-ops in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Bluff Country Co-op, pictured here receiving their initial pilot certification. This pilot project lasted 3 years and closed with a careful evaluation and analysis of consumer response, volume of sales, and lessons learned for the future of social justice labeling in the U.S, including interviews with participating farmers and their farmworkers. These exploratory audits confirmed that AJP standards were practicable and verifiable and that there were farmers willing and able to meet them. Unfortunately, serious flooding devastated three of the four farms during this time and rendered the results difficult to interpret.

While our pilot revealed outstanding practices at some farms and co-ops, we also identified a lack of the documentation of practices that a certifier would require for verification. To facilitate compliance with FJC standards, AJP co-founder Elizabeth Henderson started assembling information and resources to help farms and co-ops document their good practices, later to become our AJP Toolkit.

At this time AJP established its Social Justice Fund to provide financial support for mid-sized and smaller farms seeking certification.

Also in 2007, AJP, along with many allies representing different sectors, founded the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA), an effort to translate the principles of international fair trade into domestic regional and local economic spheres. This consensus-based group set out as its primary goals supporting family-scale farming; reinforcing farmer-led initiatives such as farmer co-operatives; ensuring just conditions for agricultural workers; and bringing these groups together with brands, retailers, and concerned consumers in order to grow the movement for sustainable agriculture in North America. The DFTA lasted for about ten years, during which it focused on building consensus among members, educating the public, and evaluating existing fair trade labels.

In conjunction with the NOFA Summer Conference, Elizabeth Henderson and Richard Mandelbaum held the first NE Domestic Fair Trade gathering, which for a time became an annual event bringing together organic farmers, farmworker organizations, students involved in the Real Food Challenge, and other food worker organizers.


AJP drafted its governing policies and procedures, establishing principles of transparency and accountability and a commitment to building the power of frontline communities.


AJP began its first standards revision process informed by the pilot certifications, with the intent of repeating a transparent and comprehensive standards revision process every 5 years. AJP expanded the standards to include operations throughout the whole supply chain, including standards for grower groups. AJP posted two successive draft revisions, each with a three-month period of public comment.
AJP’s outreach, research, and education work expanded in the Southeastern US through a 3-year Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) grant, for which 11 collaborators worked to survey organic farmers across the SE about their labor and trade experiences and challenges, and shoppers about their priorities in food purchases; to develop and deliver health and safety training for farms aiming to go above and beyond legal requirements to protect workers; and to provide technical assistance to farms and food businesses who wanted to apply for Food Justice Certification in the SE region.


AJP officially launched Food Justice Certification, inaugurating the label’s new name and certification mark with the announcement of Farmer Direct Coop in Canada as a Food Justice Certified Grower Group.


AJP registered as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Staff drafted employment policies and practices to comply with AJP’s fair labor standards. After five years of collaborative work and cross-sector consensus decision-making, AJP published a comprehensive Policy Manual outlining AJP’s governance structures; requirements for how organic certifiers and worker organizations would work together to verify the standards; conflict/dispute resolution and complaint processes; labeling policies; and AJP’s stance on critical issues such as at-will employment, immigration status, and organic certification.

The Family Garden farm (Florida) became the first farm in the South to become Food Justice Certified.

Farmer Direct launched their grains and lentils in retail co-ops and in several Whole Foods stores across the country, carrying the Food Justice Certification mark into the homes of exponentially more families.


Bags of dried legumes on a shelf, showing Food Justice Certified label.

Bags of Food Justice Certified legumes from Farmer Direct Co-op at a Whole Foods in San Diego, CA.


AJP launched its organizing efforts in the northeastern US by partnering with researcher Rebecca Berkey on a survey of organic farms regarding their labor policies and practices.

AJP held a training for certifiers and workers inspectors in Ithaca, NY, in combination with the certifications of West Haven Farm, GreenStar Food Coop, and The Piggery.


Swanton Berry Farm and Pie Ranch became the first Food Justice Certified farms in California. Swanton Berry Farm was already recognized as a leader as the first organic strawberry farm and the only organic farm to invite the UFW to unionize its crew. At this time the AJP also teamed up with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to promote Food Justice Certification standards to farms in western Massachusetts.


AJP began its second standards revision process in English and Spanish, incorporating revisions based on AJP’s experience with certifying and providing technical assistance to farms and food businesses; stakeholder suggestions, including two 90-day rounds of public and stakeholder comments; changes in labor law; developments in the National Organic Program and alternative certification programs for sustainable agriculture; and comparisons of our standards with other high bar domestic fair trade standards. The revised version of AJP’s Social Stewardship Standards for Farms, Ranches, and Other Food and Agriculture Businesses were eventually published in 2019.

NOFA held a second Domestic Fair Trade gathering, galvanizing closer relations among NE organic farming associations, Justicia Migrante/Migrant Justice, and CATA. Participants helped win drivers licenses for undocumented people in VT, NY, and NJ. Annual DFT networking events met consecutively through 2019.

AJP team member Louis Battalen targeted technical assistance outreach to farmers in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, inviting farmers to do extensive self-assessments of their labor and pricing practices, then providing resources to make their workplaces more fair.


Soul Fire Farm (New York), Wickenheiser Farm (Alberta, Canada), and Higher Level Organics (Wisconsin) achieved Food Justice Certification.

AJP and the Farmworker Association of Florida partnered to hold a food justice dialogue, a gathering where about 40 people concerned with food justice came together to share their experiences and priorities. One of the questions that emerged was how to make people care about the disparities and injustices throughout the food system from fields to households.

This question seeded a multi-year public education project called “Hungry for Justice: Whose Voice is Missing?” This project had multiple aims: to highlight the ways in which the experiences of one food system stakeholder group is related to the experiences of other stakeholder groups; to demonstrate common ground in the struggle for justice and break down the lines of division that play a role in perpetuating injustice; and engage more people in system-level change.
Together with our collaborators Little Bean Productions and Orange Is Media, AJP interviewed over 20 frontline stakeholders in the South about their experiences with injustice and their priorities and solutions for change.


After a long process of deliberation and consultation, AJP published the second round of revisions to our social standards, addressing exposure to hazards and chemicals, training in health and safety, and overtime hours. Other changes included:

  • Revising the pathways to certification, which outline the environmental and management practices required in FJC and added a requirement of providing paid sick leave for both farms and food businesses.
  • Adding additional requirements for non-profits (including non-profit farms) and non-profit co-operatives.
  • Added new definitions of toxic materials and farm hazards, agroecological sustainability, hired labor, farm work, buyers, GMOs, cloning, transparency, democratic process, nanotechnology, transparency, whistleblower, working time, and family-scale farms.
  • Added an explanation of the kinds of farms that AJP supports, to clarify that size in acreage or sales is not the most important factor but rather who is in control and who benefits.

The revisions process included multiple measures of transparency and public consultation, including public access to the comments received and our response to them, including those comments which were not integrated into the standards.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) replaced QCS as the certifier for AJP’s Food Justice Certification program.


AJP added two new stakeholder groups to our governance: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers; and people who experience unjust good food access and lack of control over food choices.

AJP joined with allied organizations advocating for ethical food procurement at the University of Florida’s campus dining service, calling for environmental stewardship and regenerative agriculture, workers’ rights, local control of our food system, support for local small scale farmers, and racial justice. This group, which became known as the Food Justice League, wrote five cross-sector demands for UF to address in the negotiation of their new food service contract.


Building off our technical assistance work in the northeastern US, the AJP and partner organizations received two separate multi-year USDA grants to provide extensive technical assistance to farmers in New York State (NE ERME) and in the North Central Region (NCRSARE). The latter grant supports the growth of OEFFA’s Fair Farm Program, a counterpart to AJP’s in-house technical assistance team. The AJP also received generous funding from the National Cooperative Grocers Association to support our Social Justice Fund, allowing us to offer technical assistance and certification to community-scale farmers and BIPOC farmers at no cost.

The Florida Food Justice League coalition (which included AJP) joined with a strong and diverse student organizing campaign and successfully pressured the University of Florida to end their food service’s dependence on prison labor. This “Food Justice at UF Coalition” demanded that UF end all ties with Aramark due to its connection with prison labor.

This work to create ethical food procurement supply chains at UF paved the way for AJP to join with other local partners working to get public institutions to sign on to the Good Food Purchasing Program. This effort became one of the local campaigns of the national Good Food Communities network, initiated by the Food Chain Workers Alliance and HEAL Food alliance.


Lola’s Organic Farm (Georgia) achieved Food Justice Certification.

The National Cooperative Grocers Association again provided AJP funding to help grow our technical assistance program to support community-scale farmers.

The University of Florida announced it was ending its long-term contractual relationships with Aramark, a huge win for the Food Justice at UF coalition.


Roxbury Farm (New York) achieved Food Justice Certification.