Movement Building

People sit around a conference table as a woman writes on an easel at the front of the room.

Photo credit: David Crump, Farmworker Association of Florida.

“Solidarity across issues and populations is what makes movements big and powerful. Without that connection, we end up with disconnected groups, working in their issue silos, undermining each other, competing for attention and funding, not backing each other up and not building power.”

Dean Spade, Mutual Aid

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Fannie Lou Hamer

Moving towards justice in the food system

Immigrant farm workers and family and community farmers founded the Agricultural Justice Project as a coalition to unite their shared struggles. Since those early years we have expanded our coalition to include workers throughout the food system; Black, indigenous, and immigrant farmers; and all of our communities of eaters, especially those subjected to decades of disinvestment, exploitation, and structural violence.

Strong movements are the only way for regular people to win power and keep it, so our goal is to contribute to building the movement. With movement partners, we strive to build solidarity across different positions in the food system. We strive also to shift power towards the frontline communities whose land, labor, and means to life have been stolen to build a racial capitalist food system and national economy that’s extremely profitable for a select few.

Our movement-building work manifests in our programming in a few different ways:

Collaborations, coalition-building, and promoting the leadership of workers, farmers, & front-line communities

Pushing for fair food in institutions

Advocating for rigorous standards of fairness, rooted in democratic workplaces and democratic control over food systems

Collaborations & coalition-building

AJP co-founder Richard Mandelbaum (CATA) talks with farmworkers in Minnesota.

AJP co-founder Richard Mandelbaum (CATA) talks with farmworkers in Minnesota.

The AJP is fundamentally a coalition-based project. We began as a collaboration between farmworkers and farmers, and our governance and our programming all incorporate our multiple stakeholders. Our programs are also designed to keep building and growing cooperation among different stakeholder groups:

  • Workers & employers: Our Food Justice Certification standards promote collaborative work relationships through the basic elements of workplace democracy and reciprocity: freedom of association, good faith negotiations, due process discipline, safety committees, and more. By committing to FJC standards, employers invite their workers to help improve the business for mutual benefit.
  • Farmer & buyer: FJC standards embody basic reciprocity between farmers and wholesale buyers, requiring that prices and production agreements be fair and negotiated in good faith.
  • Farmer to farmer: The AJP strives to connect farmers who share an interest in fair practices. Because fairness is rarely discussed or supported by the institutions of US agriculture, peer support is crucial for farms to grow and develop their strategies for achieving fairness. We facilitate these peer connections through networking events, and we also share farmers’ knowledge and resources through our Farmer Toolkit. As of 2023 we also facilitate a Fair Farming discussion group on the Ag Solidarity Network, a non-profit social media platform for people in farming.
  • Workers, farmers, & the public: Our capitalist food system deliberately obscures the labor that goes into food production, but solidarity requires understanding and connecting with the people who work the land and grow our food. AJP helps educate the public on the actual working and living conditions of farm people, including through our oral history project, Whose Voice Is Missing. We also convene discussions around food justice and domestic fair trade, building collaborative relationships and promoting the leadership of communities who have been most harmed.

Fair food in institutions

Procuring food justice: grassroots solutions for reclaiming our public supply chains

Procuring Food Justice report by Food Chain Workers Alliance & HEAL Food Alliance. Artwork by Emitxin.

Communities across the US are pushing institutional food buyers to support supply chains that are local, ecological, and fair. AJP is a proud member of the Good Food Communities national campaign, a promising effort to bring together farmers, workers throughout the supply chain, and communities, to the benefit of all. GFC organizers described this work in their recent report Procuring Food Justice:

Over the last decade, Food Chain Workers Alliance and HEAL Food Alliance have worked with grassroots leaders to challenge the corporate control of institutional procurement markets and replace it with a different model: values-based food purchasing. The mechanism for carrying out this strategy is the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP). When public institutions purchase food according to community values, our taxpayer dollars contribute to a more democratic and equitable food system. By leveraging the power of big institutional contracts, we can demand that food corporations live up to our community values or make way for suppliers that will.

After successfully passing Good Food Purchasing Policies in ten cities—thereby influencing over $540 million in public food dollars—our members and close partners created the Good Food Communities (GFC) campaign to define the next iteration of our collective work. The GFC campaign builds on past successes by focusing on strengthening supplier transparency and justice for frontline workers and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

Our Food Justice Certification program is an official benchmark for fair production and fair sourcing in the purchasing guidelines of the Good Food Purchasing Program (as well as the purchasing criteria for Real Food Generation and Healthcare Without Harm). AJP General Coordinator Leah Cohen has taken an active role in the campaign to get public institutions in Alachua County, Florida, to adopt GFPP and the Real Food Standards, while also creatively applying this framework to other institutional food systems projects. Through our technical assistance program, we help growers to meet FJC standards and qualify for preferred status as a vendor under GFPP or other values-based procurement programs.

The GFC campaign aims to provide a range of benefits:

  • Public institutions provide communities with healthy, fresh food.
  • Public expenditures help build an economy that’s fair and equitable.
  • Securing preferential treatment in sourcing contracts for local, modestly-sized, fair farms.
  • Additional special preference for BIPOC farmers and producers.
  • Changing laws and regulations on bidding processes to allow price premiums for these farms.
  • Simplifying the procurement process to make it easier for growers to sell to institutions.
  • Ensuring living wages and fair working conditions for farmers and workers throughout the supply chain, and building the capacity of stakeholders to hold institutions and buyers accountable for their practices.

Learn more


Advocating rigorous standards of fairness

Two presenters in front of a screen that says Domestic Fair Trade Association

2015 meeting of the Domestic Fair Trade Association in Cambridge, MA.

With the rise of the fair trade movement, corporations face increased scrutiny of supply chains and growing demands for products that are fairly produced. One consequence is that many corporations try to project a public image of fairness and responsibility without meaningfully addressing the injustices and harms they impose on workers and farmers. The fair trade movement calls these superficial gestures “fair-washing,” which often manifests as loosening the standards of fair trade certification, creating competing certifications that are less rigorous, and limiting accountability by excluding workers and farmers from decision-making and oversight. This public relations game is one reason that fair trade certification has not delivered on many of its promises of improving livelihoods and working conditions for people on farms.

Pressures toward “fair-washing” have been around since the beginning of fair trade, and the AJP has always been an advocate for rigorous standards of fairness that are directly accountable to the workers and small-scale farmers who are most exploited. As founding members of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA, 2007-2018), the AJP helped bring together many different stakeholders to promote high standards of justice and accountability in food and agriculture. Corporate members gradually abandoned the DFTA, many of them forming their own corporate responsibility programs outside the consensus-based DFTA.

Worker groups involved in the DFTA continued to address workplace injustices through their existing coalitions, including the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the HEAL Food Alliance. Some of their work led to the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), pushing public institutions to leverage their procurement practices for social justice (see fair food in institutions, above). AJP’s FJC standards are a key part of GFPP’s “valued workforce” purchasing guidelines, and AJP is an active partner in Good Food Communities campaigns. The GFC campaigns focus on ensuring benefits to smaller-scale BIPOC producers and food chain workers by centering worker justice, racial justice, environmental justice, and transparency.

AJP has also contributed to raising the standards of other certifications and standard-setting bodies, including the Real Organic Project, Fair Trade USA, Bon Appetit’s Corporate Responsibility Program, Good Food Purchasing Program, Real Food Generation, and Healthcare Without Harm. In our consultations we continually stress the importance of both fair working conditions and direct accountability to frontline workers and communities.

Finally, we regularly provide testimony, expertise, and advocacy in collaboration with grassroots groups to improve the fairness of federal, state, and local policies, including

  • Pesticide exposure & buffer zones
  • Heat exposure protections
  • Justice for Black farmers
  • Immigration policies
  • The H-2A guestworker visa program
  • Farmworker housing regulations & enforcement
  • Fair labor and animal welfare in meat processing