If you go
What: An interfaith community event about farm workers rights in Immokalee and other communities
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church, 1225 Piper Blvd., Naples
For more information and schedule of events: 597-5410
In 1960, legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow presented the plight of Immokalee migrant workers in “Harvest of Shame.”
This weekend, 21 houses of worship, interfaith groups and community organizations will visualize solutions to it through ”Harvesting Hope,” a free, three-day event at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in North Naples.
“Harvesting Hope” will use art, discussion and education to examine the origins of poverty in Immokalee and other Florida farming communities, and will explore how faith-based justice efforts are helping to change the lives of farm worker families.
The event’s name is a subtle nod to Murrow’s powerful documentary of the past, but also an optimistic nod to the future, explains retired Rev. John Auer. Auer is one of several who will lead the event’s “Stand Up For Justice” workshop on Saturday.
The workshop aims to establish a context for justice work through personal experience and how it applies to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food. The coalition is one of the participating organizations of “Harvesting Hope.”
“50 years is enough of harvesting shame,” Auer said. “There’s something gracious about moving from shame to hope.”
“Harvesting Hope” begins on Friday at 12 p.m., when WGCU’s talk radio program “Sound off with Sasha” will be devoted to the discussing the event. Then, on Friday at 7 p.m., an Honoring Celebration will be held in the church’s Fellowship Hall. The candlelight service will recognize area individuals who have been recognized at the state, national and international level for their work on behalf of farm worker rights, said Jackie Vanden Dorpel, a co-chair for the event.
“We’re all part of this work together,” she said.
During the mid-90s, Vanden Dorpel taught a parenting program in Immokalee. Her parents had been in the Foreign Service, and she was no stranger to difficult living conditions, yet what she discovered in Immokalee stunned her, Vanden Dorpel recalled.
The small agricultural community felt like a Third World country, she said.
Auer’s first experience with Immokalee came in the 1980s. He regularly vacationed in Naples and visited Immokalee to do volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. In follow-up trips through the years, Auer has been impressed by the spirit and strength of the town’s residents, as well as their ability to organize and achieve a goal.
“We tend, in the Anglo church, to separate the spiritual and the material, the action and the faith, but I think in the Latino community, it’s more integrated,” he said.
The idea for the “Harvesting Hope” event began percolating about 10 months ago, and quickly evolved as more community and faith groups came forward wanting to be a part of it, Vanden Dorpel explained.
The timing of the event is especially relevant, noted Jordan Buckley, a member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, which works with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
As part of its Campaign for Fair Food, the coalition has demanded better wages and working conditions for migrant farm workers, and introduced the penny-per-pound program. Under regular wages, farm workers are paid about $50 for picking 100 buckets of tomatoes, or 3,200 pounds. But if they receive an extra penny for every pound of tomatoes they pick, they would make $82. It’s estimated that the penny-per-pound initiative could raise a farm worker’s income from $10,000 to $17,000 annually.
In recent months, the penny-per-pound program has enjoyed a boost as the coalition successfully enlisted the support of three of the largest tomato growers in Florida.
“We’re basically on the cusp of a new industry,” said Buckley, who is a co-chair for the “Harvesting Hope” event.
Still, he notes, there is more work to be done. The coalition continues to work to garner the penny-per-pound commitment of retailers and has specifically targeted Florida-based supermarket chain Publix. For that reason, the “Harvesting Hope” event will also include what organizers are calling a “Peaceful Public Witness” event at a Naples Publix at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
To prepare for the protest, participating “Harvesting Hope” organizations have been collecting pennies in tomato picking buckets, which they plan to present to Publix representatives.
“If they can’t afford the pennies to give to these workers, we’re going to give them these pennies,” Vanden Dorpel explained. “It’s symbolic.”
Other events for the weekend include an opportunity to view the Modern-Day Slavery Museum, which is a replica of trucks involved in a recent slavery operation accompanied by displays about the history and evolution of slavery in Florida. The museum has traveled throughout the United States, including to Washington D.C. Closer to home, it has been viewed in Immokalee by Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor.
On Saturday from 2 to 3:30 p.m., a keynote panel moderated by Florida Gulf Coast University President Wilson G. Bradshaw will discuss “Justice in the Fields and Beyond.”
Youngsters are welcome at the event, and a Saturday “Children’s Time” is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. On Sunday at 4 p.m., there will be a “Let My People Go” concert organized by The Choir Project.
Buckley believes “Harvesting Hope” will not only bring awareness, but also inspiration.
“The aim is for people in Naples to realize what has been accomplished through partnership with farmworkers and taking action for justice, but also that the future of the industry hinges on the sustained participation of conscientious consumers,” Buckley said.