The Bailey family grows more than cherries on their 1,500-acre orchard in The Dalles, Ore. The fourth-generation farmers are also trying to nurture worker-friendly conditions.
They offer employees decent
housing, such as modular trailers and small brick houses, equipped
with showers, toilets and air conditioning, and they help provide
access to daycare and healthcare.
to make an effort to be responsible to my employees,” says
Diana Bailey, who employs 400 seasonal workers, three months a
The effort extends to how the crops are sprayed. The
Baileys use a different, much less-toxic chemical cocktail than
that used by many other orchards. The commonly used
organophosphates are nerve toxins that kill insects by paralyzing
their nervous systems. Effective and relatively cheap, they can
wipe out an array of bugs in just three or four sprayings a season.
But that’s not always a good thing, says Bailey: The nerve
toxins also wipe out beneficial insects, such as ladybugs. They can
hurt farmworkers, too.
Instead, for a decade the Baileys
have been using pesticides that target specific pests by mimicking
the females’ pheromones (secretions that influence behavior),
confusing the males and thereby disrupting the mating process. The
Baileys lose 3 percent of their crop to bugs; if they used heftier
pesticides, they would likely lose nothing. The pheromones cost
slightly more, but the Baileys say it’s worth it: Their trees
are healthier, and not one farmworker has gotten sick from the
“We have 90 percent of our workers coming
back every year, and those employees are experienced pickers.
That’s good for our bottom line,” says Bridget Bailey,
The Baileys’ commitment to
minimizing pesticides has earned them a special new certification
that generates interest in their product. The Food Alliance, a
Portland-based nonprofit, has created a label to help consumers
identify growers whose products are raised under such healthier
working conditions (HCN, 2/17/03: Eco-groovy food for skinny).
Alliance-certified fruits and vegetables must be grown and
harvested by sustainable farming practices, with little or no
pesticide use. The Baileys and more than 100 other growers in the
Northwest, Idaho and Montana are now certified by The Food
Alliance, and the label is showing up in grocery chains such as
“We want to recognize farmers who are
looking at the whole picture,” says Rebecca Siplak of The
Food Alliance. “(An) organic label assures that workers
aren’t exposed to pesticides, but it doesn’t address
other labor issues, such as good housing, access to health care or
The Food Alliance has its critics,
who point out that inspectors only visit certified farms once every
three years and that farmworkers have no role in creating the
certification. Even low levels of pesticides don’t guarantee
worker safety, they say. Farmworker advocates like the United Farm
Workers call for a “fair trade” label, which would be
more concerned with wages than with pesticides.
the Baileys see The Food Alliance as a good way to certify their
family’s long-standing concern for workers. Bridget Bailey
remembers, “My grandfather always said that migrant labor was
the beginning or end of his business.”