Healthy workers, healthy label

  • Family farmers, from left, Diana, Ken, Barbara, Bob and Bridget Bailey, and Elizabeth Bailey Nisley

    COURTESY AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Harvesting Poison."

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.

“I’m trying to make an effort to be responsible to my employees,” says Diana Bailey, who employs 400 seasonal workers, three months a year.

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 spraying.

“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, Diana’s cousin.

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 Thriftway.

“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 equitable wages.”

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.

For now, 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.”

High Country News Classifieds
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • ASSISTANT TOWN ATTORNEY
    Town of Jackson, Wyoming, $66,700 - $88,000 DOQ, full benefits. Law Degree Required. Rental housing options available. For a complete job description and to apply,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...