Publix Truth Tour crew brings Fair Food gospel to Publix’s newest market, North Carolina!

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nc2Educational swing through the Tar Heel state gets warm reception from student, faith, community and corporate allies…

Over the course of four days in North Carolina — days that took them on a whirlwind tour through Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Asheville — the Publix Truth Tour crew met face to face with hundreds of new allies, consumers of every stripe who are gearing up to spearhead the Fair Food movement in Publix’s newest market.  In rooms packed with community leaders and consumers of conscience, the crew told the story of Publix’s indefensible obstinance, of the company’s four-year rejection of a proven solution to longstanding farmworker abuse. Everywhere they went, the Tour crew’s message was heard loud and clear by North Carolinians ready to swell the ranks of the Fair Food movement, from the state chapter of the NAACP to students at UNC.  If the few days in North Carolina were any indication, Publix will be facing a strong headwind as it pursues its plans for expansion around the state.  

For an even closer look at the North Carolina leg of the Publix Truth Tour, we turn once again to the crew itself, which provided the following first person report from the field:

Durham’s Eno River UU Fellowship hosted our very first North Carolina stop, where a large crowd gathered for an evening of presentation and discussion on the groundbreaking gains of the Fair Food Program. Flanked by a wide range of notable organizations throughout the “triangle” — including the NC Council of Churches, Witness for Peace, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Student Action with Farmworkers (pictured below with Truth Tour crew members), Triangle Friends of Farmworkers, and more — we joined a panel discussion in response to the film “Harvest of Dignity,” an exposé on decades of dismal pay and conditions in the fields. As the film finished and CIW representatives began to outline the new day of respect for human rights emerging in Florida’s agriculture industry, as well as Publix’s refusal to do its part to support the reforms and the company’s plans to expand to their communities, the various organizations present resolved to see to it that Publix receives no welcome in their state. The lively discussion —  including a stream of ideas from the writers, chefs, religious leaders and organizers present — was still going strong when the building finally closed down at the end of the night.

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At UNC Chapel Hill Tuesday night, we were hosted by FLO (Fair, Local and Organic) Foods who brought together a wide swath of the campus community.  Students took part in a theater piece (photo at top right of today’s post) dramatizing the weight of Publix’s immense market power as it presses down on workers at the bottom of the tomato supply chain.  On a side note, it also didn’t go unnoticed that Chapel Hill’s campus is home to a certain red-headed penny pincher from Ohio.  Given the energy and drive we encountered, we’ll certainly have more to say on this later. 
 
Next, we headed off to Charlotte, where we were welcomed by none other than North Carolina NAACP President, Kojo Nantambu (below, center). Understanding the power of the Fair Food Program to address the generations-old legacy of exploitation in the fields, Mr. Nantambu called for a press conference immediately following our meeting. As the cameras rolled, he publicly announced that North Carolina’s ever-powerful NAACP would be standing with the CIW. If Publix didn’t join the Fair Food Program, he said, the NAACP would be taking up the issue within city government and state legislatures. 
 
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 But while Charlotte is new to the Campaign for Fair Food where Publix is concerned, it’s also home to Compass Group, the nation’s largest food service provider and a key partner in the Fair Food Program since 2009. It was a delight, then, to be invited to lunch (right) at headquarters with Compass Group’s Veronica Ospina, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications.  As we ate, we were visited by members of Compass’s produce buying arm, who stopped by to communicate their respect for the impressive and essential work undertaken in the fields. 
 
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Their hospitality reminded us of the words of Cheryl Queen, VP of Compass Group Communications (and fellow marcher along the 200-mile trek to Publix, unfortunately out of town while we were in Charlotte).  In an article she penned for the PC(USA)‘s Horizons Magazine after joining the FFP, Cheryl writes:  “My experience in meetings with people who could be considered ‘opponents’ has taught me to find the commonality, the shared human connection and experiences that slowly build to trust and partnership.”  We couldn’t agree more.  
 
Then it was west to Asheville, NC, and the beautiful mountain country of western North Carolina.  Just outside of Asheville, Warren Wilson College welcomed us with open arms on Thursday morning.  After a tour of the breathtaking campus nestled in the Swannanoa Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we were ushered into a number of classroom presentations.  Students listened with rapt attention as farmworkers explained the advances underway in Florida’s fields and Publix’s planned expansion into the area.  The volume of questions and comments meant we had to cut the discussion short in most classes, but luckily the Eco Justice Crew had planned a campus-wide forum on Thursday evening (below).  Standing before a full house, CIW members underlined students’ indispensable energy and creativity throughout the history of the Campaign for Fair Food.  
 
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Finally,  we couldn’t leave North Carolina before meeting with community organizations fighting for their own due respect in fields, factories and homes across the state.  The Western North Carolina Workers Center (pictured below) in Morganton and Nuestro Centro in Asheville offered seats at tables full of tamales around which we shared challenges, successes and strategies for protecting human rights from the shores of Florida to the mountains of the Tar Heel state.
 
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The North Carolina leg of the Publix Truth Tour is a wrap.  Check back soon for more as the Tour crew heads to Tennessee! 

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