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The Carletonian

Bon Appetit Fellows present “Stories from the Fields,” explain farming industry

< wondered what it’s like to be a farmer?

Last Tuesday, two Fellows from the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation gave a presentation titled “Stories from the Field”, which covered Carleton’s food service’s methodology, farm workers’ rights, how Bon Appétit tries to provide sustainable food for its patrons, and American farmers’ working conditions.

Vera Chang ‘09, the West Coast Bon Appétit Fellow and Carleton alum, and Dayna Burtness, the Midwest Fellow and St. Olaf alum ‘07, told various stories of farmers’ good and bad experiences with the land while explaining how Bon Appétit tries to support local farmers through Carleton College’s food service. They also covered how Bon Appétit tries to enact its self-stated mission to “Create significant, permanent, and positive change in the environment.”  Finally, Chang and Burtness related how students can make a difference in their agricultural community, without being directly involved with farm work.

Few truly know what a farmer’s job entails. Even though there are an estimated 3 million farmers in the U.S., many of the degrading details of their work are kept secret from the general public.

Chang explained how farm work is one of the most undesirable jobs in the U.S. because of exposure to the extreme weather conditions, pesticides, and other chemicals for long hours as well as their low average annual salary of about $11,000.  Exposure to dangerous chemicals and the risk factor of operating dangerous machinery causes the average life expectancy of a farmer to be only 49 years old.

With such poor working conditions, one would assume that farmers have a plethora of federal benefits for their labors. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. For instance, there is no federal minimum wage (for small farms), no federal overtime pay, and no federally mandated work breaks for any registered U.S. farmer. Furthermore, farm workers are federally excluded from the right to protest or go on strike. Because of these harsh conditions, Bon Appétit makes farm workers’ rights a priority when deciding where to purchase their food.

As part of living out the values of their mission statement, Bon Appétit’s CEO created a Farm-to-Fork philosophy in 1999 because he wanted to talk to farmers about their general situations. To prevent farm worker abuse, Bon Appétit created a code of conduct to help their farm workers.

“Bon Appétit is unique in that we’re transparent about what happens to farmers and where our food comes from,” Danya Burtness noted about the Food-to-Fork program, “Our goal is to keep it owner operated when coordinating with farms and to provide a low carbon diet for our food services.”

Bon Appétit has created a set of kitchen principles as well to ensure good quality food. Some of these principles include eliminating trans fats from all meals, using shell eggs that are cage free and certified humane, and using meat that has not been fed antibiotic feed.

Chang and Burtness have had the opportunity to make connections with local farms and visit farms around the country; they shared some of these, stories to further exemplify Bon Appetit’s commitment to creating a more agrarian friendly world.

One of the stories was about Hidden Stream Farm in Erin, Minnesota. The two farmers who run the farm were having financial difficulties a few years back. They raise and sell grass-fed meat, including their famous nitrous-free bacon. The CEO of Bon Appétit met them at a farmers market and started to talk with them about their farm. When he learned that they made great bacon and were in financial trouble, he immediately offered them a contract. Now, they supply four extra pigs per month to St. Olaf and Carleton.
“Because of Bon Appétit’s core philosophy and dedication to supporting local farmers, we have the flexibility to keep local farmers in busines,s” Burtness emphasized.

But not only does Bon Appétit help sustain local farmers, it also supports humanitarian efforts. One of Carleton and St. Olaf’s vegetable and fruit suppliers, Lanni Orchanrds in Michigan, is part of the H2A program. With this program, foreign farmers are hired to work nine months out of the year for the orchard, then get three months of vacation to go home, all while being paid full wages for the entire year. For many immigrant farmers, this is a luxurious treatment. Not only are they being paid legally, unlike so many other immigrant farmers, but they get vacation time as well, to visit their homes and bring back their wages. Many of these farmers are coming from tattered backgrounds; their families’ only source of income is what they make at the orchards.

Being able to support farms like Lanni Orchards and Hidden Streams is why Bon Appétit strives to support local farmers; not only are farmers being treated fairly, but patrons, get to eat fresh, local foods. It’s an all around win-win situation. 

Students can do their part to help as well. The method Chang suggests does not necessarily include working as a farm rights activist or volunteering at local farms. Instead, “I believe in the power of change,” continued Chang, “we vote with our forks and where we buy from.”

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