The Food Chain Workers Alliance

Richard Mandelbaum is an herbalist, activist, and member of the Brooklyn Food Coalition who divides his time with his family between Brooklyn and Sullivan County, NY. Until December 2011 he served on the board of the FCWA.

Food Chain Workers Alliance
The following is excerpted from the FCWA website, where more information on its mission and work can be found:

Working conditions throughout the U.S. food chain – from farm to fork – were discussed in an earlier blog post:

The Food Chain Workers Alliance is a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain. The Alliance was founded in July 2009. The Alliance works together to build a more sustainable food system that respects workers’ rights, based on the principles of social, environmental and racial justice, in which everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.

The following is the mission statement of the Alliance:
Food is a human right, and the human rights of those who produce our food, from field to table, should be respected as well. By coming together in the Food Chain Workers Alliance, our member organizations will have greater power to improve the wages and working conditions of food system workers and their families. In this way we can challenge institutionalized racism and balance out the immense corporate power over our food system in order to work towards ending poverty and therefore hunger, as well as to truly achieve sustainable agricultural practices, environmental justice, and respect for workers’ and community rights.

The Alliance’s work focuses on: leadership development and solidarity, policy and standards, campaigns, and education.

  • The current members of FCWA are:
  • Brandworkers International (NYC)
  • Center for New Community (Midwest)
  • Coalition of Immokalee Workers (FL)
  • Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas / Farmworker Support Committee (NJ/PA/DE/MD)
  • International Labor Rights Forum
  • Just Harvest USA
  • Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center (AR)
  • Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (NY)
  • Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (Washington, D.C., Miami, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City)
  • UNITE HERE Food Service Division (nationwide)
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 (southern CA)
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 (NYC)
  • Warehouse Workers for Justice (IL)

The Alliance is a sponsor of the Brooklyn Food Conference and its member organizations will have a strong showing in the workshops throughout the day. The Brooklyn Food Coalition’s new labor committee will ensure that these issues will be a central part of BFC’s work going forward.

In addition, the Alliance will be holding a conference of its own – Food Workers and Food Justice - on June 6, 2012, here in New York City. (For more information or to register go to: The day will begin with the release of the FCWA report THE HANDS THAT FEED US: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain - the first-ever comprehensive report on the state of food workers in the U.S. and workers will speak about how the report reflects their own experiences working in the food system. That will be followed by breakout sessions to focus on the policy recommendations in the report. Right after lunch, there will be a panel focused on the policy initiatives of three New York City-based FCWA member groups: the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York’s proposed policy to tie liquor licenses to employment standards and the sale of healthy, nutritious food; UFCW Local 1500 and ALIGN’s efforts to require community involvement and good jobs to funding support for new grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods; and Brandworkers International’s effort to include labor standards for any food manufacturing businesses that receive loans and other financial incentives in the City’s Economic Development Corporation.

Fair Food, Fair Jobs: The Restaurant Worker’s Role in the Food Movement

by Holly Howard | & Araby Smyth | Manager, Palo Santo in Park Slope

Consumers hold restaurants accountable for everything from where they source their ingredients, to the materials they use to build their establishments, right down to their sanitary practices. But no one holds them accountable for their labor practices.

The average wage is less than $9 an hour and over 90% of restaurant workers lack health insurance and sick days. The work environment is physically and psychologically taxing with very few opportunities for career advancement.

What if restaurants offered fairer jobs alongside just food? Improving the jobs of the 14 million Americans working in restaurants would have significant positive impact on our communities and the economy.

The Brooklyn Food Conference is the perfect place to talk about how the jobs of restaurant workers could be and are being changed for the better and how to step it up and get more people involved. We applaud the restaurants that are supporting the conference and invite more to do so.

Join us for a workshop about how we are setting a precedent for progressive labor practices in Brooklyn restaurants. Hear from folks who work at Egg/Parish Hall, Palo Santo/Fort Reno, Peaches Hot House and Pies ‘n’ Thighs. We want a future where everyone has a seat at the dinner table.

Urban Farmer: Micheline Brown

Written by Angela Martenez for the Brooklyn Food Coalition
Park Slope urban farmer Micheline Brown followed the sheep. Not as she slept, though they did lead her to sweet dreams… that came true.

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Brown loved sheep and dreamed of one day having her own sheep farm. She remembers knitting, sewing, quilting, crocheting –anything to do with textiles (and the sheep who create them). “I’ve always been a maker,” she says, “Anything to do with your hands.” After college, Brown’s love of textiles and her craft-making hands led her to the Big Apple where she became a costumer for hit shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” Broadway’s “Rent” as well as at the Metropolitan Opera.

Three years ago, Brown had landed a position with CBS’ award-winning “The Good Wife,” a show she describes as “awesome.” And yet, as much as she loved her work, Brown realized something was missing. She wanted a career that felt more personally fulfilling, one that aligned with her politics in a way that her costuming work didn’t. Brown decided to become a farmer, as many in her family had been. “My grandparents grew up on farms where they would grow their own food.” But she saw a difference between the farming of her grandparents’ generation and modern agricultural practice. “They had diversified farms. Now, a lot of my family has giant fields where they grow corn and soybeans. You don’t see vegetable farms like you would a hundred years ago. So the produce in stores throughout the United States is trucked in from California, Florida, Mexico, Holland… Monoculture is a huge problem throughout the world, but especially in North American farmland. It’s degrading our eco-systems and heavily dependent on fossil fuels. And because there’s no diversity of crops, they have huge pest problems. So they’re dependent on petroleum pesticides and herbicides.”

Rather than move back to the Midwest to hone her farming skills, Brown knew she wanted to stay in the city. “I’m African-American and it’s really important for me to live among other black people and people of all sorts.” She realized she could grow food where she lived when she learned about urban agriculture projects around the country. After monthly weekend-long intensives at Will Allen’s renowned Growing Power in Milwaukee, Brown quit her job. For the better part of a year, she immersed herself in urban farming at Growing Power’s Milwaukee and Chicago farms, as well at D-Town Farm run by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. She even found a way to weave her past into her budding new career as a food grower: “I started teaching teenagers how to knit and crochet in the winter because things were slowing down.” Somewhere, a sheep was undoubtedly bleating in approval.

Soon after returning to Park Slope, Brown joined Project Eats, a self-described ArtAction that combines art and social strategies to create sustainably-grown, local food, business training and community development.

In partnership with public high schools and community-based organizations, Project Eats helps grow fresh vegetables—from arugula to Romanesco-on sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx and sell them to community and farmers’ markets and restaurants. These food-growing efforts fill a dire need in marginalized urban communities. “If there’s a grocery store in a black or Latino neighborhood, they’re not necessarily as good or with the freshest food as other neighborhoods. Go to any bodega in Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, East New York – all the stuff is full of sugar,” explains Brown. In addition, they help with a line of health and body products called Brie’s Garden, working with high school students to mix and package products like lip and tattoo balms using herbs grown at Project Eats’ farms. The students then learn business-planning and profit-sharing skills by creating enterprises that sell the products. Some of the proceeds go back to Project Eats farms and fellowships for other community members to train with Project Eats.

One of the biggest challenges Brown sees in urban farming is maximizing production with limited space. “We grow on less than 2 acres,” she explains, “So we try to grow as much food in that space as we can, like leafy greens that don’t take as much time to grow as grains do.” But the real key, Brown explains, is improving the soil with compost. “The problem is there’s a lot of contaminated soil directly underneath where we grow, mostly heavy metals such as lead and mercury.” Brown sees opportunities for Project Eats to increase compost production by using NYC waste material. “We’re hoping to take this nutrient-rich waste that would normally be going into a landfill and turn it into healthy, viable soil.” Brown is teaching composting at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens as well as to Project Eats’ high-school students.“I’m a fan of perma-composting with worms. “There’s a community garden with an area that has a lot of trees, which isn’t great for growing broccoli but where we can grow good soil with big worm bins.”

Beyond the challenges of urban agriculture, Brown finds connections with farmers of all generations to be one of the most rewarding aspects of her new career. “I get to work with kids all the time and that’s a really beautiful thing.” At a farming site in Brownsville, she had an unexpected surprise. “We had a bunch of stuff still growing since it was a mild winter, things that got sweeter when they stayed in the ground. I asked these boys if they wanted some broccoli. They were a little hesitant at first. But every day they’ve come back. They’ve never had broccoli that tasted that good. We have moms come who are waiting for the school bus at the end of the school day, neighbors walking by. You don’t get that in rural areas.”
Brown remembers one fellow farmer in particular. “One of our elders came in to prep her beds and harvest all these collard greens,” she explains. “We have water that comes from the hydrant and don’t have a big sink. So we rigged something up and washed her collards and put them in bags for her family and neighbors. She told me about when she first moved to Brownsville in 1958. She asked if I was going to be there for the rest of the summer and was glad there was going to be someone there so she wouldn’t be there alone. She has knowledge that I don’t. And I get to honor the traditions and wisdom of our elders. It’s deeply, deeply satisfying to be able to watch stuff grow, to watch people enjoy the food. And to listen to people’s stories which I couldn’t when I worked in film and television.”

For her, the challenges of each day are myriad and rewarding. “Farming uses every single muscle,” she explains, “from my biceps to my brain. It’s constant problem-solving and being resourceful.”

Brown’s can-do approach helps even more dreams come true through Sisters Grow, an organization she founded for food-growing women and girls of African descent. “When I started, I looked around to work with other African-American women, to get inspired and ask for help. I didn’t find that so I created it.” What began as a Facebook group eventually turned into a road trip. “We drove a caravan from upstate New York to Detroit and from DC/Maryland to Virginia. We’d stop and meet with black women farmers and growers along the way,” says Brown. “We’re keeping each other inspired and motivated.” Now, members of Sisters Grow have begun working together, expanding their food-growing potential. Brown hopes Sisters Grow will one day offer scholarships to young women who dream of becoming farmers but can’t afford to intern for low stipends. That’s not open to a lot of kids of color. A scholarship fund can supplement the income these farms pay.”

Brown sees Brooklyn Food Coalition’s mission resonating strongly with her values. “Fair access to food, ethical treatment of all the food workers-whether you’re a farmer in Brooklyn or upstate, whether you work at a restaurant or a grocery store—and supporting the environment – these three tenets are important to me.” She brings this passion and her commitment to creating community and food justice to her work as a BFC steering committee member.

Brown is excited about the inclusive approach BFC has taken in developing the upcoming Brooklyn Food Conference. “Faith-based organizations, families, programming for teenagers, workshops for growing your own food, information on fracking – there’s something for everyone. Brooklyn is this amazing dynamic place. We have such a diversity of people and types of food – all ethnic backgrounds and all the places in the US, it’s everybody.” Brown will be speaking on a panel for Black Urban Growers (BUGS) on food justice, in addition to helping develop workshops and coordinate logistics for the conference.

Ultimately, Brown believes the urban farm movement can be a crucial part of creating an alternative food system where communities are in control of their own food sources. “I would like to see a lot more of our food grown locally. There’s so much space that could be used for growing food so that we’re not so dependent on trucking our food around. People are always so surprised to hear about urban farming. I would like it not to be a novelty.”

Food Systems Network NYC’s Interview with Nancy Romer

Reposted from Food Systems Network NYC

In anticipation of the second Brooklyn Food Conference on May 12th, Rosalin Luetum touched base with Nancy Romer (pictured left), the General Coordinator of the Coalition, to learn how the ‘movement’ has made strides and what the priority areas are now.

Rosalin Luetum (RL): The Brooklyn Food Coalition effort has been an impressive grass roots movement since it kicked off with the 2009 conference. Lots has happened in Brooklyn around food in particular over these last 3 years. As you anticipate and plan for this next and much bigger conference, we have some questions about the developments in this ‘movement’ from 2009 until now. Over the last three years:

RL: What would you say are the most significant developments in the ‘good food movement’ in Brooklyn?

Nancy Romer (NR): The biggest change has been in people’s consciousness. It has been a huge leap forward in the food movement. With that change has come the cross-fertilization of ideas in areas such as urban agriculture, providing access to healthy foods for all, sustainable agriculture, school food, and justice for food workers.

Awareness has been the biggest and most important piece, and there are a lot of other smaller pieces under that. For example, in terms of urban agriculture, more people are growing food at home and tending home gardens. The anti-fracking movement is exciting and powerful. With food workers, there are important campaigns shining a lot on sweatshops working to change current work conditions. The food co-op movement has been growing, and parents are working to improve the food in their kids’ schools.

RL: What in your view have been the short term ‘successes’?

NR: In addition to what I mentioned earlier, other short term success are less quantifiable. In the last five years, there has been an attitude change towards food. People are eating and thinking differently. There are people who don’t have access to healthy food and others who don’t seek it out. What’s important is to have people that are able to work with each other toward the shared goal of a better food system. Legislatively, two new pieces of legislation are coming up this week in City Council, one on improving school food and the other on living wages for workers—both key demands in the food movement. We’ve also had some small successes around farm to café and local sourcing in the last Child Nutrition Bill. The US Farm Bill will likely support some more small farm initiatives.

RL: What are the most difficult challenges that lie ahead? (Read the whole article.)

NYC Council Members Partner with BFC on School Food Reform

Brad Lander and Gale Brewer, City Council members from Park Slope and the Upper West Side recognize that there has been great progress when it comes to what our kids eat in school, but more needs to be done. writes about they’re desire to bring more change to school food and their partnership with the Brooklyn Food Coalition in making that a reality.

Milk Not Jails!

Written by Becca Kinsella for the Brooklyn Food Coalition

Lauren Melodia | Milk Not Jails

Lauren Melodia of Bedstuy, Brooklyn is not new to the food movement. Having spent the last seven years working in community gardens, as a staff member at local farmers markets and most recently managing a local farm share in Bedstuy, her collaboration with others to start the Milk Not Jails project may be seen as an extension of her previous experience. Lauren, in collaboration with others, started Milk Not Jails to simultaneously support local farmers and decrease rural upstate communities’ dependency on the prison system. The constituencies supported by the criminal justice system are the same as those supported by the agriculture system. Therefore, Milk Not Jails seeks to combine efforts and tackle both issues at the same time. Lauren explains, “for those that are politically active, we all want to get involved in one movement or one issue at a time, but everything is so interconnected. What we’re trying to do with Milk Not Jails is see how different movements can support each other.”

Milk Not Jails is grassroots campaign that has been volunteer run since it was founded in March 2010. The volunteers that comprise Milk Not Jails are urban and rural residents of New York state, food enthusiasts, prison families, farmers, and formerly incarcerated people. As mentioned, Milk Not Jails’ volunteers have two immediate goals for New York State. They would like to see communities invest in the agricultural economy in rural areas of New York. Milk Not Jails is concerned for the future of the food industry as it has been industrialized and continues to move further from a regional industry to a more global focused industry. The volunteers at Milk Not Jails believe that small farming and heritage processes are more sustainable than the global systems that exist but international policies make it more and more difficult for the small family farms or farms with animal friendly processes to survive. Secondly, Milk Not Jails aims to end the dependency on New York’s dysfunctional prison system. Lauren explains the dysfunction that exists in the criminal justice system, “there is no interest in crime prevention but rather an encouraged dependency on the system to serve as an economy for rural communities.”

Melodia with co-organizer Tychist Baker after being unlawfully arrested in Buffalo, NY

Despite being a young organization, Milk Not Jails has already seen many successes. Lauren notes that the campaign is built on relationships, both political and economical, that are mutually beneficial. In the past two years Milk Not Jails has gained the support of thirty criminal justice organizations, reached out to two hundred fifty farmers, and established rapport with individuals from both urban and rural areas. Lauren emphasizes that the key to establishing these relationships is coming up with a new and creative way to discuss issues that are not novel but rather have existed for some time without a means of discussing. Milk Not Jails is framing the importance of eating local or consuming from local farms in a very new way which is why being a part of networks such as the Brooklyn Food Coalition is so important to spreading the message in the

Milk Not Jail’s participation in the Brooklyn Food Conference will help educate the population in Brooklyn that is excited about eating fresh local produce. Brooklynites will learn about how consumption of these locally farmed goods will result in a movement against the dysfunctional policing that happens in their communities and will improve the food industry in their state. Milk Not Jails will be providing information from their table at the BFC about where residents can purchase locally sourced milk. For more information visit them online:

Official Conference Program Released

It’s finally here!! Thanks to our amazing Programming Committee the official 2012 Brooklyn Food Conference Program is available for download on our website. This beautifully designed 92 page document is packed with information on the workshops, cooking demonstrations, film screenings, Youth and children’s activities as well as plenary speakers and all our sponsors!

Cooking Demonstrations Announced!

For all you food lovers and chef’s at heart, we just posted the Cooking Demonstrations page on the website. Here’s a sampling of what’s in store and please visit the website to see a complete list of all the demos!

Wilted Dandelion Greens with Hot Garlic Dressing and Garlic Chips
Bryant Terry, Eco Chef, Food Activist
Bryant will prepare Wilted Dandelion Greens with Hot Garlic Dressing and Garlic Chips recipe. Dandelion greens offer a high amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. This recipe is a health-supportive twist on the southern/ African American classic “Wilted Dandelion Greens with Hot Bacon Dressing” found in Jessica B. Harris’s book The Welcome Table.

Whipping Up Healthy Meals with WIC
Callista Falsia, Public Health Solutions, Neighborhood WIC
Calista will share simple recipes for active families, on a budget, using low-cost foods that can be purchased with WIC Vouchers.

Healthy Substitutions to Support Allergy-free and Vegan Diets
Juarline Stavrinos, Allergy Free Cooking, Baby! Inc.
Juarline will demonstrate how to use healthy, organic, alternative ingredients to substitute dairy, gluten and eggs while making crepes.

Snack Happy: Healthy Snacks for Growing Kids
Trina O’Boyle, Happy Family Organics
Learn to make easy, healthy delicious snacks for kids. Will also cover: using organic ingredients and whole foods, importance of exposing children to variety of foods/flavors, snacking tips and healthy snacks on the go, non-food ingredients to avoid, getting children involved in cooking.