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Santiago Perez, a representative from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, holds up a sign while he walks into Wendy's restaurant on Court Street on Tuesday. Protesters worked with the coalition to ask Wendy's and Ohio University to pay more money for tomatoes in order to help pay farm workers higher wages. 

Ohio University students "March for Fair Food" and deliver letter to President McDavis

Students gathered in support of social responsibility in food purchasing and the agricultural industry. 

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of Ohio University students hand-delivered a letter to President Roderick McDavis urging the university to commit to purchasing "real food."

The delivery came at the tail end of the “March for Fair Food,” hosted by the student group Real Food Challenge OU. The march started at the top of Baker Center and ended at Cutler Hall. About 20 people participated.

The Real Food Challenge is a national campaign to have universities purchase “real food" rather than food from industrial farms. Real Food Challenge OU aims to have 20 percent of the food the university purchases to be "real food" by 2020.

"Real food," as the challenge defines it in its food guide, is local and community based, fair in its treatment of workers, ecologically sound, and humane in its treatment of animals.

Ohio University’s Culinary Services purchases some food from local partners, but some students said they are skeptical and want more transparency.

Daniel Kington, a sophomore studying English, said one benefit of having the university accept the challenge would be more transparency in where food comes from.

“The university’s definition of local is vague at best,” Kington, a former Post columnist, said.

Real Food Challenge OU was joined by Natali Rodriguez, a member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, and Santiago Perez, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Rodriguez and Perez also spoke at an event called “The Struggle For Farmworker Justice” following the march.  

Before its march to Cutler Hall, the group marched to Wendy’s, 40 S. Court St., where Rodriguez and Perez tried to deliver a letter to the store's manager, urging the store to sign on as a partner to the Fair Food Program.

The Fair Food Program, a project the Coalition of Immokalee Workers launched in 2011, seeks to protect the rights of farmworkers and promotes partnerships between workers, producers and retail buyers, according to its website. The coalition is based in Florida and deals primarily with tomato growers and farmers.

The program's participating buyers include Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway. Perez said the group was focusing on Wendy’s because of the coalition's work with some of the largest fast food corporations.

“Currently, of the five largest corporations, we are working with four of them,” Perez said.

Florida and California annually account for two-thirds to three-fourths of all commercially produced fresh-market tomatoes in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“As Ohioans, issues of food production hit close to home,” Paul Eselgroth, a senior studying computer science, said. 

Eselgroth, who grew up in southern Ohio with a father who farmed, said small farmers have suffered as the presence of large corporations has grown in the agricultural industry.

“This is literally in our backyards,” Eselgroth said. 

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Anna Toborg, a junior studying plant biology and a member of Real Food Challenge OU, said the treatment of workers is also a feminist issue due to sexual assault of immigrant farm workers.

Toborg said workers who have been sexually assaulted can’t speak out because of their legal status and concern for their jobs because they depend heavily on those wages.

“The working conditions in the agricultural industry are some of the worst you’ll find,” Perez said.


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