The Food System’s Invisible Workforce


When we discuss the fragility of the global food system, we often focus on stressors such as a rapidly changing climate and a petroleum-dependent supply chain.

But, as Leanne Simon, the Executive Director of the organization Zomppa vividly describes, there is also a deeply troubling human element to our food system–an exploited “invisible workforce” toiling in third world conditions while residing in first world countries, such as the United States.

Hidden in farm fields, not too far off the beaten paths of rural country roads, large migrant food labor camps can be found sprawling within areas such as the rural southeastern US. Searing heat, overcrowding, squalid conditions, injuries, illness, rats, spiders, and snakes are only some of dangers hundreds of thousands of these migrants must endure each growing season. And, as Ms. Simon tells ReliefAnalysis in her personal and insightful interview, without this massive but hidden workforce, fruits, vegetables, and meats would not exist in small groceries or massive supermarkets alike.

Ms. Simon recounts how her passion for social justice within the food system was shaped by her own childhood experiences, her personal battles with food insecurity as a young adult, her pathway to her grassroots advocacy and chilling fieldwork in the United States, and her future disaster recovery work in post-Cyclone Winston Fiji.

Similar in tone to our Episode 5 interview with Robert Young Pelton, Ms. Simon notes that “building a wall” and eliminating the contributions of migrants would be “preposterous” and cause an all-out collapse of the entire food system. Instead, Ms. Simon approaches the issue with a genuine spirit of social advocacy, dignity, and humanitarianism, with an intention to greatly improve the lives of those who comprise the base of a deeply flawed supply chain.

Connect with Leanne and, and her website, Her tab “Labor Camps” have powerful images of the fieldwork she describes in the interview.

Also in this episode: Jatin Singh is CEO of SkyMet–India’s first private weather forecasting company. He is the our special guest for our Situational Awareness segment and describes how abrupt climate change is severely impacting the Indian Subcontinent. Passionate and broad in scope, Mr. Singh describes the disappearance of India’s distinct seasons, how climate change has turbocharged El Nino-fueled droughts, the tragedy of 300,000 farmer suicides over the last 17 years, the potential future of insurgent movements, and–as much as he hates to say it—his strong feeling that water must be commoditized. He also expresses great concerns for the future of the entire planet if India rapidly industrializes to China’s level.

[Special Note – deep appreciation to Ms. Simon, who jointed the interview from Brisbane, Australia on her Rotary Fellowship, Belinda Chiu of Zomppa, and Mr. Singh, who was interviewed from New Delhi, India. Our interview also references our dynamic Episode 4 discussion with the brilliant Kevin Hester, where we discussed the prospects of food and supply chain collapse. Image courtesy of Leanne Simon from her agricultural advocacy field work.]

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