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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Americans given a taste of farming reality in viral Thanksgiving Twitter thread

Twitter thread brings in $14,000 in donations to farm workers

Americans are being given an inside look at the prodigious skill it takes to bring food to their Thanksgiving tables this year, thanks to a Twitter thread showing videos of farm workers in action.

United Farm Workers kicked off the now viral Twitter thread by asking followers to comment with their favourite Thanksgiving dishes. As replies flooded in, the group shared videos and information on the farm workers who produce the items.

One video showed workers deftly passing pineapples to one another, another explained that those harvesting carrots and celery have to wear full body covering because the plants are photoreactive and can be dangerous to exposed skin.

Elizabeth Strater, the director of digital and alternative organising for United Farm Workers, and the person behind the viral Twitter thread, said she wanted to show what work goes into bringing common food items to the Thanksgiving table.

“Workers share pictures and videos with us from all across the country,” she said.

“They share them for the same reason we do: to humanise the work that goes into the food on your table.”

Twitter users expressed gratitude to the workers in the videos, while others marvelled at their skill in chopping, pulling and sorting at speed.

“Back-breaking work for minimal pay. I’m so thankful for our crop workers,” one user wrote. "If I did that for one hour I'd be out cold, in a back brace, and have no fingers left," another wrote.

Others asked how they could make informed purchases from farms with good labour conditions and pay.

The Thanksgiving thread may have gone viral, but UFW has been working to shed light on the conditions food producers, many of them migrant workers, face for years, using the hashtag #WeFeedYou.

The skill needed to pick and sort vegetables at the rates shown in the videos has been developed out of necessity, because of a system of payment called a piece rate.

This means employees are paid per unit of vegetables and fruits harvested. For some this is combined with an hourly salary, but for 7 per cent of workers the piece rate is their only income, the US Department of Labour National Agricultural Workers Survey found in 2016. Rights groups say this pay structure encourages employees not to take breaks or time out of the sun and can lead to exploitation.

In 2015-2016, farmworkers’ mean and median personal incomes ranged between $17,500 and $19,999 a year.

Ms Strater said one result of the viral Twitter thread was more awareness about the issue. “Piece rates are especially surprising to our followers,” she told The National.

“Seeing people work so hard, so fast, for what seems like so little money.”

One tweet showed a worker named Charlie harvesting turnips. “He's paid piece rate – he earns $1.50 every two buckets,” the caption read.

“He is the fastest in his crew and averages 24-26 buckets [per hour]. Rushing without skill could easily cost you a finger.”

As well as exposing the conditions under which people work, the thread has brought in close to $14,000 in donations, Ms Strater said.

“The donations are absolutely valued after this year ... our resources are always lean but 2020 was viciously hard on farm workers. Covid brought absolutely incredible devastation – plus the air-quality crisis, record heat waves ... It was a year of crisis on top of disaster on top of catastrophe.

“Only a tiny fraction of farm workers are UFW union members but we advocate for every worker, no matter where they’re from or where they work. “

Updated: November 25, 2020 08:32 PM

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