In partnership with Huston-Tillotson University and Driscoll’s, Food Tank hosted a watch party at SXSW for the recent film, “The Last Harvest.” Following the film’s screening, Soren Bjorn, President of Driscoll’s of the Americas spoke with Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg about the challenges and nuances of immigration reform in the United States.
Without the farm worker, the agriculture sector—and the berry industry in particular—cannot exist, Bjorn argues. “If you reflect back on the last two years living through this pandemic, the reality is there’s been food on [grocery store] shelves every day. And that’s only been made possible by the fact that farm workers showed up to work every day.”
Despite the essential role that farm workers play in the food system, farmers around the country have reported labor shortages for years. In “The Last Harvest,” audiences hear that some farms have just over half the labor required to harvest a field.
Bjorn says that immigration policy has a key role to play in resolving the issue. “Many [farm workers] have been here for 5, 10, 15, 20 years, and still don’t have legal status,” Bjorn says. “It shouldn’t be a debate whether they deserve to stay here when they have fed us for this long.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly half of farm workers in the U.S. lack work authorization. Contributing to the problem is the rising age of farm workers. “The average strawberry harvester in California is aging by 10 months per year.”
Bjorn says that to make progress and work toward resilience in the food system, the country is in desperate need of an “orderly” conversation around the issue of immigration reform. “That’s why we created the documentary: to challenge all of us to have this debate.”
And while technology can improve an array of challenges in the agriculture sector, Bjorn stresses that it cannot adequately address the labor shortage in a timely, effective way. “The film is really about the human part of the business,” Bjorn says, “and in fresh fruits and vegetables, that will always be there.”