Letters to the Editor

Tell complete story about Florida’s tomato industry

Actress Eva Longoria is hitting the talk-show circuit to promote her documentary “Food Chains,” which looks at how Florida’s tomato-growing industry has responded to human-rights issues affecting farmworkers.

While I applaud Ms. Longoria for her advocacy and passion, she continues to make inaccurate statements that threaten to reverse positive momentum.

As CEO of the nation’s largest open-field tomato grower — Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman — allow me to state the facts:

· There has not been a single reported case of a Florida tomato farmer beating or raping a farm worker.

· Stating that people earn “$40 a day for 4,000 pounds” of harvest is incorrect. Our workers are paid at least minimum wage, with a vast majority making far more than that. Last year alone, we awarded over $1,000,000 in season-end bonuses to those who harvest our crop. We pay $.55/bucket, plus a $.10/bucket bonus. That is more than $.02/pound which is more than double of what Ms. Longoria continues to state. Our average farmworker made $12.83/hour last year and that is before factoring free housing and transportation.

· When it comes to farmworkers’ rights, Publix Super Markets is not the problem. Publix is a values-based company that I believe has been forced into a defensive stance because of the offensive statements and actions being directed at them.

Working together will get so much more done.

I do agree with Ms. Longoria that great-tasting Florida tomatoes should be grown in the most sustainable and socially responsible way. Our company has been farming in Florida for more than 70 years. We have always considered the people who harvest our crop part of our family.

Since partnering in 2010 with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the organization that is the focus of “Food Chains,” we have stepped up our game even more. The CIW has engaged our farmworkers in a meaningful way.

In fact, Lipman was one of the earliest supporters of the Fair Food Program that works to guarantee fair treatment.

While it is true that farmworkers in this country have faced workplace abuse for generations, there is a new era in Florida.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement.

But in the Sunshine State’s tomato fields — recently called “probably the best working environment in American agriculture” by public policy expert Susan L. Marquis — we continue to implement changes that are revolutionizing the industry and bettering workers’ lives.

Ms. Longoria: I understand that you have not been to Immokalee to see first-hand how we treat our workers. Barry Estabrook, author of “Tomatoland,” has — and I trust he will tell you he was impressed. So consider this my personal invitation to visit our farms. The weather is perfect this time of year. The tomatoes, of course, are on us.

Kent Shoemaker, CEO, Lipman, Immokalee

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