Asheville turns out for farmworker justice at grand opening of city's first Publix!

Last week, as Publix prepared to open its doors to the good people of Asheville for the first time, a crew of farmworkers and allies from Immokalee also made the long trek to join Ashevillians in welcoming the Florida-based grocery chain with the message of Fair Food! 

Bright and early last Wednesday morning, a stalwart group of local allies joined CIW member Julia de la Cruz outside the store's grand opening. With banners, flags, and flyers in hand, the group positioned itself alongside the larger-than-life inflatable green grocery bag heralding the presence of Asheville’s newest supermarket.

As the inaugural customers turned into the parking lot, many of them stopped to ask about the campaign, expressing dismay over Publix’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program.  Local residents took part in a delegation to meet the new manager and deliver a letter, explaining that Asheville consumers would continue to organize alongside the CIW until Publix decided to "do the right thing."  Publix, of course, offered up the well-worn, well-refuted ‘labor dispute/put-in-in-the-price’ combo response that they so often give to Florida residents.

The rest of the day was spent in the classroom, sharing the latest Campaign news with students and professors at Warren Wilson College.  On campus later that evening, students and Asheville community members gathered for a screening of Food Chains.  The closing credits were met with robust applause and, after a wave of questions about both the expansion of the Fair Food Program into North Carolina and Publix’s confounding refusal to be part of the transformation in Florida’s fields, all the movie-goers committed to taking action.

The Immokalee crew returned to Publix on Saturday in true Campaign for Fair Food fashion -- along with over 60 Asheville allies, including members of Nuestro Centro, COLA, the Western North Carolina Workers Center, and buses of students from Warren Wilson College -- holding a high-energy picket full of art, accompanied by chants for justice over the beat of a tomato bucket drum.

Members of the manager delegation took with them a printed response to Publix’s misinformation about the Fair Food Program. CIW’s Julia de la Cruz explained that the Program has never been a labor dispute, but is instead an unprecedented collaboration between growers, farmworkers and major retail buyers — and that the penny is, in fact, in the price (a point the CIW first published back in 2011, which Publix has readily ignored).

At the protest, Bruno, a 15-year Asheville resident, expressed his astonishment at Publix’s resistance to the FFP, saying that he and many others wouldn’t be visiting the new store until they saw a change.  His sentiment was shared by one of the many Warren Wilson students who joined the delegation, one of whom shared that although she’d only just learned of the Publix campaign after seeing Food Chains, she felt fully committed to standing up for farmworker justice. 

The question voiced by many as the picket wrapped up  captured the energy and excitement of a community ready to take up the Fair Food banner in the Publix campaign: “What’s next?”

In the words of the day’s final chant, “We’ll be back!”

With unyielding actions taking place all across the Fair Food Nation, from Nashville to Asheville, we’re communicating that Publix cannot dream to win the loyalty of consumers in North Carolina without first making the commitment to human rights for farmworkers back home a reality.