Florida United Methodist Church Bishop Kenneth Carter and Cabinet visit Immokalee!

On Monday, Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. and the cabinet of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church kicked off a two-day tour of the Conference’s missional areas across the state of Florida. This estimable team of Methodist Church leaders chose to launch their tour in no other place than right here, in the CIW’s hometown of Immokalee, birthplace of the Fair Food movement! 

With a delegation including all nine district superintendents charged with leading nearly 700 congregations throughout the state, the visitors represented the tens of thousands of Florida Methodists who, throughout the long history of the Campaign for Fair Food, have put their unwavering faith into action in the pursuit of farm labor justice, partnering with farmworkers in the fight to end generations of poverty and abuse in Florida’s fields.

Indeed, the Methodist Church’s long and profound history of support can be traced back to the campaign’s early days.  From a General Conference resolution endorsing the seminal Taco Bell boycott in 2004, to the thousands of United Methodist clergy and laity who have prayed, fasted, written letters, sat vigil, and marched with farmworkers over the years, to the remarkable landslide vote at 2015 Annual Conference in favor of a formal resolution calling on Publix and Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program, Florida’s Methodists have steadfastly stood with farmworkers.

And today, as they have in the past, United Methodists continue to put their faith into action in the pursuit of farm labor justice.  From local congregations to Church-wide organizations like United Methodist Women, the call from Florida’s United Methodists to corporations like Publix and Wendy’s to come, at long last, to the table with farmworkers grows louder by the day.

Bishop Carter and the Florida Conference Cabinet journeyed to Immokalee to bear witness, firsthand, to the unprecedented transformation that has taken place in Florida’s tomato industry.  They came to visit with the protagonists — farmworkers and growers alike — of the remarkable story of conflict, reconciliation and redemption that has played out over the past two decades in this once-forgotten farming community.

The group heard directly from farmworker leaders about the incredible changes experienced by the Immokalee community thanks to the Fair Food Program and, subsequently visiting a participating farm to hear from growers about the positive impact the Program has had on their operations, celebrated the win-win-win partnership that’s created the “new day” for farmworkers in tomatoes across the East Coast.

Visit the CIW website for a full report of Bishop Carter and the Cabinet’s tour of the CIW community center and of a participating farm!

Before reporting on the start of the summer protest season, we’ll leave you with some moving words of reflection and prayer shared among farmworkers and United Methodist leaders. Gathered in a circle at the end of the visit, CIW’s Cruz Salucio communicated his own words of appreciation for the Bishop and the cabinet’s gracious interest in Immokalee and the Fair Food Program, situating the visit and farmworkers’ struggle in the faith that many workers hold:

For us workers, we never imagined arriving to this point and at this moment, to be on a grower’s property, and to work in partnership with them…I believe that God is with us today, just as God has accompanied us throughout our struggle including in difficult and frustrating moments we have faced throughout the years, when we were not able to embark on the path we sought. Today we believe God is still at the forefront of the CIW’s struggle.

From my perspective, God is happy with us carrying forth this struggle together. And I believe we can do more, that we can work together to arrive to the moment in which corporations that still don’t want to participate finally join us so that one day, we can see an even bigger change.

Farmworkers were deeply touched as Bishop Carter concluded the moment of reflection with his own moving words of gratitude, and a blessing for the community of Immokalee:

We thank you, God, for our sisters and brothers here in Immokalee. We pray that we would remember their stories. That we would know that we are a part of a network of mutuality in this life—and where we rejoice, we rejoice together; where we weep, we weep together. Thank you for their hospitality and openness to receive us. And we pray that we would reflect on what we’ve learned, and that we would act.

And taking action in the name of justice is indeed what a group of farmworkers and their allies did last weekend! From the CIW’s site:

Just a few, short miles from the very same fields where the United Methodist delegation met with growers, a brand new Publix opened on Immokalee Road in late March.  And in recognition of that opening, curious customers were greeted this past Saturday not only by the store’s eager new manager, but also by more than 50 farmworkers, their families, and allies from across Southwest Florida, gathered for a sunny picket in front of the shiny new supermarket.  Among those who made it out to support workers from Immokalee were the Rev. Esther Rodriguez of Tice United Methodist Church, members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Myers, members of the Quaker Meeting of Ft. Myers, students from FGCU, SURJ of Southwest Florida, members of the Southwest Florida Resistance Coalition, and students from OSU, who were in town for meetings with CIW members and a closer look at the Fair Food Program in action!

The protest was covered by local news networks, including the local Fox 4 station and the Naples Daily News, who followed up that same day with an insightful account of the day’s action.

And so, the struggle for real, lasting justice from Fair Food holdouts Wendy’s and Publix continues. Indefatigably, the community of Immokalee and their steadfast allies across the Alliance for Fair Food network march on towards social change – no matter how long or arduous the road one must take to get there.