By Ronit Ridberg
This is the first of three parts of an interview with Baldemar Velasquez, President and Founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In Part One, Mr. Velasquez describes the biggest challenges and abuses farm workers face in the U.S., and what it was like for his family to work in America's agricultural sector. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.
Name: Baldemar Velasquez
Affiliation: President and Founder, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, FLOC, AFL-CIO
Location: Toledo, Ohio
Bio: Incensed by the injustices suffered by his family and other farm workers, Baldemar Velasquez founded the union of migrant farm workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967. FLOC works tirelessly to give voice to migrant farm workers across the country and include them in decision-making processes on conditions that affect their lives. Mr. Velasquez is a highly respected national and international leader, not only in the farm labor movement, but also in the Latino and immigrant rights movements.
What is your background, and how did you come to found FLOC?
My family was recruited into the migrant worker stream back in the early 50s from South Texas to harvest tomatoes, sugar beets and other hand-harvest crops in Ohio, Michigan and the Midwest. That began my long odyssey to this work, getting stranded in Ohio and not making enough money to get back to Texas. In those early years we didn't even have our own transportation and we got so in debt one fall, we had to stay the winter and borrow more money from the local farmers just to stay alive. Then we worked off the winter debt the next summer- working for free in the fields. We then stayed another winter and were in debt again, we sort of became like indentured workers for about seven years.
Just to get out of debt we traveled the summers around the mid-west to find the back-to-back-to-back crops. In Michigan with the cherries and the strawberries, and trimming Christmas trees then back to Ohio for the sugar beets and the tomato and cucumber harvest, right into the fall and picking potatoes for the local farmers. So that's how we just tried to keep out of debt and try and survive the winter so we could survive the following summer.