Governor Pat McCrory issued an official proclamation declaring Sept. 16–20 Farm Safety and Health Week.
Agriculture and agribusiness combined are a top industry in North Carolina, providing more than $77 billion in revenue with $14.9 billion directly coming from farm production, according to the governor’s statement.
The governor’s proclamation came at the urging of the Agromedicine Institute. The institute is a partly state-funded, nonprofit research facility at East Carolina University that works in conjunction with North Carolina State University and North Carolina Agriculture and Tech University.
According to Robin Tutor, the institute’s director, North Carolina’s average fatality rate in the agriculture industry is 7.5 times greater than the average fatality rate in any other industry. (Agriculture includes farming, fishing and forestry.)
“North Carolina has not had such a proclamation in the past,” she says, citing the Midwest as creating National Farm Safety and Health Week. “This is such an important issue in our state. We need to raise awareness not just with our officials, but also with the public.”
Farmworker groups, representing migrant and American labor, welcomed the proclamation with caution.
NC Field, a farmworker advocacy organization based in Kinston, N.C., is represented on the Agromedicine Institute’s board. The group released a statement Wednesday in response to the governor’s proclamation. It highlights a labor force excluded from the proclamation: children.
Melissa Bailey, former director of NC Field, says she sees families in Lenoir County “so poor that they can’t pay rent and utilities without a twelve-year-old’s help in the second most dangerous job in the U.S.”
NC Field’s statistics show that in 2013, more than 100 children within a 60-mile radius of Kinston were actively employed tobacco workers. Their ages ranged from 10 to 18.
“Most were employed by labor contractors and many worked unlimited hours and days legally due to the federal agricultural exemption for child labor,” the group’s statement said.
North Carolina leads the nation in tobacco production. The crop puts younger laborers at greater risk of falling ill.
Twenty-one-year-old Yesenia Cuello, a U.S. citizen, worked the fields every summer as a teenager to help her single mother care for herself and her younger siblings. She mostly worked in tobacco, with the occasional work in sweet potato fields, where she saw a child as young as 9 years old working with the adults.
“No child should be exposed to those conditions,” she says.
She developed frequent susceptibility to heat stroke working long hours in the summer. Her younger sisters, she says, would vomit almost every day after work.
Nicotine absorbed through the skin in a day’s work is equivalent to smoking 36 cigarettes, says the NC Field statement. Green tobacco sickness is a common ailment with tobacco workers, and is often fatal.
Cuello now serves as president of NC Field’s Poder Juvenil Campesino (Rural Youth Power), a group of youth farmworkers pushing for change in child labor policy. She is also studying to be a nurse.
After a story about child labor ran in the INDY in 2012, the Department of Labor agreed to meet with NC Field and other farmworker advocacy groups. However, there hasn’t been a shift in policy or acknowledgement of child labor issues. The Governor’s recent statement also excluded any mention.
“Even as state and federal agencies fund ‘adolescent tobacco prevention’ curriculums and we require a minimum age of eighteen to purchase tobacco products, rural children continue to be at risk in working environments that are unethical and dangerous,” says NC Field’s statement.
“People should know who harvests their food and their tobacco,” Cuello says. “I worry about my mother’s health, and about the children working in the fields to help support their families. That’s just wrong to me. I wish the state government would take more initiative in making some changes, especially about kids working in the fields.”
Maria Estrela's face, a rainbow of late afternoon light and shadows, focused with ease on a ball of dough in her hands.
Nothing could have deterred her casual concentration in that church parking lot on that summer Saturday afternoon. Not the furtive scurrying of kids around a makeshift prep table, nor the bellowing calls from her sister, Vilma Nuñez, down an improvised short-order line.
"Una revuelta y una con queso!"
Nuñez shouted as she hustled behind a hot, flat-top grill, a spatula gripped in one hand and a whirling queue of handwritten order tickets flying through the other.
Each order was nearly identical, the menu offering only one item: the pupusa. And the Salvadoran sisters know pupusas.
La Iglesia Hispana Emanuel, at 2504 N. Roxboro St. in Durham, periodically hosts mini street-food festivals to raise funds for various church activities. All of the public is invited.
"Everyone in the community seems to enjoy it," says Julio Ramirez, the church's pastor. "We're sharing our history through food. And it's a reminder that we're not an island. We're all a part of this community, this human race."
The church's Spanish-speaking congregation is made up of immigrant families hailing from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic, and he jokes that the congregation still manages to understand each other despite speaking Spanish in different accents.
"This is how we can connect. And we share part of who we are," he says. "We're from different countries and villages. Yet we all come from the same heart, the same history. We're immigrants. Each of us left for different reasons—economic or cultural ones, instability—but we're all here to achieve our dreams. So this simple food gives a bit of aroma, a bit of flavor, to our lives."
Durham's Ninth Street Bakery was officially acquired today by baker Ari Berenbaum.
Ninth Street Bakery was originally founded by four partners in 1981. Among them, owner Frank Ferrell, who, along with his family, operates the bakery at its current 136 E. Chapel Hill St. location.
"We are all extremely excited about this opportunity," Berenbaum tells the INDY. "The Ferrell family has been very kind to us in allowing us to take up their mantelpiece. We look forward to carrying on the Ninth Street tradition—in effect, to modernize a brand while retaining its integrity."
Berenbaum previously served as the bakery's head bread baker and production manager. Since January 2011, he has operated Berenbaum's Bakery, specializing in Jewish breads and vegan baked goods. Berenbaum's can be found at Durham Central Park on Saturday mornings, and the vegan sweet and savory hand pies are offered at a few local coffee shops.
The bakery and cafe's mission is "to provide organic, healthy products." Its website highlights an environmentally minded business ethos, stating, "We are not only responsible, we are responsive." The bakery currently distributes its breads and pastries to 21 local supermarkets and seven coffee shops, much of it delivered via a veggie-fueled van.
In 1992, Ninth Street Bakery moved its baking operations from Ninth Street to the old Herald-Sun newspaper production facility downtown, now the bakery and retail cafe's current Chapel Hill Street location. The bakery's Ninth Street location was closed in 1996 (and is now occupied by Elmo's Diner).
Most recently, Berenbaum teamed up with Ninth Street Bakery cafe chef Matt Props to host their Day One vegan pop-up dinners at the restaurant at least once a month. The cafe serves lunch six days a week and dinner on Tuesday and Saturday nights.
"Matt will be able to build out the vegan options on the permanent lunch menu, expand the daily specials menu, continue vegan dinners on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and possibly more nights based on demand," says Berenbaum.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, Ninth Street Bakery will celebrate 32 years of business, from 5 to 9 p.m. According to today's press release, the celebration dinner will be "a symbolic passing of the torch. More details to follow."