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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

Middlebury Milk with Dignity: Invitation to Join Students Supporting Migrant Justice

Last month, The Campus ran an investigative piece discussing alleged issues of wage theft and human rights abuses on Goodrich Family Farm, a farm the college partners with to meet its sustainability goals, as outlined in Energy2028. This was followed by an editorial calling for the college to take accountability and ensure fair living and working conditions for farmworkers, especially on college-partnered farms.

Despite recent attention, however, these conversations are not new, and organizing around these issues has been ongoing for several semesters. Since February of 2020, students and representatives of Migrant Justice, a farmworker-led organization based out of Burlington, have been in conversation with members of the school’s administration about how to introduce labor rights standards into our contract with Goodrich Farm. While Middlebury’s relationship with Goodrich is complicated — there are four parties involved in the contract, and we do not buy gas directly from the farm — it is unsettling to hear administrative responses (“we can’t ‘tell them how to run their business’”) to what seems like a clear-cut issue to us: Middlebury College is paying money toward an institution where farmworkers have reported abuses. This means that we, as students whose money goes toward this institution, are implicated as well and should feel morally called to speak up against these human rights violations happening to our neighbors.

Therefore, a collective of students has recently formed to support Migrant Justice and their Milk with Dignity program. Milk with Dignity is a legal code of conduct created by farmworkers and monitored using an external standards council that ensures safe, dignified conditions for workers on dairy farms.  Milk with Dignity isn’t radical; it simply asks for basic living and working conditions that any person should be afforded, especially community members whose work is essential and often overlooked. The full list of demands ranges from having a door on the farmworker’s sleeping area to guaranteeing a minimum of eight consecutive hours of rest each day and one day off per week. If Goodrich had been covered by the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct, farmworkers, including José and Heberto, would have been ensured humane treatment instead of withheld wages, verbal abuse and “decrepit” living conditions. Milk with Dignity demands the same rights for farmworkers, many of whom are migrants from Central America, that migrant workers and people of color have been calling for for a long time. Again, these are requirements that white, documented workers have been assured since the labor movement in the 1930s and are taken for granted. It’s frustrating to see institutions like Middlebury continue to eschew the responsibility of guaranteeing those rights.

We don’t have to settle for this level of abuse, however. We don’t have to turn away from injustice that’s happening under the guise of “sustainability,” especially in our community. We cannot let this cycle of environmental racism continue when now we need deep, systemic change that values all bodies, all lives, and all contributions to our community. Farmworkers and Migrant Justice organizers have made clear what needs to be done. It’s up to us to follow their leadership and support their demands for human rights and social justice. We’d like to invite you to join us on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Hillcrest 103 to organize in support of Migrant Justice, including holding Middlebury accountable in their partnership with Goodrich. We look forward to seeing you there.

Jaden Hill, Emily Thompson and the rest of the growing Middlebury Student Collective for Migrant Justice.