As we enter the holiday season that’s set aside to observe our gratitude and to eat a copious amount of sweet potatoes and leafy greens, we are honored and grateful to share that one of Happy Dirt’s farmer-owners, Randall Watkins, has become the first and only sweet potato farmer in North Carolina to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program.
The Coalition of Immokalle Workers’ Fair Food Program is an award-winning human rights initiative that pioneered the innovative, Worker-driven Social Responsibility model to monitor and enforce workplace protections on U.S. farms. It received the Presidential Medal in 2015 for its “extraordinary efforts” in combating forced labor in agriculture and has been praised by human rights observers from the White House to the United Nations. So when Whole Foods Market approached us, asking if our farmers would be interested in joining the initiative, our CEO Sandi Kronick didn’t hesitate.
“At Happy Dirt we are very privileged to be able to partner day in and day out with top notch customers and farmers who not only care about the quality of the product, but who also care about the success and wellness of the people behind those products,” said Kronick. “When it comes to social, environmental, and economic sustainability, there’s not a finish line that you just cross. There is always room to grow and improve, and third-party audit programs like the Fair Food Program help us to continue to look for ways to build upon our sustainability impact and promise.”
Randall Watkins joins the initiative.
Randall Watkins is a third-generation farmer and co-owner of Watkins Farm in Oxford, NC. Watkins began growing 10 acres of organic sweet potatoes in 2013 as a way to diversify his crop and now grows 100 acres of Covington and Garnet sweet potatoes. Being in his mid-thirties, Watkins is one of the youngest farmers in North Carolina and was the first of our farm partners to jump at the opportunity to become one of the Fair Food Program’s Participating Farmers. Spend thirty minutes with Watkins on his farm talking about how he balances life and work, and you would understand why he was the first to join. After all, he is the first body on the farm and the last to leave.
“I had no doubt that most of, if not all of, our farmers would qualify for it. The fact that Randall Watkins was the first farmer to say yes to the Fair Food Program speaks to Randall’s commitment to the values that he has as a farmer and as an owner of Happy Dirt. It also speaks to his commitment to innovation,” said Kronick.
Like most farmers who own and operate small to midsize farms, Watkins is always the first body on the farm and the last to leave. When it’s time to harvest sweet potatoes, hours are long for about two to three months, as you have to pick the sweet potatoes by hand once the fields have been plowed. But, you can rest assured that Watkins takes care of his farm workers from sunup to sun down.
“Having workers that feel valued and respected gives them passion and a love for what they do. It builds confidence and empowers them to speak up and seek help when needed. I want to make sure all my workers are protected and rewarded at the end of the day. Farm work is hard and harvest days are long, so when you have great workers, you have a successful team working for the same mission and outcome,” said Watkins.
What does it mean to be a Fair Food Program Participating Grower?
Being part of a third-party audit program like the Fair Food Program adds another element of accountability to a farmer’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainability. By joining the Fair Food Program initiative, Watkins commits to ensuring that his farm operation has safe, fair, and dignified working conditions, which he already provides for his current farm workers. The only difference is that Watkins agrees to comply with the Fair Food Program’s Code of Conduct and to implement the program’s unique monitoring tools, knowing that failure to do so can result in market consequences. It also gives Watkins more opportunity to improve upon the work he currently does.
The future of the Fair Food Program in North Carolina.
To say we are proud to be the connection point for the Fair Food Program in North Carolina is an understatement. We couldn’t think of a better person than Watkins to chart the path for this initiative in the state, modeling how the program can positively impact North Carolina farmers. He may have been the first farmer to join the program, but we know he will not be the last, as our farmers are committed to excellence.
If you are a farmer or buyer interested in learning more about Happy Dirt, send us a note! And if you are looking for a sweet potato recipe for your holiday, check out our tried-and-true recipe for sweet potato biscuits.