Why Food Justice Certified?

Transparency = Trust

You’re standing in the grocery store aisle. Everywhere you look there are labels making all kinds of claims. When you pick up that “certified” item at the grocery store, we know you’re wondering: Does this label really mean anything?

A certification system is only as meaningful as the “truth” behind its label. Therefore our number one commitment is to transparency. The Agricultural Justice Project, stakeholders are made up of non-profit organizations, farms and food businesses with a long history of advocating for increased transparency and integrity in organic certification. We are committed to developing a system without loopholes, and a label that consumers can trust.

We have built transparency into our program in many ways:

High percentage requirements for multi-ingredient productsThe certification label on your box of mac-n-cheese is only as truthful as its labeling requirements are strong.Your favorite processed foods, like granola bars or pasta sauce, are made up of many different ingredients coming from many different farms and processors. When you see a certification label on the front of a processed product, you expect that all of those ingredients, farms and processors involved met the standard. The label should mean that the actual food in that package is certified.Whether or not that is true depends on the labeling requirements.

Example: Applesauce

Companies “Apple Happy” and “Super Sauce” make the exact same product. Their raw ingredients (apples, sugar, cinnamon) come from the same farms and processors. Apple Happy carries “A” certification. Super Sauce carries “B” certification. In the grocery store, both jars of apple sauce look exactly the same – with a full color label on the front panel.However: Certification “A” has a very low labeling requirement for multi-ingredient products. Certification B’s requirements are much higher. Apple Happy only has to use certified sugar to qualify for full use of the label. Super Sauce has to have certified sugar AND apples. Which one would you rather buy?

  • Even though the products look the same in the store, Super Sauce is using a more transparent label – their Certification “B” means more.Food Justice Certified RequirementsThe AJP partners have developed the Food Justice Certified multi-ingredient labeling requirements to be as high as we believe is possible. We require that 95% of the dry weight of the product (meaning the weight without water content) is certified before full use of our label is granted.Anything short of 95% says “Made With” or is listed only in the ingredients panel. Have questions? Contact us! Knowledge is power – ask your other favorite labels what percentages they use.

    Processor and Brand Holder Certification Requirements
    When you see a social justice or fair trade label on apple sauce, you expect that the workers on the farms that grew the apples, cinnamon and sugar were covered by the standards. You also expect that the farmers received a good price for their produce. But what about the workers in the processing plant that prepared the apple sauce? Or the employees of the company that manufactures it and owns the brand name? Again – this is about truth in labeling. Labor abuses can happen at any level in the food chain, not just on the farm. We believe that a label on the front panel of a product should be truthful – was the company itself certified or just the farms they buy from? We developed a three tiered labeling system to make these differences obvious to consumers.

    Public Consultation Process
    We believe that social justice certification should be a 360 degree review. To honor this, AJP has developed an additional step in our certification process that allows you, the public, to communicate directly with the certifier of a particular farm or business if you have concerns. This process allows community members to speak out and let certifiers know if there are issues that deserve further investigation before a farm or business becomes certified. Visit our public consultation page to learn more.

“Participatory Process” – Standards and Certification Program

AJP recognizes that we are not the experts. The farmers, farmworkers, restaurant owners, processor workers, and all other food system stakeholders (including you the consumer!) are the real experts.

AJP has made it our mission to include stakeholder representatives in every step of our development. We have also convened a formal advisory committee made up of representatives of each major stakeholder group to oversee all of our work and keep us on track.

The FJC Standards themselves were developed over a decade long process of compiling input from stakeholders world wide. Navigate to our Learn More tab at the top to read about our standards development.

We also believe that stakeholders should play more of a role in actual certification. That’s why we include a representative of a workers’ rights organization in the audit team that inspects any farms or businesses with hired labor.

Please give us feedback! Our standards and policies are living documents. Help us make our system more transparent, representative and fair by sending us your thoughts.

Certified Farms & Businesses

These farms and businesses have recognized the importance of fair labor practices and proudly display the Food Justice Certified label on their products and store windows.

Soul Fire Farm

Petersburg, New York

Soul Fire Farm, a small highly diversified farm in Grafton, New York, provides weekly doorstep deliveries of in-season, farm fresh, certified naturally-grown food to hundreds of individuals in the Albany inner city living under food apartheid and targeted by state violence. Soul Fire Farm is committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system.

“Soul Fire Farm proudly sought the Agricultural Justice Project's Food Justice Certification, recognizing that to date, it is the only farm certification that commits to an unequivocal focus on the rights of food system and food chain workers, centers farm worker-led organizations, and was developed primarily by farm workers and farmers in a participatory stakeholder process. As collaborators in a movement that honors the people whose labor has built the food system in this country, we pursued FJC in recognition of the striking significance of a certification that amplifies farmworkers voices while supporting their lives and livelihoods. In a food system founded on stolen land and labor that continues to perpetuate structural racism and injustice, we value FJC's insistence on fair pricing and fair labor practices that challenge food apartheid and the devaluing of the people who steward the land.

At Soul Fire Farm, we go beyond the organic standards and the FJC standards by working to dismantle the racist structures that misguide our food system. Through programs such as the Black-Latinx Farmers Immersion, sliding scale CSA farm share, and youth food justice leadership training, we are part of a network of farms working to foster land stewardship and leadership by Black and Brown people in the food system, reclaim Afro-Indigenous regenerative farming practices, and catalyze the transfer of resources and power from those with food system privilege to those impacted by food apartheid. In our own team, we strive to mirror the healing justice we seek in the world by uplifting radical self-care, community accountability, compassionate communication, distributed leadership, fair compensation, and commitment to personal and professional development. - The Soul Fire Farm Team

GreenStar Natural Foods Co-op

Ithaca, New York
GreenStar Natural Foods Co-op, one of NYS’s outstanding retail stores,has been a pioneer in food justice, initiating an array of programs to provide access to high quality food for low-income people and to diversify staff. Operating two stores and a warehouse/community center, GreenStar has over 200 employees. The store is committed to cooperative principles and to open book management by a team that makes decisions by consensus and welcomes the creative contributions of all staff members and owner-volunteers. “Providing fair and supportive treatment of our own employees, and being sensitive to the working and living conditions of those whose labor produces the goods we sell,” are top priorities for GreenStar.

Pie Ranch

Pescadero, CA
Pie Ranch has been training young farmers and providing educational programs for high school students since 2003. A working farm and an educational and cultural center, Pie Ranch “cultivates a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships.” Executive and Program Directors Jered Lawson and Nancy Vail chose to apply for Food Justice Certification to underscore their commitment to social justice. As they put it, “Pie Ranch is a place for “pie in the sky” idealistic thinking to guide social change… We believe enjoyable and thoughtful engagement with good food can bring individuals, families and institutions — from children to school boards — together to create a more healthful and just society.”

Swanton Berry Farm

Davenport, CA

With Food Justice Certification, Swanton Berry Farm, the first organic strawberry farm to unionize, continues to make social justice history. Based in Davenport, the farm rents land on five ranches along Highway One north of Santa Cruz to grow strawberries and other berries as well as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, pumpkins and celery. Swanton Berry offers fresh produce, jams and other value-added products at their farm store as well as selling to restaurants and grocery chains in the Bay Area. Farmer Jim Cochran explains the farm’s decision to add this domestic fair trade label to their organic certification: “The dignity of farm labor is a founding principle of Swanton Berry Farm. From the beginning, we wanted to present our customers with a product produced under the best working conditions possible. What would be the point of farming organically if the workers were underpaid, overworked or treated without respect? Just carrying the California Certified Organic label did not address these important issues.”

The Family Garden/Browns Organic Farm

Gainesville, Florida

Jordan Brown farmed for 8 years on 25-acre farmland in Bell, Florida. His farm, The Family Garden, relocated in 2015 to Gainesville, Florida on 20-acres in the southeast of town where they are growing mixed vegetables, while maintaining their fruit production on the property in Bell. The Family Garden strives to improve the land with good environmental stewardship and to treat employees’ right, all while growing quality products at a reasonable price. “We try to have a good work environment and pay a wage people can live on.” The Family Garden produce is available locally through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, local restaurants, and farmers markets, as well as being sold wholesale throughout Florida. “As my workers and I learned together about AJP’s social justice standards, I became even more sure that I had made the right decision for my farm and the people who work alongside me and my family here,” said Farmer Jordan Brown. “We’re taking a big step together, being the first farm in the southeast U.S. to participate in this program,” said Brown. “I’ve learned a lot from the process and am excited to see the program grow.”

​Food Justice Certified Standards

The Food Justice Certified (FJC) standards were originally developed by AJP over a four year period of stakeholder input—involving farmers, farmworkers, interns and apprentices, and indigenous, retail, and consumer groups—and are an attempt to codify in concrete terms what making a legitimate claim of “social justice” in organic and sustainable agriculture means. AJP has a standard practice of revising our stakeholder-developed standards document every five years. The process is based on ISEAL’s best practices for standards revisions and typically takes about 18 months from start to finish.

FJC Standards address:

  • Workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Fair wages and benefits for workers
  • Fair and equitable contracts for farmers and buyers
  • Fair pricing for farmers
  • Clear conflict resolution policies for farmers or food business owners/managers and workers
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Farmworker housing
  • Interns and apprentices
  • Children on farms

Download 2019 Version of Full Standards Document (English) and 2016 Version of Full Standards Document (Spanish) (updated Spanish version coming soon) Visit our Standards Revisions page to learn more about our stakeholder driven revisions process.

AJP is continually seeking comment on our draft standards for Labor Contractors, and we are also seeking Labor Contractors willing to participate in a pilot project to pursue certification. These standards will not be finalized before that pilot project is completed. They are embedded in draft form in our 2019 standards document.

Three Tiered Labeling

Transparency in a Complex Food System

Our food system is complicated. After ingredients leave the farm, even simple products might pass through many links in the food chain – processors, distributors, and other businesses – before they reach consumers.

These middle links often become invisible to consumers, despite the fact that many human rights abuses could take place at the processor level.

To maintain truth in labeling, Food Justice Certified uses three tiered labeling to communicate to consumers how many links in the chain were certified in the production of a product.

Don’t Forget to Check the Ingredients List!

For multi-ingredient products, such as soup, we require that a significant amount of the total ingredients are certified before our label can be placed on the product. But, manufacturers may pring "Food Justice Certified" in the ingredients list in this case.

For example: If a can of chicken soup only contains Food Justice Certified carrots, the manufacturer would print "Food Justice Certified carrots" in the ingredients list instead of placing a label on the front.

Why make it complicated? This encourages further development of certified supply chains, and prevents "fair-washing" or mis-labeling.

FJC Trainings Offered

1. Food Justice Certification Trainings

Just Completed: Training April 2-5th in Deerfield, MA
Are designed for certifiers, worker organizations and independent inspectors that have interest in participating in the Food Justice Certification process. The training is also open to the general public, educators, advocates, and researchers who want to understand the technical aspects of the Food Justice Certification program.

The training devotes a day-and-a-half to presentations and discussions, and then conducts three field inspections where the participants first observe, then assist the trainers in guided inspections, and finally perform an inspection while observed by their trainers. Classroom work alternates formal presentations with participatory exercises and covers the following topics:

  • What is AJP? (history, background, mission),
  • Overview of AJP certification system, eligibility, the Food Justice labeling,
  • The challenges of social auditing: skills and characteristics of a good interviewer, and
  • The AJP verification process: the cooperative relationship between certifier and farm worker representatives, selecting workers to interview, inspection process, final review, and decision on certification.

The training concludes with a written exam. Once the exam and final paperwork are completed a certificate is awarded to the participant, enabling them to participate in the first domestic social justice certification program to launch in North America.

2. Food Justice Certified Reviewer Training

Reviewer trainings cover the same classroom material as the full inspector training, but they do not include the day-and-a-half of field inspections. This training is geared towards support staff working for approved certifiers or worker organizations that would like to review files and learn more about the Food Justice Certified program and process. By completing the Reviewer Training and successfully passing the exam, trainees are qualified to review files for Food Justice Certified applicants being processed by an approved certifier or worker organization.

3. Training the Trainer

AJP offers Training the Trainer for farmworker organizations. The training focuses on labor rights and rights covered under Food Justice Certification. This training prepares participants to facilitate a 2 - 3 hour worker training on FJC farms to educate them on their rights under the law and under FJC. The typical Train the Trainer is covered over 2 days. The following topics are covered:

  • Introduction to AJP and Icebreaker Activities
  • Legal Rights presentation, interactive activity and discussion
  • Health and Safety presentation, activity and discussion
  • Food Justice Certified Standards presentation, activity and scenario
  • Discussion on Conflict of Interest Principles
  • Train the Trainer Workshop presentation and discussion
  • Train the Trainer Practice in small groups with final presentation

If you are interested in attending our next training or would like more information about the standards, trainings, and technical assistance to prepare for certification, please contact AJP.

4. Five-Year Refresher Course

Every five years trained inspectors and file reviewers must complete a refresher course to maintain their status. The refresher course can be completed remotely and must be completed within the fifth year (dated from certificate of completion) to remain active. To complete your refresher course start by watching the videos. Once you have completed the viewing contact info@agriculturaljusticeproject.org and we will send you a short survey.

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