Earlier this month, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of their Journalism Awards. In the category “Food Politics, Policy, and the Environment,” the award went to Tracie McMillan for her article “As Common as Dirt,” which I wrote about earlier this year. The piece was published as a collaboration between The American Prospect and the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN). As FERN editor-in-chief Sam Fromartz writes in a rightfully proud blog post,
Considered the Pulitzers of the food reporting world, the Beard Award was FERN’s first journalism prize, and also came within our first year of publishing.
The story revealed the systematic practice of cheating farm labor contract workers of their wages, to keep costs low. Outsourcing labor to contracting companies also allows farm businesses to distance themselves from the practice, which has prompted law suits as well as state and federal actions. McMillan told the story by focusing on 75-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, who has been a farmworker his entire life and who is a plaintiff in one of these law suits.
The story took several months to report, requiring multiple trips to southern California and many hours of interviews with farmworkers, government and industry officials, and legal advocates. The project took patience and tenacity, qualities which are frequently lacking in a time of highly constrained resources and constant deadlines….
“The exploitation of farm labor has long been one of the great scandals of American society—it dates back at least to the beginning of the 20th century—and persists to this day,” said [American Prospect Editor-in-Chief Kit] Rachlis. “Tracie’s piece looks at one of its most insidious practices—institutionalized wage theft—and shows its devastating effect on people’s lives. At once intimate, authoritative, and moving, the article ranks as one of the best the Prospect has ever published.”