Cultivating Justice, Transparency, Partnership: Fair Food Nation's Alternative Festival at the "Cultivate Festival" in Chicago

On Saturday, September 16, Chipotle Mexican Grill brought the “Cultivate Festival” to Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The festival, celebrating Chipotle’s self-proclaimed holistic commitment to “food with integrity,” featured chef presentations, musicians, small farmers and educational exhibits about the importance of sustainability and animal welfare. While Chipotle celebrated inside the gated festival, the CIW and allies set up on a neighboring field to both remind Chipotle and educate festival attendees that the restaurant chain has chosen to ignore farmworkers rather than recognize and respect their vital contribution to the food system by joining the Fair Food Program.

See below for a photo report of the action!


As Cultivate attendees entered the festival, looming behind Chipotle’s main gates was an installation of 153 tomato buckets – the amount one would have to pick in a typical work day just to make minimum wage -- and the crew from Immokalee there to greet them.


The display attracted hundreds of festival goers throughout the day, who learned that farmworkers were outside the festival gates because they continue to be excluded from Chipotle’s vision of “food with integrity,” not celebrated like the farmers and chefs inside. CIW staff and allies greeted the festival attendees who poured in throughout the morning at the installation, and fanned out to all the entrances to offer informational flyers to the estimated thousands arriving at the Cultivate Festival.


As the festival kicked off, Chicago faith leaders gathered in a prayer of public witness outside the main entrance. Pictured here, Pastor Fred Kinsey of Unity Lutheran Church prayed:

“Today we ask you to open the hearts of Chipotle, the fast food enterprise – for they love animals, but they toss aside human workers in the fields. They proudly proclaim “food with integrity”, but with disdain and carelessness they discard hard working farmworkers, and their families. And so we pray to you: open the hearts of Chipotle.”


Throughout the day, allies old and new – some who had just learned of the CIW upon on arriving at the Cultivate Festival – made clear in several creative ways their desire that Chipotle sign on to the Fair Food Program.

Families who stopped by the CIW’s display entered Cultivate Festival with a red balloon that carried the simple message “No Farmworkers, No Integrity,” and soon the festival was unmistakably marked with red dots of support.


Others stopped by the bucket installation with the "passport" they were given at the entrance of the festival. Inside, they could visit and earn stamps at four of several “experience” tents about small farmers and sustainability to earn a free Chipotle burrito. Several attendees added a CIW tomato stamp on their passport, and told the Cultivate staff when they turned in their passport that the "chipotle experience" wasn't complete if it continued no neglect the new reality farmworkers are building in the fields of Florida, calling on them sign a Fair Food Agreement.


In the afternoon, a group of Chicago-area allies gathered, all donning the campaign t-shirt that read “Sexual Harassment. Wage Theft. Poverty. Food with Integrity?” and entered the festival to attend the Chipotle chefs presentation with their t-shirts clearly showing.


As the final act took the stage at Chipotle's festival, the CIW geared up for a culminating rally of their own, complete with music, speakers, and of course popular theater. First to take the stage was Cook County Commissioner and prominent progressive leader Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who discussed the Windy City’s long history of supporting the CIW’s struggle and the need for Chipotle to be part of the historic progress that has been pushed forward by the Campaign for Fair Food:

"I'm here to add my voice to the thousands of voices throughout the country calling on Chipotle to do the right thing... Now more than 90% of the growers are engaged in agreements that help to guarantee better wages, better working conditions, and most importantly, dignity. ... Let's let Chipotle know that they need to be about human rights, they need to be about dignity, and they need to be about making sure the workers that make their product a reality are treated with as much dignity as any of their clients."


Some spirited theater followed, as allies performed a skit to unveil the truth behind the shiny foil of a giant Chipotle burrito that read “Stop the Chipocrisy.” Then one by one, the actors pulled from the wrapping a series of colorful banners reading “Transparency,” “Partnership,” “Justice,” and “Sign the Fair Food Agreement.”


Soon after, the group started the final theater piece. One group dressed up as pigs – snouts, ears, tails and all – wore signs that demonstrate the admirable concern that Chipotle pays to humanely treated animals. Next to them were farmworkers from Immokalee, wearing quite different signs - reinforcing the sad irony that Chipotle refuses to extended that same care for actual human beings, continuing to ignore farmworkers and rejecting the solution that they have created to address decades of poverty and powerlessness in the tomato fields – the Fair Food Program.


And as the sun sank over a day well done, CIW's very own Leonel Perez took up the mic to give an impassioned speech, "We now see a new day in the fields of Florida; the Fair Food Program is now being implemented. Chipotle knows full well the conditions under which we labor, because we have brought this reality to their doorstep. But every time, they seem to have another excuse as to why they are refusing to support the changes we are finally beginning to see. But I think they have run out of excuses and that there is no where else to go, but to embrace the program we have created. Their current approach is not verifiable and they refuse to see workers themselves as vital and equal partners to change conditions in the fields. And that is something we are not going to accept. That is why we have come here today, and that's why we're headed to their home town of Denver. We will not stop until Chipotle recognizes our humanity."