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Activating the Numbers: 2020 Colorado Food System Workers & COVID-19 Report

Food system workers have been undervalued, at best, and often exploited. The cruel irony of this disregard was thrown into sharp relief when, as part of pandemic response, workers throughout the food system were deemed “essential.” The “Essential Worker” designation turns an inconvenient truth into an undeniable one: all people -- and all Coloradans -- rely upon FSWs to meet their basic needs in times of calm and crisis. Now that our collective dependence on FSWs has been laid bare, it is time to offer them dignity, respect, and support in tangible forms.

Project Protect Food System Workers was organized to ensure that this group of always-essential workers is adequately protected from COVID and appropriately compensated for their labor and for the risks they assume in service to the common good. While working toward this goal, we found data on these communities to be inconsistent and not accessible, and at times inaccurate or completely non-existent.

This document works to remedy this by providing some clear data points, information, and context to what we know to be true for food system workers in Colorado, specifically those in food production and manufacturing. This document focuses on farm, ranch, and agricultural labor and food manufacturing. While these two industries are closely related, and workers have been known to cross between these categories at times, they present unique contexts, challenges, and realities for the workers who navigate these workplaces. Therefore, we believe these two categories need to be defined separately so we can best cater to the specific challenges and strengths present. This document summarizes information we learned in 2020.

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