clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Episode 3: The Cows Don’t Milk Themselves!

 Migrant Workers’ Fight for Dignity

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Did you know that without migrant farm workers, the price of dairy would be twice as expensive? Dairy farming is one of the most challenging jobs in agriculture, and like a lot of farmwork has notoriously weak legal protections for workers, leading to long hours, poor pay, and unsafe conditions. Host Ashely C. Ford tells the story of how a group of farmworkers came together after a senseless tragedy to demand change – and together built a safety net to protect their most vulnerable workers.

Learn more about Migrant Justice and their Milk with Dignity program here.

Badge that says Listen on Apple Podcasts and links to the Apple podcast store
Badge that says Listen on Spotify and links to the Spotify page

Read Episode 3 Full Transcript Below

CHERYL PINTO: Before we get started with this episode of Into the Mix; you may have seen or heard recent reporting from the New York Times that exposed an alarming increase in unaccompanied minor migrant workers coming to the United States who are working long hours in dangerous environments. This episode was recorded before this reporting, but stay tuned to the end of this episode for more on that story.


[SOUNDS of Luci cooking tortillas]

A headshot of a woman with short cropped hair, black rimmed glasses, long dangly earrings, and a dark tank top with ties at the shoulders.
Podcast host & writer, Ashley C. Ford
Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff

ASHLEY [VO]: This is Into the Mix, a Ben & Jerry’s podcast about joy and justice. I’m Ashley C. Ford.

Today we’re in Addison, a town in rural Vermont. We’re here to see Luci Perez. She’s just made tortilla dough, and is now pinching small handfuls and flattening them in her tortilla press as she talks to us. The dinner she’s making is for her and her husband, Rubinay, whom she calls Rubi.

LUCI: Duramos quatro anos de distancia. (We’ve been distant from each other for 4 years)

ASHLEY [VO]: Luci and Rubi met nearly a decade ago, at a carnival back in their hometown in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Luci saw Rubinay playing soccer and struck up a conversation. They’ve been together 8 years, and have a daughter who lives with grandparents back in Mexico.

LUCI: Mi hija tiene 8 años y pues vive con sus abuelos por lo pronto. (My daughter is 8 years old and she lives with her grandparents, for now.)

ASHLEY [VO]: Luci moved to Vermont not too long ago, after four years apart from her Rubi. He came here in 2017 to work on a dairy farm.

Luci says when they were apart those four long years, they talked a lot about how Rubinay was doing and what he was doing to make a better life for their daughter.

He’s at work now, just a quarter mile down the road from where we are now.

LUCI: Qué trabajos encontrabas qué es más los ranchos y todo eso. (… the jobs he was able to find, there would be more at ranches and stuff like that…)

ASHLEY [VO]: Rubinay’s almost off work, and it’s been a long shift…


[SOUNDS sonic transition from the kitchen to the barn]

ASHLEY [VO]: Here’s Rubinay Montero, speaking to us through Will Lambek, his interpreter.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: yeah Yeah This is a, a, a normal shift. So, uh, uh, I started work, uh, 1:30 until 8:30. That’s a seven hour shift. Then I’m back in from 10:00 to 5:00, which is another seven hours. So that’s 14 hours in a day.

A headshot of a man with short hair, beard, and wearing a baseball style shirt with dark sleeves and a light colored chest.
Podcast guest & farmer, Rubinay Aguilar Montero

PRODUCER [off mic]: So how many hours is that a week?

RUBINAY: Uh, 72?

PRODUCER [off mic]: Wow.

RUBINAY: Yeah. 72 for a week.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Um, but here, uh, I would only do that, uh, two days a week. Uh, on the last farm, I didn’t have a day off. I was working Uh seven days a week 365 days a year.


RUBINAY [via WILL]: Uh yeah I mean I think a lot of people can come and take a look at what we’re doing and think “yeah I could do that That doesn’t seem so hard” Uh but then uh maybe anybody could do it for an hour two hours three hours But then the question is um are you able to do it day in day out seven days a week and Uh and and I I don’t think everybody can do that.

ASHLEY [VO]: Those long shifts and no time off are not unique to Rubinay. Agriculture is one of few industries that is often exempt from worker protections like minimum wage and overtime pay. In Vermont, where Rubinay works, the state minimum wage is $13.18.

But – Vermont law only requires that farm workers are paid the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour at time of recording. And in some cases, even the federal minimum wage doesn’t apply. So imagine making less than minimum wage while working long, physically demanding shifts, seven days a week, no days off… All for a job that’s not just important, but vital. Everyone eats food, everyone needs food to survive. But too often the workers who harvest food are invisible, and in some cases, unprotected.

Fortunately, that’s not the case for Rubinay anymore, now that he’s at his current farm. And that’s because of a program called Milk with Dignity.

I’m going to tell you that story – the story of how workers came together, decided for themselves what dignified working and living conditions looked like, and fought hard to create a program that could fund and sustain their demands.

Let’s get into it.


[SOUNDS milking parlor – industrial humming, we hear Rubinay whistle and call to the cows]

RUBINAY [via WILL]: You gotta, you gotta stay busy cuz you can see on, on this side, uh, the cows are milking. Then here on the other side of the parlor, uh, you see the cows are lining up.

[SOUNDS milking machine suction and pumping]

ASHLEY [VO]: What you’re hearing is the sound of about fifteen dairy cows getting milked. Fifteen, out of almost 800. These cows are old pros, they line up in stanchions, and one by one Rubinay attaches them to a milking machine.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: I’m starting by, uh, cleaning off the teats, uh, getting the manure off the udder, and then I’m applying iodine to clean them, and I wipe that clean with the towel.

ASHLEY [VO]: Rubinay’s work is methodical. Wipe, rinse, clean, pump, one after the other, then on to the next fifteen cows. Watching him you can see he has developed a rhythm for the work after years of practice.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: cuz you have to um be patient and you have to, uh, treat the animals well because, they’re living creatures as well and you treat them. I mean, I guess like you treat, uh, a human being. Uh, cuz they have feelings too.

ASHLEY [VO]: It’s clear that Rubinay, despite the long shifts and repetitive tasks, seems to really like his job. Especially working with the animals.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Uh, the being with the calves and especially when they’re, they’re, uh, just born. I mean, I mean, it’s like any animal that’s freshly born, like, yeah, you gotta like that, right? and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m here. If I didn’t enjoy it, I would. Find something else, maybe work in construction, who knows? But yeah, the truth is I like this work. I like doing what I do.

 These cows, um, they, they know the drill because they’re, they’re older, they’re, they’re bigger. Um, and so they, they come in and, and they know where to go. Uh, but not all cows are like that. Um, the younger cows, the calves, what we call, the fresh cows, uh, it can be really different, uh, with them because they’re not as accustomed to it.

You can see the cows moving around. Um, it’s kicking its feet. Um, and so if you aren’t paying attention, the cow can kick you in the face or in the chest, or it can, step on your hand, or step on your arm like that.

I mean, I’ve been lucky that I’ve, I’ve never got hit real, real hard. but you have to pay attention and, and sometimes it’s just up, up to luck.

On the last farm, I did get, uh, uh, hit harder and I told the farmer and he just said, uh, well, you know, what, what do you want me to do? You gotta keep working. And because I needed the work, uh, I didn’t have any other options. I just had to keep going. I never went to the hospital or anything.

ASHLEY [VO]: Rubinay worked at one other dairy farm before this, and he’s grateful not to be there anymore. Not just because his boss didn’t let him leave work to go to the hospital that time he got hurt. Agriculture is one of the last industries where there’s an expectation that employers provide housing options to their employees, especially as the dairy industry has grown more and more dependent on migrant workers who don’t have other housing options. Like many migrant farm workers, Rubinay lives in housing provided by his employers. It was the same with the last farm. Same, but different.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: you’re working these long days, these long shifts. You want a place that you can go back to and feel comfortable and get some rest.

ASHLEY [VO]: Rubinay’s home now is clean, spacious and warm. It’s the kind of place he and Luci can really settle in.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: And the house I was at before, uh, you know, it had, uh, rodents and cockroaches and I, I don’t even wanna remember all that stuff. It’s like you don’t wanna have to deal with any of that. Um, and that was at the last place, but I don’t have to worry about that now.

[SOUNDS milking parlor fades out]


ASHLEY [VO]: Some of what Rubinay is describing about dairy farming, you can think of as inherently risky. Cows are large animals, they can weigh up to 1,500 lbs, sometimes more. But they can move fast if startled – up to 17 miles per hour. You don’t want to be on the other end of a fast moving cow. There are also some situational risks at farms that can be mitigated, but are inherent to working with large animals: manure, slippery floors, large industrial machines, and extreme heat and cold depending on the weather. But with proper communication, training, gear, and hygiene, those risks are manageable.

Then there are the economic factors that make dairy farming difficult. Consolidation makes it harder for small family farms to sustain themselves, and a farm with say fifty or even a hundred cows can’t make a living anymore. So you’re seeing fewer and fewer farms with larger and larger herds, with hundreds and even thousands of cows who all need to be milked every single day, usually multiple times a day. Most agriculture is cyclical with fast and slow times of the year, but that’s not the case with dairy. So the hours are long and the workload is relentless.

And then there’s the social status of most farm workers.

That’s farm workers, by the way, which is not the same as farmers or farm owners. While the vast majority of farm owners are white, two thirds of America’s farmworkers are immigrants, or migrant workers. Almost half are undocumented. There are often communication barriers between the workers and farmers, which can lead to miscommunication and improper training.

And across the food industry from farm work to food production, this work has been deemed “unskilled”, which means lower wages, fewer benefits and fewer protections.


A headshot of a woman with long dark hair, large dangly earrings, and a dark V-neck shirt
Podcast expert & professor, Teresa Mares

TERESA: Despite food being so completely essential to all of us, we are in this very strange contradiction where those people who put the food on our table are seen as unskilled workers. When we’re talking about unskilled labor, we’re not talking about skill. Typically, we’re talking about how much we value and how much we pay for that kind of work.

ASHLEY [VO]: That’s Dr. Teresa Mares, an anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Vermont, whose research focuses on labor and food systems. Dr. Mares – who prefers to go by Teresa – says that for most of American history, farm work has been done by people occupying low social status: enslaved people, indentured servants, and immigrants. And while many of us enjoy standard protections like paid time off and mandatory breaks, farm workers do not. And that’s by design.

TERESA: a number of the important reforms that came through the New Deal, were explicitly. Passed with provisions that they do not apply to agricultural workers or to domestic workers.

ASHLEY [VO]: In the 1930s, president Franklin D. Roosevelt was working to pass the New Deal, a package of sweeping reforms that aimed to help Americans out of the Great Depression. This is when social security was created, when our state and national parks really took shape. It’s also when the 40-hour work week became the norm in America, thanks to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This piece of legislation created the 8-hour work day and 40-hour work week most of us know, as well as overtime wages, and other protections for workers – with a few intentional exceptions.

TERESA:  At that point, farm workers were often, African American. Um, and so that New Deal legislation really left out farm workers as a way to kind of get the bulk of the new deal passed. And still have the support of southern lawmakers at that point. What that has meant is that there’s a legacy of farm workers being under-protected by the law.

When we look at institutionalized racism within the food system, At first that racism was really directed towards African American workers. And over time there has been movement of immigrant workers into, into those, um, sectors, whether we’re talking meat packing or chicken processing, or or milking cows. And I think that racism is still pervasive, who it’s directed at may have changed or may have expanded.

Add to that, the question of citizenship, right? If you don’t have citizenship it’s hard to make demands for change.

ASHLEY [VO]: As a country, we find ourselves in a position where this vital workforce is denied basic protections that other industries enjoy. For instance, child labor laws are particularly weak for farm workers: children as young as twelve can work unlimited hours outside of school. And some farms, depending on their size, are exempt from paying even the federal minimum wage.

But this labor force is integral to the American diet. Without workers like Rubinay, who perform farm labor for low wages, your grocery bill would be significantly higher; the price of dairy specifically would double. So we rely on these people to keep the food on our table affordable. Yet only about 8 cents of your food dollar goes to the workers who harvested the product.

TERESA: You know, their value is seen as less than, even though without them, you know, we would be hungry.


ASHLEY [VO]: Teresa has been studying food systems throughout her academic career. She’s worked hard to build relationships with farm workers, not just as a researcher but as a community member. During many conversations over the years, she’s heard the same word come up again and again – encerrado, which is Spanish for ‘locked up’.

TERESA: That term, encerrado or, you know, feeling enclosed was something that many, many, many people described, or how they described their life in Vermont.

ASHLEY [VO]: Like this one young farm worker Teresa interviewed in 2014.

TERESA: She described, you know, a period of time where she hadn’t left the farm for, I think it was two months at that point.

Part of it was that she didn’t have anywhere to go. Um, she didn’t know a lot about the landscape. She didn’t know a lot about what surrounded her and was concerned that if she left the home, that she might become visible to, um, to border patrol. You know, despite having her family, her immediate family, right, with her, I think she felt very lonely.


ASHLEY [VO]: It’s after 5 and Rubinay is home with Luci. As she finishes cooking the last of the tortillas, Rubinay makes a jalapeno slaw. The two laugh together when they discover that the refrigerator light bulb is missing – maybe it went out, or maybe someone in the house needed it, who knows. I’m amazed that he even has the energy to talk to me after a 14 hour shift, let alone with a smile on his face.

ASHLEY: So one researcher we talked to said she’d heard lots of farm workers describe feeling encerrado, or locked up, enclosed. Does that resonate with your experience?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And not just at the beginning, I mean, , I felt like that for a long time because when you’re done working, you just go back home and you, you lie down. Maybe you watch a movie or something, but, but that’s it. You’re, you’re never going any farther than your house.

My life in Mexico is totally different, completely, completely different, in Mexico, the work I was doing, I was a bus driver. I drove a public bus.

But the most difficult transition for me, um, was leaving my wife and my daughter, uh, behind in Mexico when I came here. That was the biggest change of all.

ASHLEY: So why did you leave to come here?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Um, I mean, when somebody leaves their country, it is not for fun, right? you have a, a need and, and in my case, the, uh, the need was money. I had a couple debts that I needed to pay off, and maybe eventually I would’ve been able to pay them off, but it just would’ve taken too long working there.

And, uh, you know, a lot of people call this the land of opportunity. And, and so here I came and, uh, I, I won’t lie. And, in my case, I have found opportunities here.

ASHLEY: Can you describe the first few weeks? When did you first move to Vermont to work in a dairy?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: those first couple of days, um, uh, was really tough, uh, cuz I had reached out to a friend on Facebook. Uh, and I said, “Hey, do you, do you know about any work?” And he said, “yeah, there is a job and it’s in Vermont.” And I didn’t have any idea where Vermont was. I said, Vermont, where’s that? He said, uh, oh, it’s, it’s near New York. And so I thought, all right, I’m going to New York. Cool. Like, let’s go, let’s go

Uh, but when I thought about working on a farm, I was thinking, okay, I’m gonna be, uh, with horses and there’s gonna be chickens out in the yard. Uh, I wasn’t thinking about milking cows. And I had never really worked with animals before coming here.

And on the first farm I was working at, um, I was living alone. So I would be working alone all the time. And then I came back and I was in this trailer all by myself. Um, and just really the solitude of it, took a lot of getting used to.

ASHLEY: Sounds lonely.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: and I mean, thankfully I was only at that first farm for maybe three months, although believe me, those were three really long months.

ASHLEY: One of the reasons why this is so important is because, um, these jobs, uh, can be dangerous. You know, there’s a risk to being a farm worker. Can you talk about the ways it can be dangerous or the potential risks of dairy farming?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: I mean, working with, with, uh, the cows is, is the biggest danger. And they’re, they’re cows. Yeah, but they’re, they’re still animals.

And so you have to be careful around them. when you’re milking, they can kick you or, or, or stomp on you or when you’re in, uh, the barn with them. Uh, they can start running and, and if you aren’t careful, they’ll, they’ll run you over or they’ll slam you against the wall or the gate. So you have to be really careful, uh, working with animals, but also with, uh, with machinery. Uh, you’re, you’re driving tractors working, uh, with heavy machinery, and you have to, uh, be careful that you don’t get injured.

ASHLEY [VO]: And people do get injured. Sometimes worse.


ASHLEY [VO]: Dairy farms have some of the highest rates of injuries and fatalities in agriculture. In 2019, a third of fatalities associated with animal production happened on dairy farms.

And in this community, one young farm worker’s death sparked a movement to protect the industry’s most vulnerable members.




ASHLEY [VO]: In 2009, years before Rubinay came to work in Vermont, another young man from Chiapas was adjusting to life on the dairy farm. His name was José Obeth Santiz Cruz.

José was killed on the job after his clothing was caught in a piece of equipment and strangled him. He was 20 years old. His death shocked the community: this young vibrant man, tragically killed in a way that, some say, was completely preventable. A 2021 study shows that less than half of migrant dairy farm workers surveyed report receiving training on how to safely operate machinery. In Jose’s case, his job put him in a dangerous situation, and he didn’t make it out alive. And it never should have happened.

Teresa never met José – he died before she came to Vermont. But she says his legacy still resonates.

TERESA: Dairy work is dangerous work. And so the fact that he passed away while doing that work isn’t entirely surprising, even as it’s incredibly tragic

His figure has become, you know, an important one that gives a lot of motivation for continued organizing. And in the motivations for bringing more dignity and justice to the lives of farm workers here.

ASHLEY [VO]: So farm workers started gathering together, first out of grief, and then out of solidarity. They talked to each other about their living and working conditions – dilapidated homes without heat, 80-hour work weeks with no breaks, misleading paychecks, harassment from border patrol. This wasn’t right. And they were ready to fight.


Eventually the group started calling themselves Justicia Migrante – Migrant Justice. A portrait of José standing proudly in the snow hangs in their office to this day.

ASHLEY [VO]: In 2011, Teresa got involved as a volunteer and eventually a board member.

TERESA: I started just doing random things. you know, coming to events, helping work the door at fundraising events. Um, I think I’ve stuffed a few envelopes. I’ve driven farm workers around to meetings and all of tha.

And I think one of the things that happened, you know, early on in the organization’s life is, uh, Deep appreciation for some of the work that was happening by and for the coalition of Immokalee workers.


ASHLEY [VO]: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers – or C-I-W – was a source of inspiration for Migrant Justice. The C-I-W started out in the 1990s as a group of tomato pickers in Immokalee Florida who were fed up with being exploited for their labor. They organized high profile demonstrations like marches and boycotts to demand safer working conditions and better pay.

But the real innovation was in choosing their target. Instead of demanding better pay from their employers, the C-I-W went higher in the supply chain, to the people with real money and influence: the buyers. Companies like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Walmart, who had a say in how much they’d be willing to pay for tomatoes. The C-I-W figured out that if these companies paid just one penny more per pound of tomatoes harvested, and if that penny went directly to the workers, this was enough to ensure workers had livable wages, paid time off, and safer working conditions.

The brilliance of this model is that it puts the onus on companies to redistribute a relatively small portion of their earnings back to the workers.

That’s what inspired Migrant Justice – the idea that the changes they demanded could be directly funded by the big corporate buyers. And just like the C-I-W, Migrant Justice wanted legally binding agreements that had teeth, not just PR fluff.

TERESA: The cross-fertilization that has happened between these two organizations has been really exciting. Um, because it’s, you know, it’s two very different products, you know, fresh produce versus fluid milk.

Those are two very different kinds of economies, two different kinds of work . And I think that, you know, it’s been a really creative set of efforts to think about how to adapt and extend that model into a very different industry.

ASHLEY [VO]: If dairy farms in rural Vermont could follow the same principles created by tomato pickers in Florida, then change is possible. Not just here, but nationwide. From California orchards to Iowa cornfields to Minnesota wheatfields, and beyond...


ASHLEY [VO]: Following C-I-W’s lead, Migrant Justice had to find a corporate partner to establish themselves. A big, profitable company that could not only endorse their mission, but foot the bill and keep farms in their supply chain accountable to dignified conditions for their workers.

The proximity, and the call for social justice, made Ben & Jerry’s seem like a natural fit.

TERESA: You know, I think because Ben and Jerry themselves have stuck their necks out for social causes that have at times made them very unpopular, whether it’s sourcing fair trade ingredients, whether it’s standing up for Black Lives Matter, whether it’s standing up for the rights of the LGBT community, Ben and Jerry’s, I think has been on the forefront as some really important social issues. And, and I think it just was a natural first company to bring into the Milk with Dignity program because you know, this idea of like, okay, well you source Fair Trade Chocolate, you Source Fair Trade Coffee, but the milk and the cream that are the base of this product are you know, those aren’t being sourced through dignified means.

ASHLEY [VO]: And in the interest of full transparency, Ben & Jerry’s was not an immediate yes. They needed time to work out how to implement a program like this on the farms from where their dairy sourced.

The way Migrant Justice pitched it, Ben & Jerry’s produced nearly 2 million pints of ice cream every year, but without the workers who harvested the milk, that number would be zero. After all, “the cows don’t milk themselves”.


It was a long process with a lot of hard work from farmworker leaders and Ben & Jerry’s staff to reach an agreement.

[SOUNDS protesters chanting “Sí se puede! Sí se puede!”]

ASHLEY [VO]: Rallies, letter-writing campaigns, marches & pickets … the group used all kinds of tactics to keep Ben & Jerry’s attention.

[SOUNDS protesters chanting “What do we want? Milk with Dignity! When do we want it? Now!”]

ASHLEY [VO]: And in 2017, after nearly three years of campaigning, Ben & Jerry’s finally agreed to adopt the Milk with Dignity program in their Northeast Dairy Supply Chain. This meant higher wages, guaranteed time off, paid sick leave, and a way to report mistreatment, ultimately keeping farms enrolled in the Milk with Dignity Program – and Ben & Jerry’s – accountable.

TERESA: there was this palpable sense of excitement within, um, within the community. That was, it was really an exciting day.


ASHLEY [VO]: I asked Rubinay what he remembers of this time, and he recalls not long after he started working at his current farm, they had some visitors come.

RUBINAY [via WILL]: people from Milk With Dignity, uh, came to the farm and, uh, started talking with us about what it means for the farm to have, uh, I guess you could say have joined the program.

And they told us about the, the, the rights that we had and said, you know, now that the farm’s in the program, if you get sick and you can’t work, that money’s not taken outta your paycheck, you’ll, you’ll still get, get paid for that day. even if you were sick. And they said, you also have, uh, rights to paid vacation.

And that was the first day I’d ever heard of, of that. So I said, we were all like, wow, paid vacation. All right, well, what, when, where do we sign up? When can we start? I wanna take my vacation now.

And then a friend was telling me about them. He said, oh yeah, that’s migrant justice. If you ever have any issues, like they’re the group to call.

ASHLEY: So do you feel more valued?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Yeah, yeah. Valued. And I guess the word I would use is ‘protected’. I feel protected on this farm.

On another farm. Maybe the boss is gonna tell you, uh, you know what, I don’t want you here anymore. Get lost. Uh, but I know that’s not gonna happen to me here. Not on this farm.

in my experience, when you’re working on a farm outside of the Milk with Dignity program,

I mean, yeah, you have rights, but the problem is that those rights aren’t respected. So if you need a day off, you can ask for it. But then if the boss says, no, there’s nobody that’s gonna get your back.

so workers just give up. They, they, they stop speaking up because they know that, um, the, your rights aren’t gonna be respected. And, uh, and, and you’re, you’re not gonna, you’re not gonna be listened to.

ASHLEY: Now, how did you decide to start volunteering with migrant Justice?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: I mean, I guess, uh, it started cuz I, uh, I was playing soccer. I like to play soccer and, and there you meet other, uh, workers and they’re always telling you stories about their farms and, and you hear a lot of bad stories. You hear about problems that they’re having and, and always problems.

Uh, and so you get to, uh, compare like that. And, so I decided, you know, that that didn’t seem fair. And so I wanted to get involved in micro justice because I thought everybody should have, have the same rights and, and protections that, that I have.

And when you’re fighting, you aren’t just fighting for yourself, but you’re fighting for your entire community.

ASHLEY: And this is my last question, Rubinay. What do you wish more people knew about this work?

RUBINAY [via WILL]: Yeah, I mean, what I want people to know, um, they should value this work, because maybe from the outside it, it looks easy. Um, but, uh, they, they should try it because, um, it’s, uh, I, I was talking with your colleagues earlier that, it’s, it’s tough work. And it’s tiring. The long hours that we work it, it’s not something to play with.


RUBINAY [via WILL]: So yeah, thanks very much. It was great to have this interview and I’ve, I’ve been waiting for my 15 minutes of fame to come, but here they are. (laughs) Yeah. I want you to meet my wife as well.

ASHLEY: Oh my goodness! Que bonita! [Laughs]

ASHLEY [VO]: Today, the Milk with Dignity program operates on 46 farms in Vermont and New York, protecting the rights of hundreds of farmworkers while putting well over 3.5 million dollars towards wages, bonuses, benefits, and housing improvements. It’s an important pillar in Ben & Jerry’s supply program called Caring Dairy, which includes pioneering initiatives that help protect milking cows, and the environment. Caring Dairy & Milk With Dignity work together to support justice, prosperity & resilience on the dairy farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain.

But Migrant Justice says this is only the beginning. Since 2019 they’ve been focusing their attention on a popular grocery chain with its own store brand milk sourced from dairy farms in several states across the northeast.

Migrant Justice is part of a movement to build a food system that is humane and dignified. So that we, the consumers, can trust that the people who work to put food on our plates are valued for their invaluable work. To learn more about how to support their efforts, go to migrant justice dot net.

[MUX OUT, transition to post-episode statement]

CHERYL PINTO: Since this episode was recorded, the New York Times published the results of a year-long investigation into the troubling rise of unaccompanied migrant

minors working in dangerous jobs that violate child labor laws. As part of that

reporting, the New York Times made allegations of a young worker injured on

a dairy farm that supplied Ben & Jerry’s.

We were shocked at the allegations and don’t believe that any of our dairy suppliers are or have violated child labor laws. As you’ve just heard in this episode, Ben & Jerry’s has worked hard to advance the livelihoods and working conditions for migrant farm workers in our dairy supply chain. We’ve re-doubled our efforts with our suppliers to ensure they comply with all applicable laws related to child labor, our Responsible Partner Policy and the Milk with Dignity Standards to further strengthen and elevate our efforts to protect young workers, and indeed, every worker at that farms that provide dairy products for us. We, along with Migrant Justice, urge other companies and suppliers to adopt the Milk with Dignity program.

You can read more on this at:


ASHLEY [VO]: Into the Mix is a Ben & Jerry’s Podcast produced by Vox Creative.

This episode was written by Bethany Denton.

Special thank you to our guests, Rubinay Aguilar Montero and his wife, Luci Perez. Thanks also to Dr. Teresa Mares, and to Will Lambek from Migrant Justice for production support and translation services.

Archival footage was provided by Migrant Justice and UVM Media Resources.

The Vox Creative team includes Lead Producers Bethany Denton and Martha D. Salley, Production Manager Taylor Henry, and Production Coordinator Jessica Bae.

The team also includes Ariana Jiffo, senior manager of creative services, Design Director Brittany Falussy, and post-production stars Greg Russ and Andrew Hammond.

Kyle Neal engineered this episode, with translation help from Bianca Salinas. Original music by Israel Tutson.

Thanks to AJ Gutierrez, Steven DeVall and Kelly Stewart for their production support, as well as Noemi Martinez Turull.

The Ben & Jerry’s team includes Jay Tandon, Cheryl Pinto, Jay Curley, Sanjana Mahesh, and Chris Miller.

I’m Ashley C Ford. Thank you for listening.

Advertiser Content From  logo