Photo: United Farm Workers
By Riley Kaiser

Last week, the sun rose yellow over Lake Superior, veiled behind a haze from the wildfires eating through the West Coast. My heart ached for everyone, especially the farmworkers who have had to contend with COVID, heat waves, and droughts, and now fire on top of often backbreaking work conditions and sparse protections. I’m 25 years old and have been working on farms almost every summer since I turned 13. I’m grateful and proud to live in a place that takes local food seriously. We have farmers who will drive hours to share their sweet corn with us and lawyers at the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission who work tirelessly to defend the wild rice beds that are a source of physical and cultural sustenance for our community.

Even with all of this, we are still connected to the fires in California. Unless you’re buying all of your produce each week from the farmers’ market, it’s likely that at least a few things in your cart come from out West. California alone grows more than a third of U.S. vegetables and two-thirds of U.S. fruits and nuts: What happens to our neighbors affects us all. California has increasingly nourished all of us over the past few generations, and in their efforts to provide for the country, they cut corners on how they treat farmworkers, the water, and the land. As they’re recovering and rebuilding, they won’t be able to feed us the way that they have been, which begs the question, how are we going to provide for our community and our friends in need (from here to the Pacific Coast)? What can we do to nourish ourselves in ways that dignify our farmworkers and the places they grow and gather our food? However we decide to respond, one thing is certain: We’ll need clean water and healthy ecosystems.

Chequamegon Bay has a long, rich history of gathering and growing food in ways that keep the water safe and healthy. We all make choices that preserve and care for the body of water we love so much. There’s a clear choice to be made as the company Enbridge tries to reroute their oil pipeline, Line 5, along the Bad River. Enbridge’s proposed reroute would cross the Bad River just upstream from Copper Falls, where oil spills would rage through the watershed much as fire is now tearing through the West. Rerouting Line 5 is just another way that a big corporation is trying to cut corners and get off easy. We know what we need: clean water, healthy food, and hard work that’s respected and appreciated.