I’m a lame blogger when it comes to breaking news at conferences, when my brain typically reaches explosion point with all the information zooming in.

I should have live-blogged this Saturday, while I was taking in Slow Food Nation’s “Toward a new, fair food system” panel: Coalition of Immokalee Workers leader Lucas Benitez revealed that Whole Foods is on the verge of agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for the Florida-grown tomatoes it buys.

As part of its “Campaign for Fair Food,” CIW is urging all major corporate buyers of Florida tomatoes to agree to the extra-penny-per-pound deal. Wages in Florida’s vast tomato fields — home to virtually all winter tomatoes consumed in the U.S. — have declined steadily over the past two decades, pushing hundreds of thousands of workers into poverty and at times slavery. By paying an extra penny that goes directly to pickers, big buyers ensure something approaching to a living wage for farm workers.

After years of intense pressure involving consumer boycotts and considerable legal backlash on the part of industry, several industrial-food giants have agreed to the raise in recent years: Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and most reluctantly, Burger King. (As Eric Schlosser showed last year, by pinching a penny per pound of tomatoes, BK was saving itself $250,000 a year — a rounding error in terms of annual profits and a fraction of annual executive pay.)

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It’s significant that Whole Foods is ready to pay up. As any Whole Foods shopper knows, the “natural foods” giant peddles plenty of out-of-season, conventionally grown produce, for which it charges a hefty premium.

Also, CEO John Mackey has repeatedly expressed virulent anti-union views; he trumpets the allegedly “free market” as the guarantor of worker well-being par excellence. Well, a quite-rigged market has led Florida’s tomato pickers into poverty and even slavery. Shame on Mackey for holding out so long. Will Chipotle Grill be the next domino to fall? It’s good to see social justice crashing the natural-foods-industry party.

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