The Pull of Pollo: How the Chicken Industry Transformed One Arkansas Town (Gravy Ep. 30)

Taqueria Guanajuato on Thompson St. in Springdale, AR. Photos by Von Diaz.

When you think of Southern food, especially if you’re not from the South, fried chicken might be the first dish that comes to mind. Chicken is a Southern staple, and the biggest chicken companies in the world are all based in the South. The second-largest poultry state is Arkansas, and the northwest region—home to the Walmart empire—is also home to Tyson, Cargill, and George’s, among others.

The Cargill plant is visible behind Asian Amigo Supermarket, an international grocery in Springdale.
The Cargill plant is visible behind Asian Amigo Supermarket, an international grocery in Springdale.

Twenty years ago, it was more than 80% white, but today—because of big chicken—there’s a ballooning population of Latino, Marshall Island, and Asian immigrants. The school system is nearly half Latino, and streets once marked by poultry plants and feed stores are lined with taquerias and signs en español.

Von Diaz met Rosa Rivas (l) and Noemi Barragan at the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center.
Von Diaz met Rosa Rivas (l) and Noemi Barragan at the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center. Both women are veterans of the poultry industry.

This is the story of Springdale, Arkansas, and how chicken transformed a once-sleepy rural town into the most ethnically diverse city in the state—and among the most diverse in the South.

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Tyson responded to producer Von Diaz’s questions with a statement regarding their health and safety policies for employees. That statement, which Diaz summarizes in the podcast, reads in full: 

We value all of our TEAM Members and care about their health and safety. We employ almost 500 health and safety professionals who are focused on providing a safe work environment, include workers who participate in plant safety committees and provide safety training in multiple languages to all TEAM Members. We work hard to keep our TEAM safe, and if someone gets hurt, we work equally hard to make sure they get the medical care they need. We also strive to treat each other respectfully, as outlined in our Code of Conduct, Core Values, Team Behaviors and Team Member Bill of Rights.

It’s difficult to respond to these individual claims since the names of the people making them and the specific details of their circumstances were not shared with us. We will say we’re committed to helping our Team Members be successful. This means offering competitive pay and benefits, providing a safe work environment and giving them a voice in the workplace.

For more information about the ways we support workers at our chicken plants, click here.