Farmworker conditions lag, advocate says

He Sees Advantages As Organic Farmers

Organic farmers market their fruits, vegetables and meats as healthier for the consumer and the environment, with no chemical residues on the eggplants and no toxic farm waste run-off into the Everglades. Some growers even boast that their animals are treated more humanely than livestock from industrial feedlots, all improvements to justify the higher cost of organic food.

But the conditions of the farmworkers who harvest those crops, at least in the Southeast, is little better than it was 30 years ago, a farmworker advocate told a group of  environmental journalists who traveled to a Homestead organic farm on Saturday. The field trip was organized by the Society of Environmental Journalists conference being held in Miami.

“We have not been able to get any organic farmers in the Southeast to participate in Domestic Fair Trade Association,” said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator at The Farmworker Association of Florida. “We’ve had some luck in the Northeast and now a little in the Midwest. But not down here.”

Indeed, farmworkers earn an average of just $10,000 a year doing physically grueling work, often with no access to healthcare and sometimes only minimal equipment to protect themselves from the chemicals used on industrial farms. As many as two-thirds of the 300,000 farmworkers in Florida migrate, following the harvest each year.

Moreno would like to see more farmworkers making the transition to farmers and thinks they would have advantages as organic farmers, if they could get the training and credit they’d need to get started.

“There was a lot of support to help farmworkers become something else, to train them for other work,” Moreno said. “But no one wanted to make them farmers. They were farmers in their own countries and a lot of times, they didn’t have access to chemicals, so they were trained on this kind of farming.”

Laura Wides-Munoz, Hispanic affairs reporter for The Associated Press, closed the field trip with a plea to the gathered journalists to remember to include the perspective of farmworkers when they report on the environmental aspects of agriculture.  She invoked Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 television documentary Harvest of Shame that exposed the horrific conditions so many farmworkers worked and lived in.

“They still have the strength to pick our vegetables and they’re a little more organized than they were,” she said. “But they still need journalists who are objective, but compassionate, who take the time to go beyond the press release.”

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4 responses to “Farmworker conditions lag, advocate says”

  1. Danilali says:

    I believe that these farm workers are practically on an “incognito slavery”. The farm workers are exploited, discriminated and taken advantage of their immigration status. The government should create laws protecting these hard working individuals. The laws should provide them with healthcare and other benefits. The conditions these farm workers live in, is the result of today’s economic and social imbalance.
    My question is: Once these workers flee from mistreatment, fear, and lack of security, who is willing to take over their jobs?

  2. Marchesa says:

    This article brings up many interesting factors in organic farming. What struck me the most is the fact that practices haven’t changed much, in the last 30 years. I truly believe in the last three decades we have created a whole new world, in terms of the innovations that have transpired. It is disappointing to see that the methods surrounding regulating the food we consume have not become stricter nor more technologically advanced. You would think that we would care enough about what we put into our bodies, to make sure that we actually know how it is harvested. I believe that we have to investigate this issue further, as more and more health concerns have many of us talking about what exactly we put into our mouths. Are we sure it really is “organic” (when there is no definitive {and possibly DFTA regulated} definition)?

  3. Adam Frenkel says:

    Farming has been the backbone of global consumption for centuries. Over the last couple decades, local growers have lost market share to large corporations and it is essential that these farmers continue to produce organic goods. Organic products represent an opportunity for manufacturers to gain higher margins. However, it is imperative that these local producers receive benefits or the opportunity to compete against large agricultural manufacturers.

  4. Kate Geldmacher says:

    If farmworkers are working under such harsh circumstances and for such little pay, why aren’t more of them pushing to become farmers? If they are proficient farmers, who are we to stop them from doing that? It seems that it would not only benefit them financially, but would also benefit the general public by producing healthier food.