Farmworkers

Storytelling to Confront Injustice

By Dale Slongwhite

I first heard the term “environmental justice” in October 2009 when my daughter Karen invited me to attend the first annual Environmental Justice Summit at Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando, an event she was helping to organize. I did not even know what the term “environmental justice” meant. I attended the conference as a show of support for her efforts to make a positive change in the world.

But something happened halfway through the day that converted me from a supportive mother to an individual willingly drawn into the middle of the fray.

Untitled-1

Click to Hear Linda Lee’s Story

An African American woman, a former farmworker on the many now-closed Lake Apopka farms, spoke about her experience crawling on her knees in the scorching Florida sun, down seemingly endless rows hacking at lettuce with a machete for twelve hours a day, six days a week, for decades. She spoke about women gathering their skirts around another woman as a make-shift bathroom since there were none in the field; about gobbling down a sandwich after hauling a crate of corn to the truck; about crop duster planes dropping pesticides without asking workers to leave the fields; about high incidences in her neighborhood of lupus, eczema, and cancer. And about 18 funerals in one weekend.

CornMuleTrain3

Farmworkers pack vegetables on a large vehicle called a mule train.

She started working summers and weekends at the age of seven, standing atop the mule train twelve feet off the ground pushing crates down the chute for other women to pack vegetables. She was the same age as me — I pictured my summer days at age seven — lounging on the beach in Connecticut, riding my bike around the block, engrossed in Writer magazine dreaming of becoming a published author.

The stories of these women, these farmworkers, haunted me until I could no longer sit on the sidelines. But what could I do for a whole community ten minutes from my house whose residents now suffered life-threatening illnesses? I’m not a lawyer, so I couldn’t fight a legal battle. I’m not a doctor, so I couldn’t offer healthcare. I’m not a scientist, environmentalist, or lobbyist. I’m just a writer.

Just a writer! I could craft stories about the harmful effects of pesticide exposure, about heat stroke, and about labor laws we all take for granted that do not apply to farmworkers. I could write so that others who live in their own worlds away from environmental injustices could be made aware of what it takes to harvest our food.

 

Click to Hear Mary Ann Robinson's Story

Click to Hear Mary Ann Robinson’s Story

I interviewed 11 African American former farmworkers, who told stories of pregnant women bending over in the fields harvesting or planting right up until the time of delivery. Many of these babies were born with low birth weights, physical or mental disabilities, or stillborn. I heard stories of snakes in the fields and trees. I heard stories of indebtedness.

I learned that these same individuals went home to neighborhoods that housed toxic dumps trucked in from other parts of the country; that race is the biggest factor when it comes to the location of municipal landfills and incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, and Superfund sites.

Click to Hear Mary Tinsley's Story

Click to Hear Mary Tinsley’s Story

I could tell people about Mary who sees all sorts of doctors for her lupus, which she believes was caused by exposure to chemicals and pesticides in the fields. She has sympathy for people working in the fields.

I hope these stories move you. When you sit down tonight for your evening meal and experience the crunch of a carrot, the succulence of an orange, or the sweetness of a raspberry, remember the farmworkers who brought you that bountiful blessing.

We all have different talents, but we also have the same obligation to confront injustices, wherever we encounter them. Hopefully you will spread the message, and maybe there are even some who can do more than just tell stories. Maybe you can take action — before more farmworkers unnecessarily suffer another day just so that we all can eat.

About the Author: Dale Slongwhite is a professional writer and has been coaching writers for over 10 years. Her recent book, Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food, dives deeper into many of the issues surrounding Lake Apopka.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Do You Know Who Grows Your Food?

 

Two million farmworkers help grow, tend and harvest the food that we put on our tables every day.  They are the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers whose hard work and long days enable us to have healthy, plentiful food.  They are often exposed to hazards from pesticide exposures and need the same workplace protection that other industry workers have had for decades.

It’s been 20 years since the rules providing protections to farmworkers were updated.  In February of this year, the agency proposed for public comment on a revised Worker Protection Standard.  The proposal is the result of numerous discussions across the country with farm workers, farm owners, states and others on what is working, what is not, and what needs to be improved when it comes to the current rule. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My First “Introduction” to Cesar Chavez, Farmworker Advocate and Labor Leader

In March 1968, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy joined Cesar Chavez and 8,000 farmworkers in Delano, CA, to end Chavez’s 25-day fast. Although I was young, the image of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Chavez on T.V. was embedded in my mind. It was the first time I had heard about the hunger strikes and learned that some people in this country, particularly farmworkers, were not being treated fairly. It was my first introduction to the need for social justice.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez

Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State

Now, I am an Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and one of my responsibilities is to help ensure protections from pesticide exposure are in place for farmworkers. Two million farmworkers grow, tend and harvest our food. They deserve to be protected.

This week, the 15th annual Farmworker Awareness Week which concludes with a national day to commemorate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, we recognize the important contribution farmworkers make to our economy and our local communities. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA Takes a Step Forward in Protecting our Nation’s Farm Workers

This blog was originally posted on the White House Blog.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard in order to protect the nation’s two million farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure.

I am proud that this administration has taken another step forward in protecting our nation’s farm workers, a cause that is at the very root of my passion for public service. My hero and grandfather, Cesar Chavez, fought tirelessly for the rights of farmworkers, from higher wages and worker compensation, to access to drinking water and safety from pesticides.

My grandfather’s work centered around justice and ensuring that hard working, decent people were treated with the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by other workers in other jobs. The rule, covering farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses, has not been updated for 20 years – and certainly for many it is long overdue. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA & America's Farmworkers: Helping Create a Safer Work Environment

By Cindy Ramirez
 
I am the granddaughter of a Bracero. In 1961, my grandfather was part of the guest worker program – unofficially called the Bracero program – that allowed Mexican men to work temporarily in U.S. agriculture. I was told by my grandfather that when he arrived, officials sprayed him with pesticides to kill the “Mexican fleas,” an experience shared by over 2 million other men, so he could work in the U.S. For the next two years, he worked on the tomato farms of California to help his young family back home in the rural mountains of central Mexico. Today, millions of farmworkers continue to migrate here seasonally or immigrate permanently in search of agricultural work. 

My grandfather's Bracero ID card

My grandfather’s Bracero ID card

 As an intern with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, I learned that even though farmworkers are not sprayed with pesticides like my grandfather was, some are still exposed to the harmful chemicals simply because of where they work.
 
Lessening the risk of occupational pesticide exposure in agriculture is the purpose of EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard. Now, EPA is proposing to amend its 1992 regulation so that almost 2 million workers can benefit from annual pesticide safety training that will include how to better protect themselves from pesticide exposure in the workplace and from bringing pesticides home on their clothes, exposing their families to chemicals. The proposal also includes updated personal protective equipment standards for pesticide handlers; a first-time ever minimum age requirement for pesticide handlers and some workers; improvements in the notification of pesticide treated areas; and access to information on pesticide application, the pesticide label, and safety data for farmworkers and their advocates.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

I have seen America’s farmworkers work despite many risks, including pesticide exposure, in order to provide for their families who are either back home or alongside them in the fields. My grandfather experienced similar hardships to help make a better life for his children. The amendment to EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard will help make a safer work environment for current and future farmworkers.
 
Let EPA know your views by commenting on the farmworker proposal.
 
About the author: Cindy Ramirez is an intern working at EPA in Washington, DC, on projects related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, and the EPA regulation for worker protection.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.