Project LEAF

Harvest of Shame

By Ashley Nelsen

Have you seen Edward R. Murrow’s documentary Harvest of Shame? It’s a Peabody-award winning film about the agricultural conditions of migrants in the 1960s. The opening scene is in Florida. It shows African Americans in a parking lot where labor contractors are repeatedly shouting, “Over here! Seventy cents!” while urging migrant workers to get on a bus to go work in the fields harvesting produce for 70 cents a day, often working in fields while they are being sprayed with harmful pesticides.

The Harvest of Shame vividly showed the American public the deplorable cycle of human poverty and labor abuse used to ensure the variety of produce at affordable prices we’ve come to expect. Fast forward to 2014, the demographic of migrant farm workers has changed to predominately Latino, but the challenges remain the same: poor and unsafe labor conditions and low wages.

My office at EPA, the Certification and Worker Protection Branch, realized that to reach this environmental justice population and educate them about pesticide safety would require more than the typical “top-down” government approach. To find such an invisible population we decided on a “bottom-up” approach involving partnerships with stakeholders who interact with farm workers on a regular basis.

Graphic for Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings DocumentWe partnered with the Association of Farm Worker Opportunity Programs, a national network of trainers who deliver pesticide safety training. Their newest training module, co-developed with EPA, is Project LEAF, which educates farm workers and their families on the hazards of take-home pesticide exposure. Another wonderful partner we have is the Migrant Clinicians Network, an association of clinicians in rural areas that educates healthcare providers on how to recognize, treat, and report pesticide poisoning. We also recently collaborated with physicians and subject matter experts to update our “Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings.” This manual is used nationally and internationally by healthcare professionals in treating patients with pesticide-related illnesses. Pesticides are often colorless and odorless, and symptoms of exposure mimic the cold and flu, making this manual instrumental for those providing healthcare for farm workers.

REI 3 CroppedWe also recently proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS, originally enacted in 1992, was developed to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. The proposed changes would require annual mandatory pesticide safety training, expanded posting of no-entry signs for some of the most hazardous pesticides, and, for the first-time ever, children under the age 16 would not be allowed to handle pesticides (unless on a family farm).

Language barriers, cultural differences, documentation status and physical migration continue to make the farm worker population virtually invisible in this country. However, by working with stakeholders who have the common interest of improving the well-being of the American farm worker, we at EPA are working to help end the harvest of shame.

NOTE: If you would like to support the proposed changes to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard by leaving a comment please visit: EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0184. Comments must be received on or before August 18, 2014. Additionally, you can click here for tips on how to effectively comment on EPA proposed rules and changes.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, September 2009. She became passionate about farm worker issues after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Kiva Fellow in Latin America.

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.

Partnering to Improve Farmworker Pesticide Safety

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Ashley Nelsen

Image of a family at home.Pesticides play an important role in providing us the variety of fruits and vegetables that we have come to expect. It’s my office’s job to ensure that pesticides do their job in the field and don’t pose unnecessary health risks to people. When studies showed that children of farmworkers are exposed to pesticide residues found in their homes, a longstanding partnership between the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and the EPA went into action.

The product of this partnership is Project LEAF (Limiting Exposure Around Families) and its training materials. Project LEAF was designed to educate farmworkers and their families on the hazards, prevention and mitigation of take-home pesticide exposure. Carefully crafted messages throughout the training and the training materials are designed to create permanent behavior change, such as laundering family clothing separate from work clothing, thus reducing pesticide residue within the home.

Educating farmworkers, their families and other environmental justice communities on pesticide safety poses unique challenges. America’s farmworkers often migrate with the ebb and flow of the seasons, making it difficult to locate them for safety training. Farmworkers today are predominantly Hispanic and often struggle with low literacy. Therefore, training and supporting materials such as brochures, pocket foldout cards, posters, magnets and public service announcements were designed to be bilingual, culturally sensitive, and low literacy.

In addition to developing the training and its supporting materials, AFOP delivers free Project LEAF training throughout the country. They are one of very few organizations capable of reaching the migrant farmworker population, cultivating the important relationship between farmers and growers, and assisting in locating important resources such as clinics, agricultural extension and churches for farmworkers.

The partnership between the EPA and AFOP has allowed the EPA to cost effectively access AFOP’s national farmworker network. We’re excited about the impact this training makes on the farmworker population by enabling them to protect themselves and their children. Read more information about free Project LEAF training.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, in May 2008 as an intern, returning as a permanent employee in September 2009. She received her M.A. in International Environmental Policy and Spanish at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Ashley currently works on issues related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, the EPA regulation for worker protection and international pesticide policy.

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.