FJ Blog

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Today's guest blogger is Farmworker Justice volunteer Valentina Stackl.

Since International Women’s Day, on March 8th, over 1600 women held 24-hours fasts across 35 states as well as in Washington DC and Mexico City. The month long action culminated with a 48-hour fast with over 100 women on the National Mall. I was one of those women.

Why did we fast? We went without food to feed the courage of elected officials to pass fair and just immigration reform and to stop the deportations.

The event was hosted by We Belong Together, which is an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. It was also a part of Fast for Families, a group that hosted an event at the end of 2013 in which core fasters fasted for comprehensive immigration reform for over 22 days on the national mall. Fast for Families also finished their “Fast for Families Across America” bus tour, which lasted seven weeks and reached more than 90 Congressional districts, just as we women finished our fast on the mall.

The over 100 women came from all over the country and were both immigrant and native-born. The youngest was a teenager, the oldest in her 70s. We came from women’s rights organizations; immigrant rights groups, faith, labor and community organizations. The group included farmworker women and domestic workers. We were all united by the desire to send a message for fair immigration reform and an end to the suffering caused by deportations. 

I fasted on behalf of Farmworker Justice because immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship is critically important to farmworkers and our nation’s food security.

Over 50% of the roughly 2 million farmworkers are undocumented. The current immigration system harms farmworkers, farmers and the nation. Farmworkers work extremely hard at low wages in a dangerous occupation to perform an essential role cultivating and harvesting the food for our tables. But when the majority of workers lack legal status, most farmworkers are too fearful of deportation or being fired to challenge wage theft, dangerous conditions or other workplace violations.

Congress must enact legislation that reforms our broken immigration system and creates an accessible roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans, including farmworkers and their families.

After almost 48 hours of fasting someone asked the crowd “are you hungry?” and without hesitation the women replied “hungry for justice!” While our fast is over, the fight continues until we see a fair and humane immigration system for America’s immigrants.


by Valentina Stackl
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Friday, 11 April 2014

For the first time in decades, the current generation isn’t as healthy as the one that came before.” The theme for day five of National Public Health Week is “Be the Healthiest Nation in One Generation” and is dedicated to turning around the declining trend in health faced by Americans today. To address this trend, it’s important that we understand the barriers to good health faced by all people in the United States. At Farmworker Justice, we spend a lot of time contemplating migration as a social determinant of health. Specifically, we discuss the roadblocks that affect good health and quality of life and we think about ways to lift those roadblocks, either through advocating for policy change or through health promotion and education projects.

In terms of farmworkers, migration from their home to the U.S. has a lot to do with their health. Just a few factors related to migration that affect farmworkers include poverty, language, discrimination, and national policies.

Most farmworkers live at or below the poverty line. Health outcomes of people who live near the poverty line are worse than for those who enjoy higher incomes.
Eighty-one percent of farmworkers speak Spanish but immediately after arriving in the U.S. they need to navigate everything from grocery stores, public schools, housing, and health clinics almost entirely in English.
• Discrimination, both overt acts of discrimination and microagressions (every day, more subtle forms of discrimination), is associated with increased anxiety, anger, depression, and stress levels.
• Policy can be discriminatory when it is does not provide protections to workers equitably across professions. For example, many states do not require agricultural employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for farmworkers, even though agriculture is ranked among the most dangerous occupations by the U.S. Department of Labor.
• Policies that don’t seem to be about health, like immigration policy, can actually have a great impact on the health and wellbeing of our community members. For example, children who hear about deportations may constantly fear the separation of their families and people who cannot obtain driver’s licenses may avoid driving to a clinic.

Not only do poverty, language barriers, discrimination, and policy serve as enormous sources of stress, but they also stand in the way of accessing and receiving appropriate medical and mental health services. In addition, sixty-four percent of farmworkers are uninsured, so even when they do seek care, paying for it presents another barrier.

To reverse the decline in the nation’s health outcomes, it is important to address the barriers, social inequalities, and injustices that contribute to the decline. We must also recognize that the health of each individual is affected by the overall health of our communities so working toward better health outcomes for the entire community will create better health for each individual.

by Chelly Richards
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Thursday, 10 April 2014

The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses. We’ve all seen the frightening consequences from fruits and vegetables contaminated with salmonella or listeria. Eating safe, healthy food, today's theme of National Public Health Week, is a basic building block of public health. While most conversations about this topic revolve around responding to outbreaks or creating more rigorous standards and surveillance by government agencies, few consider the important role of farmworkers in preventing foodborne illnesses.

Food safety advocates have long recognized that the working conditions and training of farmworkers can significantly affect food safety: overworked and underpaid farmworkers in the field are typically not encouraged to look out for safety concerns. If employers don't provide sanitary facilities, or fail to provide the necessary training or economic incentives to stop production when unsafe conditions exist, important opportunities to improve food safety are lost. 

Farmworker Justice is a co-founder of a unique collaboration between farmworker, environmental and consumer advocates, retailers, and farmers that aims to promote food safety and improve working conditions in the produce industry. The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) has developed a set of food safety, labor, and pesticide standards and a training program to help farmworkers and farm owners and their managers work together to implement the standards. 

EFI's food safety standards recognize that farmworkers are often the first line of defense against contaminated food. Under the EFI system, workers receive training to recognize food safety risks and are encouraged to report unsafe conditions, improper practices or procedures in the field to their supervisor. It’s a common sense approach to food safety that benefits workers, growers, retailers and consumers: fresh fruits and vegetables grown and harvested in ways that respect workers can help reduce the potential for transmission of foodborne illness.

by Jessica Felix-Romero
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