The SFA Take: National Farmworker Awareness Week

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.16.15 PMNext Thursday, March 24, kicks off the 17th annual National Farmworker Awareness Week, organized by Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF). The Southern Foodways Alliance is proud to partner with SAF to bring you daily dispatches from March 24 to March 31 detailing the many struggles facing those who feed our nation.

As a starting point, consider these realities of America’s agricultural system:

  • Farmworkers feed the world– 85% of our fruits and vegetables are handpicked. There are an estimated 2-3 million men, women, and children work in the fields in the United States. Farms are in every state, including yours, yet farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in horrific conditions.
  • Farm work is the third most dangerous job in the United States. The people who plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any other workers in the nation and have higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, urinary tract infections, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis than other wage-earners.
  • Farmworkers are treated differently under the law. Overtime, unemployment insurance, and even protection when joining a union are not guaranteed under federal law. Farmworkers were excluded from almost all major federal laws passed in the 1930s. The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1978 to mandate minimum wage for farmworkers on large farms only and it still has not made provisions for overtime.

It’s as if capitalism can bring you the perfectly shaped apple without the existence of a worker struggle that reaches back through agricultural history in the United States […] This invisibility of history, hard work, and worker abuse makes that fruit or vegetable that much more edible.”

~Silvana Marr-Madariaga, 2015 SAF Fellow

We hope you’ll join with organizations like SAF to demand dignity, safe working and living conditions, and fair treatment under the law for all farmworkers. Stay tuned for daily posts during National Farmworker Awareness Week, and share them broadly. For more information, visit the SAF website.

*Special thanks to SFA’s Smith Symposium Fellow Nadeen Bir-Zaslow for assistance with this series.