This is Farmworker Awareness Week, a time to support the millions of farmworkers whose labor puts food on every American table, and who work and live in some of the worst environmental conditions in our nation.
It’s estimated that 2 to 3 million farmworkers plant, tend, and harvest American crops every year. Many farmworkers in the U.S. are migrants who move from place to place following the harvest. Where I live, in North Carolina, migrant farmworkers are the majority. The average annual income for a farmworker in the United States is about $11,000, or about $16,000 for a farmworking family (though pay on the East Coast is lower than the national average). Farmworkers live in overcrowded housing and very few receive health care or unemployment benefits. Here in North Carolina, about half of our farmworkers cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families.
Farmworkers are also disproportionately exposed to hazardous pesticides on the job. A recent study in eastern North Carolina found multiple pesticide residues on the hands and in the urine of farmworker children. Last week the produce giant Ag-Mart settled for millions of dollars with the family of a boy, Carlitos Candelario, who was born with multiple severe birth defects, which his parents attribute to their hazardous working conditions in Ag-Mart’s tomato fields along the East Coast.
This week you can attend events to learn about the rich history and culture of farmworkers in the United States, and you can take action to support better working conditions for the people who harvest our food. When you sit down to your next meal, please also take a moment to give thanks for the hardworking hands who brought it to you.