By: Vashti Kelly, Programs Manager

February is Black History Month and National Farmworker Awareness Week is right around the corner, observed during the last week in March. Thus, AFOP Health & Safety wanted to begin a discussion about the fact that although the ethnicity of farm workers may have changed over the past 50 plus years, the plight of farm workers persists.

Although most farm workers are Latino, a small percentage of farm workers self-identified as Black or African American. According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2013-2014, out of the sixty-eight percent of hired farm workers interviewed eighty percent were Hispanic and two percent were Black or African American. Depending on where you are in our country, the population of Black or African American farm workers is more prominent than other states, usually in Eastern states like Florida

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Originally released November 1960, Edward R. Murrow narrated the documentary Harvest of Shame, the focus of which was the plight of American migrant farm workers. It was meant to shock Americans into caring enough to do something about the reality of what it meant to live in poverty and what it looked like.

The opening scene of Black migrant workers being recruited for work and the sound of one farmer stating to another, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

Infuriating as it might be it summed up the thoughts of many Americans back then. Jump to present day and not much has changed, perhaps the ethnicity of migrant workers but their plight remains the same if not worse.

Americans have forgotten or been so far removed from the source of our food and how it reaches our tables, that it makes it nearly impossible for most to empathize with farm workers. Despite the criticisms or praise hurled at farm workers in the United States, there is no denying that farm work is dangerous, difficult, and unappreciated. When you begin to pile on the issues of race, immigration status, living wages, healthcare, affordable housing, etc. the issue becomes much larger than anyone is willing to admit and a problem that affects us all.

Farm workers continue to be among one of the most exploited group of workers in the United States, often referred to as an invisible population. A misnomer if there ever was one, all anyone must do is look and it becomes evident that farm workers have very real faces with very real stories to tell. Historically, it is the American way to bring vulnerable populations from other countries to toil in U.S. fields under anything but idyllic conditions.

It is unfortunate that farm workers remain underrepresented in this country but it does not have to be the case another 50 years from now. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” What are you willing to do to make equality for farm workers a reality? The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs’ mission is to improve the quality of life for migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families through providing a launching pad to a better and more stable life. AFOP Health & Safety Programs hosts a long sleeve shirt drive every last week in March for more information on how to participate, click here.