Massage as Wellness for Agricultural Workers
By Juan Concha-Holmes
From 2012 to 2016, I was responsible for an education program for the health, safety and rights of agricultural workers in Florida.
It was during this time that I helped AFOP Health & Safety translate the Worker Protection Standard flipchart into Spanish. This flipchart helps educate farmworkers on how to keep themselves safe from pesticide exposure and, as such, will have a positive impact on the farmworker community.
From this experience, I had the opportunity to hear testimonies about agricultural workers’ specific labor conditions. There were mentioned many ailments that were related to the type of work they performed including the quality of the tools that they used and the conditions of their work environment.
Above all, I remember the image of 47-year old Maria. After more than 25 years of cutting ferns she showed me how she had pain that ran up the length of her arm to her shoulder, neck, and back, and even to the scapula. Every year she made thousands of bunches of 25 twigs each. For every 100 bunches, she had to make 2,500 cuts with the scissors. In other words, squeeze and release the scissors 2500 times. There were days when she could make up to 400 bunches in a day, which meant having to squeeze and release the scissors 10 thousand times.
Since I have been in training as a massage therapist (graduated and licensed in 2017), I have connected many points between what I was learning about massage and self-care with my earlier career dedicated to agricultural workers. I was able to review basic knowledge about the human body, especially the muscles, and learn complex massage techniques. At once, I was able to watch how my own bodily habits have been forged by the type of work I had done, among other aspects of life. I realized that agricultural workers also suffer the consequences of their specific working conditions on their physical health.
Thus, I was able to relate and to think about what happens in other occupational branches of agriculture that force the body into certain positions, movements, and activities that require physical and mental efforts, and sometimes, even worse, in extreme situations like those caused by temperature and humidity. For this reason, Beth Chaney and Essie Torres (2017) rightly say that “the agricultural industry serves as one of the most dangerous workplace settings in the US […]. The hazardous work conditions elevate farmworkers into categories documented for poor occupational health and a high incidence of workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.”[i]
My professional experience working with predominantly immigrant agricultural workers together with the training in massage techniques along with anatomy and physiology, created an interest in exploring self-care practices by, with, and for agricultural workers who have some of the most deleterious effects from their work environment, yet have little access to healing.
Because of this, the idea of a health self-care program seems opportune. Incorporating massage, what I call the path of therapeutic touch, has potential for improving blood circulation, toning the muscles, activating the lymphatic immune system, increasing metabolism and cellular oxygenation throughout the body, as well as increasing knowledge of the human body. More importantly, it is the path of therapeutic touch that recognizes that the body has memory, that it grew and was educated in a society, that it is an exponent of a culture, and that it is immersed in a constellation of relationships.
These reflections and ideas are a first step in this direction and by developing this program I look forward to discovering other initiatives and best practices to help train agricultural workers to better take care of themselves.
[i] Chaney, Beth H and Essie Torres. “Covariates of Identified Stress and Depression among Seasonal Farmworkers” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 14,7 711. 30 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijerph14070711
Juan Concha-Holmes is a massage therapist with an extensive background working with farmworkers. His website is www.onehealingpath.com.