By Daniel Sheehan, Executive Director, Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Farm work is tough. Often performed in the blazing heat or numbing cold, the work can be tedious and back-breaking. Exposed to pesticides, sometimes at dangerous levels, and subject to debilitating repetitive-motion injury, farmworkers bear the brunt of what is required to feed this nation. It takes a special person to be farmworker. Yes, a very special person, indeed.
While many in America do not see the farmworker, only the produce they select in their grocery store, the agricultural laborer is as equally a thinking, complex, and ambitious individual as anyone in our society. If you were to sit down and talk with farmworkers, you would hear of hopes for their families and dreams for their children, of hardships and achievements, and of making their way, through hard work and perseverance.
These workers and their families know all too well the pain of farm work, but also the joy and dignity of doing a job and doing it well. If you were to take the time to visit the fields, you would be amazed at the speed of the workers and the great care they take in planting, tending, and harvesting fruits and vegetables. Their labor is, in its own way, a work of art: if not done just so and at the right time, the crops may get damaged, be rejected, or, worse, ruined.
Farmworkers express this joy and dignity through artwork, too. You only need search the internet with the term “farmworker art” to see a bumper crop of powerful, moving works of art created by agriculture workers from all walks of life. In addition, AFOP annually conducts a contest for children of farmworker families to submit works of art that reflect their feelings about their families laboring in the fields for review by a panel of impartial judges. To the winners, AFOP provides cash prizes and a trip for the First Place awardees to the AFOP national conference. The children enjoy the experience and conference attendees appreciate hearing from the artists about their works. This year’s contest theme will be announced on Monday, April 1st. AFOP encourages farmworker children ages 10-18 to submit their entries to us between April 1 – July 1, and we wish them the very best of luck.
Farmworkers and their families are an essential part of the vibrant fabric of this nation. Their artistry in what they do and how they live is part of what America is. I encourage you to appreciate that art and to support farmworkers when you can. They deserve it.