Serving Haitian Workers in New Jersey – a Trainer’s Perspective
By Lissette Gonzalez-Sosa, PathStone Corporation NJ
Being able to provide AFOP Health & Safety’s live trainings has been of great value, not only for PathStone’s programs, but also for the health and wellness of the farmworkers we serve in the Garden State – New Jersey.
Hammonton, New Jersey, is known as the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” Whether this is true or not, there is a vast amount of blueberry farms that cover the landscape. The agricultural town of about 8,000 residents doubles in size during the months of June and July for the blueberry harvest. Thousands of migrant workers descend upon Hammonton to pick the delicious indigo colored fruit so desired by New Jerseyans during the summer. At PathStone New Jersey, we support the growers as best we can, offering AFOP Health & Safety’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Heat Stress Prevention trainings at no cost to them. This allows us access to the workers, so that we can provide direct information on health and safety issues using their language of origin. Thanks to AFOP Health & Safety’s multi-lingual materials, PathStone NJ offers trainings in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
In June at the beginning of the harvest, hundreds upon hundreds of Haitians come to Hammonton to pick blueberries, leaving their permanent home in Florida. This population follows the “blueberry route,” often stopping North Carolina, New Jersey, and Maine, before returning to their homes in Florida. Many of the Haitian workers we encounter are those that arrived while their country was in chaos during the earthquake in 2010 and then the category 5 hurricane in 2016. They are a lively, resilient, and family-oriented bunch of folks. Some workers we see year after year and when they arrive at the camp there are plenty of warm greetings and hugs. Other workers we met as children when they participated in the migrant education programs and have since graduated high school and now pick blueberries for college savings. We’ve had the joy of speaking to many workers about their goals and aspirations outside of agriculture. There is a saying in New Jersey, “Once you drink water from New Jersey, you will always be back for more.” It seems this rings true for many of the farmworkers who return to our fields year after year.
Once of the greatest lessons learned working with a diverse farmworker population is that each nationality and culture requires a specific and unique approach. The Haitians, while most speak the common language of Creole, also speak French, and even more are fluent in Spanish. This has been very helpful in providing services, especially when it comes to medical concerns. We’ve learned that the Heat Stress training spurs on many questions about health and wellness. When reviewing the symptoms of possible heat stroke and educating farmworkers on the benefits of water vs soda, the Haitian workers will ask about blood pressure and diabetes and for more information on a variety of health concerns. PathStone has a great relationship with the local migrant health clinic and oftentimes we are able to refer the migrant farmworker for a check-up on the spot. And because this population has Spanish language skills, providing follow-up services has been a smooth process.
Health & Safety trainings are among the most enjoyable and engaging activities that we do on the farm. We look forward to continuing to partner with AFOP H&S to give farmworkers the information and training they need!
Lissette Gonzalez-Sosa is the Regional Administrator for the National Farmworker Jobs Program at PathStone Corporation New Jersey. As a native of NJ she loves all the Garden State has to provide, especially the lovely colorful berries that are produced in the Spring and Summer months. Lissette loves her job and the people too!