What we know…

Farmworkers are an isolated population that face serious barriers to healthcare because of mobility, language, and cultural differences.  Already hindered by the lack of immigration reform in this country or burdened by mixed family status, many migrants also follow the crops from harvest to harvest or cross the border to return home after a period of work, all of which means that these under-served populations don’t have the time or ability to go to the doctor.  Even with the Affordable Care Act in place, deductibles, co-pays, and even transportation are too expensive for individuals living on menial wages.  For those few individuals that do qualify for some form of government assistance, many do not bother to inquire because of all of the aforementioned factors.  For those that do qualify, their treatment plans do not follow them from state to state, especially when there’s a pretty good chance any new provider is out-of-network.

Simply put, the challenges are formidable.


So, what options do farmworkers have?


Sign in Spanish advertising a spiritual healer's services.
“Spiritual healer Noelia reads cards, palms, and does a cleansing for only $10. Binding and unbinding, sweetening: only $50. Results 100% guaranteed.” Photo credit: AFOP Health & Safety


Traditional medicine, of course!  It’s a familiar practice in farmworkers’ country of origin and has been a trusted source for thousands of years.  It involves prayer, herbs, and action to balance one’s energies.  These are all things that farmworkers are familiar with and draw comfort from, unlike the sterility of white doctors’ coats, cold doctor’s offices, and prescriptions one cannot pronounce.

Often frowned upon by Western culture, traditional medicine involves believing in the unseen and trusting in a higher power to cure what ails you, unlike what’s seen as the proven science of biology and chemistry to pinpoint the virus or bacteria and prescribe a quick fix.

Traditional medicine has deep roots all the way back to the ancient civilizations in Egypt, Asia, Africa, and Mexico, to name a few.  It is the way of indigenous people, and nearly every culture has its own system of traditional healing.  In Mexico, traditional healers are:


  • Parteras/Comadronas (midwives)
  • Herbalistos (herbalists)
  • Hueseros (bone-setters)
  • Sobadores (manual therapists)
  • Curanderos (spiritual healers)


Although not often considered by Western medicine or outsiders as legitimate medical providers, traditional healers are not only a worthwhile option, in some cases they are the only option.  Farmworkers do not have regular work hours and the work they do is not typical.  It can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, rashes, eye irritation from the dust, and pesticide residues.  When occupational hazards are coupled with diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, mental pressures, and lack of healthcare access, many farmworkers end up in the emergency room only to leave with a band-aid on a problem much bigger than any bandage could ever cover.

Again, where do farmworkers turn?  To traditional medicine.


Yes, there are disadvantages.  First, there is the obvious risk of not being able to treat or heal a serious trauma with herbs, as well as that of using a traditional remedy that could do more harm than good.  Additionally, one must be vigilant not to fall victim to fraud in the midst of one’s despair.  Thirdly, there is the potentially hazardous aspect of self-diagnosis and self-medication when the pain and ailments persist past one’s visits to the curandero.  Yet, when a farmworker is faced with missing a day of work due to illness, anything must be done to ensure they are able to make it to work.

Such is the tenuous, challenging reality of farmworkers’ lives.   That’s why AFOP Health & Safety works hard to bring health & safety education directly to the farmworker, so they can prevent some of the injuries or hazardous pesticide and/or heat exposure that’s causing them to have to find healing in the first place.  As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!