Turn on the television, go on social media, leave your house, or walk into a store and you are forced to deal with the coronavirus and its affects. We are hearing about and experiencing the shortages of both cleaning and food supplies due to widespread panic and people preparing to shelter in place. And, yes this is putting a strain on the food supply chain, especially with restaurants shutting down, delayed deliveries, and reduced labor… But what about our farmworkers?
This pandemic has all of us scrambling to figure out what to do, but most of us are more financially stable with access to more assistance than the farmworker community that lives paycheck to paycheck in isolated areas. Is the information making its way to those communities? And, if so, what are farmworkers hearing? After all, the information we are being bombarded with is conflicting, at best. It is being recommended that we practice social distancing, not congregate in groups of 10 or more, and stay home (self-quarantine) if we feel sick or know that we’ve been around someone exhibiting flu-like symptoms. However, farmworkers are used to pushing through and working when sick, because a day off work is a day without pay, and a day without pay means no food, no shelter, etc.
The spring season is upon us and that means that growing season is about to kick into high gear. What does that mean in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? It is no secret that our farmworkers are among the most vulnerable populations, but what about now while hundreds of thousands of migrant farmworkers have already left their homes to arrive in time for planting season and seasonal workers are heading to the fields to work?
Migrant farmworkers who live in grower-provided housing or in tight living quarters are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, since the COVID-19 spreads through close contact, droplets and surfaces. Migrant camps could inadvertently become a breeding ground, especially if a person is a-symptomatic, due to sharing of common spaces such as bathrooms, kitchens, and living areas.
It is general good agricultural practice and food handling safety that workers wash their hands and use stationed facilities to prevent the spread of infection and disease in the food supply. Now farmworker advocates and healthcare workers are having to work overtime to stress the importance of handwashing, general hygiene, education on the topic, and receiving medical services. Otherwise, it could have detrimental affects on the farmworker community that in turn could spread the virus even further.
So, as we look back on Farmworker Awareness Week, let’s keep in mind that we are all going through this together. At the same time, some of us will be more affected than others and require more assistance as we resume normalcy, simply because their starting point was so far behind the eight ball in terms of safe working and living conditions.
AFOP Health & Safety wants to remind everyone to stay healthy and safe, check on your neighbor and remain calm. Following this guidance can protect you and those around you.
Children in the Fields Campaign’s has also been hosting weekly conversations on its Facebook page on the topic of COVID-19 as it affects farmworkers and the agricultural industry. Check out the past several #LiveThursday broadcasts, and then tune in tomorrow at 12:30 pm (EST) for the next one with Sadoc Paredes of AgHelp, and Don Kuchnicki of Telamon Michigan.
Part I: Coronavirus and its impact on farmworkers’ health, with MCN’s Amy Liebman and Dr. Madaras
Part II: Effects of the Coronavirus on the Agricultural Industry, with NCGA and Practical Farmers of Iowa
Part III: MSFW Injustices During the COVID-19 Pandemic, with Bruce Goldstein of Farmworker Justice and Neza Xiuhtecutli of the Farmworker Association of Florida.