When I used to think of a migrant workers, I often envisioned a massive monoculture field of lettuces in the Salinas Valley, or a similar scene of industrial agriculture. It’s easy to forget that these workers also play a role in the local and sustainable food movements; even smaller organic farms face the economic pressures and regulatory realities that push farmers toward hiring migrant or seasonal farmworkers.
Farmers need to provide safe working conditions, culturally-sensitive training, and a living wage to all their workers. Today, migrant farmworkers still suffer mortality and morbidity rates greater than the vast majority of the American population, due in part to the combination of poverty, limited access to health care, and hazardous working conditions. Yet, small-scale farmers may face language and cultural barriers with their farmworkers, which can inhibit proper training and impair communication between farmers and their workers. Even farmers who share the language and culture of their workers may not know how to access services for their workers.
How does a new farmer access the tools they need to keep their farmworkers safe? At Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN), we work closely with clinicians who have dedicated their professional lives to serving migrant communities. Here are a few ways you can help migrant and seasonal farmworkers gain access to care and prevent workplace injury, to assure that their health needs are met:
- Connect with your local migrant health center. Many of these workers are eligible for low-cost health services, designed specifically for them. Community health centers across the US receive funding just to serve the migrant and seasonal farmworker population. These centers often provide outreach materials, transportation, and health screenings in multiple languages. Another list of centers is maintained on the website of HRSA, the government agency that is responsible for funding community health centers.
- Provide culturally-appropriate trainings in their language. MCN’s website has a wealth of resources for community outreach workers that farmers can utilize for training purposes, including bilingual comic books on workers’ rights on the farm and proper pesticide application, information on the Affordable Care Act, and more. In MCN’s Resources and Tool Box sections, click “Patient Resources” in the left sidebar.
- Help them continue care as they move. One of the biggest frustrations for migrant clinicians is the inability to keep patients with chronic illnesses in care as they move. MCN’s Health Network is a bridge case management program for mobile workers with chronic illnesses. This means that a farmworker with an illness like HIV, diabetes, or TB in California is assisted by MCN to continue treatment as they travel to Oregon or Washington for the next season’s work. The health center can sign up a worker with Health Network, and HN will then assist the worker to establish care in their next location. Encourage your community health center to utilize the program.
- Get to know your workers. Many of these workers find themselves isolated from the larger community, as Margaret Gray writes in her book, Labor and the Locavore. Get to know their stories, better understand their day-to-day-lives, and learn why they’re working with you.
- Encourage your fellow farmers to do the same. We’re all in this together. Let’s ensure that our workers can have healthy, safe working lives just as we hope for ourselves and for our families.
Claire Hutkins Seda is the writer and editor for Migrant Clinicians Network, a nonprofit focused on health justice for the mobile poor. To learn more about what MCN is up to, you can read MCN’s blog at http://www.migrantclinician.
org/community/blog.html, or follow MCN on Facebook or Twitter.