What Happens if America’s 2.5 million Farmworkers Get Sick?

1 October 2021

That was the question asked by one of the founders of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, in a New York Times op-ed.  

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a worker-based human rights organization based in Florida. Since the start of the pandemic, KBF CANADA has been working with the Coalition’s award-winning Fair Food Program (FFP) to ensure the health of the farm-working community of Immokalee, Florida.

 

The Most Essential – And the Most Vulnerable

Immokalee, Florida is home to 25,000 farmworkers and their families and is one of the United States’ most vulnerable communities. Living in overcrowded housing units, workers were being transported to and from the fields in packed vans and buses and lacked access to personal protective gear, which put them in grave danger of the rapid spread of coronavirus.

The CIW and the FFP recognized early on that if they didn’t take immediate action, the virus would carve through Florida’s agricultural workforce like wildfire, threatening the health and lives of thousands of farmworkers, resulting in an insufficient number of workers to harvest crops and impacting millions of families who depend on the shelves of their local supermarkets to be stocked. Moreover, with 17% of Florida’s agricultural produce exported to Canada, this would have a direct impact on the availability of fresh produce for Canadians.

 

Antonia Rios Hernandez Former farmworker, Immokalee, Florida
“I believe that field work is incredibly important. It’s not just a tomato. Behind every vegetable is this long process.”

Antonia’s Story*

“It’s a long day, it’s very challenging work. We would be picking, for example, cucumbers in the morning and tomatoes in the afternoon and they’re both very heavy work. My fingers would hurt by the end of the day. It hurts your back and makes your lungs ache to work that hard. I would sometimes come home and would just cry.

They put a lot of protections in place. [The farm was] part of the Fair Food Program and followed the procedures. Thank God no one I know got sick. I wasn’t too afraid of the pandemic because of the precautions that the company was taking. 

Our work is important, but the phrase “essential worker” is a title that we were given. We should have been not just thanked but given real support. 

I believe that field work is incredibly important. It’s not just a tomato. Behind every vegetable is this long process.”

*Excerpts and photo from “Voices From the Front Lines of America’s Food Supply”

 

 

 

Safeguarding Health and Well-Being

Thanks in part to the generous support of a Canadian donor, KBF CANADA is working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program to act quickly and put measures in place to safeguard the health and well-being of Immokalee’s farmworker community, by providing them with tens of thousands of masks and sanitizing health-supplies as well as delivering a tri-lingual comprehensive outreach and education campaigns (English, Spanish and Creole) giving relevant and accurate information about Covid-19. They also developed what is believed to be the first and only set of privately enforceable mandatory standards to protect farmworkers from COVID-19.

KBF CANADA is proud to continue its partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program by providing personal protective equipment. The CIW is now also working tirelessly to ensure access to vaccines for the farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented.

The team at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program, as well as the many people who have benefitted, are deeply grateful for this partnership with KBF CANADA: “We are inspired and energized knowing that there are individuals in Canada who care about the work we do and, more importantly, about the farmworkers harvesting food not only for much of the United States, but also for Canadian homes. The support from KBF CANADA has made a difference to thousands of farmworkers and their families. Thank you so much!”

To learn more about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program, visit https://ciw-online.org and https://www.fairfoodprogram.org 

Click here to watch a report by CBS News and here for a report by CNN.