Washington’s farm workers are expected to grow and harvest a safe food supply. This holiday season, thank them for their efforts and recognize their struggles.
’TIS the season for feasting. With Thanksgiving behind us, a few more holiday meals await. As you nosh on eggnog and ham, think of and thank the farm workers who made that meal possible.
From raising turkeys, milking cows and collecting eggs to pruning berries and harvesting vegetables, more than 1 million farm workers nationwide do their part seasonally and year-round to feed Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Farm Labor Survey estimates. That same report indicates workers — from laborers to supervisors — earn an average hourly wage of $10.80. That’s scarcely enough to feed their own families anything fancy.
Here in Washington during peak season, the Employment Security Department estimates more than 151,000agricultural workers keep farms in operation. U.S. Department of Labor surveys suggest more than half of these people are likely in the U.S. illegally, making them vulnerable to wage theft and exploitation.
“It’s really difficult for me to enjoy Thanksgiving or any meal that I eat,” says Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community in Bellingham, an advocacy group for farm workers. “We have a local farm worker whose feet were frozen pruning raspberries four years ago in Whatcom County. They had to amputate his feet at the ankles. He’s only 35 years old.”
Americans should recognize these workers’ struggles. President Obama’s recent executive order protecting millions of immigrants now in the U.S. illegally from deportation is expected to include an estimated 250,000 agricultural workers — total.
Farm-worker advocates say this holiday season is a time of uncertainty and fear for many of these workers. Imagine sitting at a table, not knowing whether your family will still be together this time next year.
“We’re feeding our bodies based on their labor, but we as a country have not given them the opportunity to be fully integrated into our community,” says Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Congress must find a comprehensive, long-term solution that offers at least some of these immigrant farm workers a path to be legally recognized.
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Food is a basic necessity in all our lives. Consumers expect their berries, dairy and meat to be delicious, healthy and produced in safe environments.
That means caring for those people who are doing the growing for us.