In honor of National Farmworker Awareness Week, we are reposting this powerful story of young farmworkers in North Carolina. This guest blog was originally published in September, 2011.
Last week Toxic Free North Carolina released our latest Farm Worker Documentary Project film, Overworked & Under Spray. It’s a short piece featuring six high school-aged farmworkers’ stories about being sprayed with agricultural pesticides while tending crops in fields across the state.
For two months this summer, I crisscrossed the eastern side of North Carolina with our Student Action with Farmworkers intern Abi Bissette. We visited farmworker families in their homes, giving out pesticide safety information and discussing their rights as farmworkers. By midsummer we had assembled a group of motivated, articulate teenagers willing to speak out on film.
The young farmworkers cultivated and harvested blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, green beans, grapes, cucumbers and tobacco. Here’s Felix Rodriguez, one of the youth featured in the film:
You could see the spray coming at you...but we kept on working. The next day I didn't feel so good. I wouldn't feel comfortable talking about pesticides to the owner or supervisor because they'll see you as nagging. They just really want you to work.
When we asked the youth how they would fix the situation, they had a lot of impressively astute answers: put more inspectors in the fields, get rid of child labor in agriculture, make stronger regulations for crew leaders. But one message we heard loud and clear from everyone interviewed was “enough is enough.”
The exploitation of children (or anyone) for cheap food — and the poisoning of the people who work to fill our grocery store shelves — has gone on far too long. It’s time for eaters of conscience to demand an end to abusive, toxic agriculture.
Here in North Carolina we're actively working to protect children, and all workers, from exposure to toxic pesticides and other dangerous working conditions.
Want to take action for farmworkers? Check out Toxic Free NC’s website for three simple steps you can take.
Ana is a member of PAN's Board of Directors, and at the time this piece was written was the Communications Coordinator for Toxic Free North Carolina, a statewide group fighting pesticide pollution. Before joining Toxic Free NC, Ana worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In her down time, she captains a community garden and works as a community organizer on environmental sustainability and immigrants’ rights.