Empowering Farmworkers,Overcoming Pesticide-Related Environmental and Health Challenges in Pennsylvania

  • “Fulfilling the Promise: Empowering Farmworkers and Overcoming Pesticide-Related Environmental and Health Challenges in Northwestern Pennsylvania” is a collaboration with Friends of Farmworkers (FOF). FOF, the grant applicant, received funding for this outreach project from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With over seven years of field research experience with under-represented and underserved populations, especially Latinos/as, Dr. Molina, MARTI research associate and assistant professor of Sociology, serves as a consultant on the project. Aside from his academic credentials, for most of his youth Dr. Molina was himself a migrant farmworker for most of his youth. As such, he has first-hand experience with the many challenges and issues farmworkers face. Annually, Dr. Molina, his parents and siblings, migrated from southern Texas to Ohio, North Carolina and Florida where they harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, tobacco, green peppers and cherry tomatoes.  Dr. Molina brings not only his impressive academic credentials to the project, but also important first-hand knowledge of the many environmental hazards that farmworker families face.

    The two part objective of this project is to (1) educate farmworkers about the health risks of pesticide exposure and to inform them about their legal rights in cases of exposure and (2) to prepare community leaders to become pesticide educators. The initiative will achieve these results in three phases over the course of a year. The three phases are proposed with the knowledge that farm work in Erie County is seasonal and is the heaviest during the harvest (typically from late June-October). Phase one is from June to September, the peak harvest period. Phase two is from October through December when the harvests will be waning and centers on training farmworkers to become pesticide educators. The third phase will take place from January through May and will focus on making farmworker pesticide educators the principal facilitators of future pesticide education workshops. The workshops will be designed to inform farmworkers about pesticide dangers, protections against exposure, measures to be taken in cases of exposure, and legal rights and recourse in cases of exposure. It will also prepare farmworkers to be educators on pesticide exposure, including pesticide contamination of water sources.

    In addition, Dr. Molina, together with students of the Tlacuilo Honors Society at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, will develop language-appropriate resources to be used in the pesticide education workshops. Some of the planned resources will be an image-rich Spanish language pamphlet that explains pesticide exposure and related health risks; Spanish language CDs with narrations of pesticide exposure and workers’ rights in obtaining health and medical care and legal recourse; and a bilingual (English-Spanish languages) pocket-sized resource card with contact information of local, state, and federal agencies that support and aid farmworkers with pesticide exposure and other health issues. FOF lawyers will review all materials for accuracy in the presentation of legal issues.

    Through the project, farmworkers in Erie County, PA and the surrounding area will benefit by learning about the health risks associated with pesticide exposure; knowing and understanding the laws intended to protect them and the willingness of FOF to help; and becoming aware of the importance of environmental sustainability for the health of both the farmworker community and the general population. With the provided educator workshops, farmworker leaders will take ownership of the workshops and will administer them. In the process, they will become advocates for environmental and social justice. The project will also result in more fair treatment of an under-represented group that suffers disproportionately from immediate negative environmental conditions. In addition, farmworkers will be empowered to become major stakeholders in the education of their community about environmental threats to the public food source.

    About Friends of Farmworkers

    Established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1975, FOF works to improve the lives of Pennsylvania’s farmworkers. They fulfill this goal through community education, advocacy and the provision of free legal aid designed to empower the agricultural workers among us to earn a living wage, and to ensure that they and their families have the opportunity to lead productive, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

    FOF focuses on helping workers with employment-related problems – most commonly wage theft, harassment, discrimination and unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.  They do this most often by helping individual workers, but also by educating community members and advocating for better laws and policies.  FOF focuses on client-centered lawyering and aims to provide workers and communities with all of the information they need to make informed decisions.

    FOF is one of only a handful of legal aid agencies operating in the Commonwealth without restrictions on the ability to assist clients based on their immigration status, and the only legal services organization in the state with an entirely Spanish-speaking staff. In the last three years FOF has recovered $293,669.35 on behalf of low-wage agricultural workers from across Pennsylvania.