An estimated 90,700 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents live in my home state of Michigan. This includes farmworkers who live in Michigan year-round and those who travel from southern states, such as Texas and Florida, as they migrate up the stream during the harvest season.
This year, however, it’s been a bit more difficult for farmworkers in Michigan. A late frost destroyed many crops, most of which was fruit, in the early spring. It is estimated that only 5 percent of the average cherry harvest and 25 percent of the usual apple harvest will be picked this year.
Farmworkers who traveled north to pick these crops throughout the summer were suddenly left without a home. Migrant housing is more often than not provided by the growers due to the short-term nature of the work. While all too often growers take advantage of farmworkers by charging them outrageous amounts of rent to live in substandard housing, some growers provide living arrangements at a fair price, or even for free to workers harvesting their crops. If there is no harvest to be picked, however, farmworkers may be left homeless.
An inter-agency migrant services committee passed an emergency resolution to provide monetary funds for over 400 farmworker families in need of housing. The Michigan State Housing and Development Authority allocated $172,000 of its revenue for emergency housing assistance for migrant workers through the end of August. The program offers up to $400 to cover one month’s rent at either a migrant camp or another rental property for those in need of assistance. The money should be able to help about 430 families who were in and around the affected areas. It’s great that the state sprang into action so quickly to help migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
Conversely, other growers throughout Michigan are now struggling to find enough workers to pick their harvest. Because the word spread throughout the country that little work was to be found in Michigan this season due to the frost, many migrant farmworkers did not make the trip up north. Blueberry farmers are struggling to save their fruits, and are losing money as it continues to be left unpicked.
Unfortunately, it is often in these types of extreme situations when we realize how important the work is that migrant and seasonal farmworkers do all around the country. They truly form the backbone of our nation’s food production and it is imperative they are able to work and live in safe, humane conditions.