During the winter months, farmworkers often have minimal to no work and find it difficult, if not impossible, to make ends meet, stay warm, and feed their families. These concerns, recently brought to the nation’s attention by well-publicized cold snaps in Florida and California (Temperatures Dip Into the Upper 20s and Farmers race the cold front), are realized as a result of reduced job opportunities in agriculture during the winter months, lost wages due to weather-related crop failure, and few options for assistance. The majority of farmworker families live in substandard housing and lack transportation options, leaving them especially vulnerable to the cold and harsh reality of winter storms, and North Carolina’s agricultural laborers are no exception.
Children in the Fields Campaign’s North Carolina Regional Coordinator Emily Drakage recently reported:
“On December 16 I attended a Christmas party for migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families at Harvest Connection in Kinston, North Carolina. The families were served dinner, presents were gifted to the small children, and many of the farmworker youth were recognized for their achievements in high school. At the party, I met a woman who stressed her concern of serious hardships for the upcoming winter months. On Christmas Day, as I remembered that troubling conversation, I became worried about the food and warmth of the farmworker families as a serious snow storm pounded Eastern North Carolina.
My worries were confirmed on the December 27, when I received a call from the woman I spoke with the night of the Christmas party. She said she would have called sooner, but did not have access to a phone. They had been trapped in their modest trailer home and the water had just been shut off. She trusted the man who lived in the home with her family before and paid him the money for rent and utilities as usual. However the man did not pay like he normally does and instead took the money and left for Ohio to find work, leaving the bills and rent unpaid.
Recently, the family has been working planting onions; however, since the ground has frozen, they are without work. She shared that she is worried the electricity will be shut off at any moment and her children will not have enough to eat. There are very few jobs during the winter months and should weather become an issue, as it has in the past couple of years, it will become even more difficult.”
This family’s situation is one that is all too common for many farmworker families during the winter months. Farmworkers are frequently forced to rely on others to help them get by and, as a result, are susceptible to being taken advantage of and exploited. This family’s situation is improving. Their water has since been turned back on and, after being referred to Migrant Education Programs, the children were enrolled in school, which now makes them eligible to receive food. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help farmworkers and families please email me at Flores@afop.org for more information or visit AFOP’s Get Involved page for more opportunities. You can also find more stories and information about farmworkers in North Carolina by visiting www.ncfield.org.