The stated mission of the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) is to “counter the chronic unemployment and underemployment experienced by Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers (MSFW) who depend primarily on jobs in agricultural labor performed within the United States and Puerto Rico.” The purpose of NFJP is to improve the lives of MSFWs and their families, either through direct assistance or through employment and training services.
What sounds on paper like a simple prospect, is in reality anything but. The challenges faced by farmworkers across the country are as varied as the crops they harvest. In the 2011 program year, 13,962 individuals received services from NFJP grantees, and 8,316 of those individuals participated in Employment and Training programs. Many Farmworkers have to face significant challenges and overcome many barriers before being ready for placement into full time employment. Lack of basic education, workplace readiness, and English langue skill gaps are common among Farmworkers as is a lack of transportation or access to public transportation. Many Farmworkers are single parents, struggling to support their children financially and in school. In addition to enrolling Farmworkers in education and training programs to reach their employment goals, NFJP grantees are also experts in helping Farmworkers build life skills like financial literacy, and connecting them with community resources that can help bring stability and support as they strive to achieve independence.
While it’s certainly true that a lot of Farmworkers participate in NFJP because they’re ready to move out of the fields, that’s not always the case—there are many people who take a great deal of pride in the work that they do harvesting crops that feed their communities. They love to be outdoors working with their hands and feel connected to the earth. The harsh reality is, most farm work is seasonal and does not pay enough to make a comfortable living or support a family. Through NFJP enrollment, farmworkers develop a plan to gain the skills and tools needed to find stability and full time employment both out of, and in agriculture.
When an NFJP grantee enrolls an individual for Employment and Training, they perform comprehensive assessments to identify everything from educational skill levels to other talents, aptitudes, and interests in order to develop an Individual Employment Plan (IEP) and then support him or her to move successfully through that IEP. There are many different types of jobs in agriculture or related industries that are a natural fit for farmworkers who really understand the fields and know what it takes for a successful harvest. From light construction to machine repair and operation, NFJP grantees can give farmworkers the skills and training necessary to become valued year-round employees on farms across the country. Many farmworkers already possess the leadership skills and community network to become a field manager, or Farm Labor Contractor, and NFJP grantees can help fill education and language gaps, or guide individuals through the certification process to open the door to higher achievement and more opportunity.
Giving farmworkers entrepreneurial training and helping them navigate their state licensing rules and regulations is another way that NFJP grantees have helped farmworkers continue in agriculture—On their own farms! That’s exactly how Telamon-Virginia helped Sergio Izaguirre Jr. who now owns his own business as a produce farmer who sells his wares at farmers markets across the state!
In honor of Farmworker Awareness Week, I recognize the passion and dedication of the NFJP grantees who are intensely committed to helping farmworkers. I also honor the value of farmworkers who daily toil to bring food to our tables, and who also take the life-altering risk of improving their futures by actively participating with the National Farmworker Jobs Program.
Kathleen Nelson, Director of NFJP