As the harvesting season in Florida comes to a close, it is imperative to shed light on the way we treat the “essential farmworkers” harvesting our food, as they continue to work in unsafe conditions to provide food for those sheltering in place. Governor Ron DeSantis said clusters of “overwhelmingly Hispanic” day laborers and agriculture workers are the source for Florida’s recent surge in coronavirus cases. The Governor also stated, “You don’t want those folks mixing with the general public if you have an outbreak.” Farm work is an occupation, not a social class. They shop at the same stores, go to the same restaurants, and contribute greatly to the economy just like millions of other Floridians. Unfortunately, during the COVID outbreak, they were left unprotected and neglected by the state.
The Immokalee farming region in Florida has seen some of the highest percentages of positive cases in the entire state. Immokalee, a community of 25,000 people on the western edge of the Everglades, has more positive cases than Miami Beach, a city three times larger. Lake Worth, a suburban Palm Beach County community of about 39,000 people, whose large population of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants, has almost as many cases as St. Petersburg, a city six times larger.
As COVID spread, the Governor shared the importance of testing, the community of Immokalee received no aid or testing facilities. In May, after sending a letter to the Governor requesting aid, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers requested Doctors Without Borders, the nonprofit organization that usually deploys to poor and conflict-ridden parts of the world, to come in and help those who were sick. Some of the doctors who showed up to support were shocked they were in Florida supplying aid. One worker stated, “We knew that migration was an issue in the U.S. that would expose people to vulnerability. We knew that they would struggle to get care.” The Florida Department of Health did not do mass local testing until late May, almost two months into the pandemic, at that point, contact tracing has a very small chance of being successful.
Florida’s agricultural industry is the state’s second-largest economic contributor, right behind tourism. But, despite making fundamental contributions to the food system and economy, nearly all of Immokalee’s farmworkers live below the poverty line and have been neglected during the COVID outbreak.
As those same farmworkers prepare to leave Florida and begin their annual migration up the eastern seaboard and into the Midwest for the summer harvest, many are worried they will bring the coronavirus with them. The outbreak in Immokalee may slow for now, but as harvest returns in the fall, we have an opportunity to make sure these people receive adequate care. Here are ways you can make a positive impact for the people of Immokalee and all of our beloved farmworkers.
- Sign the petition to protect Florida farmworkers. Click Here. There are currently less than 5,000 signatures needed.
- Support the Fair Food Program. Click Here.
- Share this article with your friends and family through social media.
- Stop and think about your entire network, professional and personal: Are there any public health institutions, businesses, human rights networks, or faith-based groups that you’re a part of? The CIW’s open letter calling for the field hospital has already been signed by over 100 organizations, representing a growing wave of support from experts and everyday-consumers alike for these essential health care provisions for farmworkers. You can share the letter with this simple link: bit.ly/supportfarmworkers
“If you want to focus on the economy and focus on reopening, you have to focus on the people that make Florida’s agricultural economy function,” – Dr. Seth Holmes.