Supporting our farmworker community during a time of crisis

In March 2020 when most programs that collaborate with farmworkers came to an abrupt stop with the outbreak of COVID-19, we responded to farmworker requests to find ways to continue to support farmworkers using text messages and telephone calls instead of our typical face-to-face interactions.  It was important that we develop a strategy for critical actions to support farmworkers who were deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Transforming our activities nearly overnight, the CFP created workshops and Spanish and English language information for farmworkers and farmers to ensure that everyone had accurate and up to date information to maximize worker’s safety.

 

Due to the nature of working and living conditions on farms, social distancing among farmworkers is nearly impossible. Several early outbreaks of COVID infections among farmworkers highlighted the need for pivoting our work to this area for much of 2020. While most other programs that support farmworkers closed their doors, we continued to innovate, making our mission of maintaining communication with farmworkers and connecting these families with needed resources all the more vital.

 

In an effort to continue serving one of New York’s most vulnerable populations, agricultural workers, almost overnight, we created a method to distribute text messages to the 3000 farmworkers in our database. Access to the private numbers of so many undocumented workers is the result of the program’s excellent reputation and the trust built over decades of listening to farmworkers.  We have organized weekly calls with farmworkers to continue to learn about their concerns.  

Fact sheets & videos


Text messages with links to short visually informational videos and FAQs about coronavirus were sent in Spanish, Mam and other indigenous languages. These were also posted on our Spanish language website. The fact sheets we developed for farmworkers were distributed statewide, and adapted for use by farmworker service providers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.


Text message network

We sent text messages linking farmworkers with Spanish language phone calls on how to protect themselves in light of COVID 19. We organized and widely publicized Q & A sessions with Dr. Jose Canario, Medical Director of Finger Lakes Community Health on April 13, April 22, May 20 and July 28).  Over 500 farmworkers participated in these webinars, emailing or texting ahead of time their COVID-related questions.  The webinars and written responses to questions raised are posted on our website. 


Webinars


English language webinars were hosted with Dr. Canario on COVID safety and regulations. We publicized these widely with education, health, legal, and child care services providers and with farmers. Similarly, attendees could email or text COVID related questions in advance of the webinar or raise concerns during the call. Over 500 producers and service providers participated in two English language webinars on April 7 and July 28, 2020.

 

Watch webinar recordings: 


Face masks 


We distributed over 8,000 cloth face coverings to farmworkers, sewn by community volunteers and students organized by the CFP.  Each mask is accompanied with inserts including Spanish language information (below) on use and care of masks, telephone numbers for all the farmworker health clinics, general information and FAQs on COVID-19. While it is too early yet to evaluate the impact of our COVID prevention measures on farmworker well-being, the demand for support is a good indicator of the perceived need. When many H-2A temporary guest workers were arriving to NYS, medical masks were unavailable. The CFP coordination of free masks helped to bridge that gap. For more details, see the Cornell Chronicle article


Food delivery 


When accessing food became more difficult than usual for farmworkers that were prohibited from leaving the farm to go grocery shopping, we organized emergency food drops. To meet this need, we coordinated with CFP volunteers to locate, receive, organize and deliver food to farmworkers families in need. This coordination was time consuming since offices were closed and we had to rely on numerous text and e-mail messages to make the connections. Several local farmers made large donations of meat for farmworkers, but this also required that we locate available freezer space for temporary storage, recruit cooks and volunteers to move the meat, assess the food needs of farmworker families, and coordinate packing meals and making arrangements for volunteer drivers to deliver the food to farms at a time when families could safely receive meals. Our training and vetting of community volunteers over the past few years was crucial for organizing no-contact deliveries to farms and farmworker’s houses.


Legal clinics


We organized six virtual legal clinics linking farmworkers with pro bono immigration and family law legal assistance.  In order to do this, we had to explain to each of the farmworker participants how to download Zoom to their mobile phones, give them tutorials in how to navigate it and use it to participate in a meeting, and then connect them with lawyers working remotely from all over Upstate New York. Navigating a legal system in a foreign country, in a language that is not your own, is confusing enough without adding the complicating factor of a pandemic, court dates postponed by COVID-19, law offices being closed, and learning how  to use an unfamiliar technology.


The desired outcome of our COVID-19 support efforts is that reliable information be available in everyone’s native tongue and that all area farmworkers know how to reach the CFP to access services they need. To date we have responded to over 400  farmworker family requests for support during the COVID pandemic in 21 NYS counties and other states including Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Washington and Puerto Rico.

 

More COVID-19 resources 

In the news during COVID-19

Supporting NY farmworkers with masks, COVID-19 information and Q&A with M.D

Local COVID-19 task force fills food gaps for families, farmworkers

Volunteers from the Cornell Farmworker Program deliver boxes of perishable and fresh food and prepared meals to farmworkers across the county

COVID-19 impact: Mary Jo Dudley on vulnerable farmworkers

How the pandemic has underlined the importance of farmworkers, who are crucial to maintaining the country’s food supply

Handmade masks on table
Box of perishable food
Mary Jo Dudley