Coronavirus, Farmworkers And America's Food Supply
N. P. R. Geraldo Res- Chavez has been working on farms. Since he was eleven. I have been working in the fields since I was a kid harvesting. Which is what Hermanos Geraldo lives in southern Florida just north of the everglades but he's worked in orange groves and fields all over the state these days though. He spends most of his time organizing workers and advocating for better working conditions and those working conditions. He says are typically pretty bad. No personal space crowded quarters no benefits low pay and now he says those conditions are putting people in immediate danger. Our community is in a really vulnerable position while at the same time farm workers like him have been deemed essential by the US government. Geraldo says glad for the recognition of the importance of the work. But there also seems to be a disconnect because although farm workers have been ordered to keep working in many cases they're not being given masks or gloves and their jobs are packing them together the expectation of dude this job. That's essential goes in stark contrast with a reality which is how can you be doing a job? That's essential but you are sent without any type of protective equipment. This is the indicator from planet money. I'm Stacey Vanik Smith and I'm Cardiff Garcia today. On the show farm workers many of the people who harvest crops are finding themselves in an almost impossible situation. Working conditions are unsafe but they have to keep working and not only does that put their lives at risk it also poses a very real threat to the country's food supply support for NPR and the following message. Come from Baron streetwise a new weekly podcast hosted by Barron's Jack how you'll hear from Bob Eiger at Disney Stewart Butterfield at slack. An more subscribe on Apple podcasts. Spotify or wherever you listen. This message comes from capital group. Home of American funds. Nearly Ninety years of experience helps you say I can partner with this firm to navigate tough times visit capital group DOT com slash market volatility American Funds Distributors Inc. for Arte Raise Chavis says that in farm work. Today's start early. Well average. Stay you wait pop. You go to the parking lot in town where you are then selected throughout the work and if you're selected to work he says you pile into a bus and make a long trip out to the fields. You are transported Alba crowded buses thirty to forty people in one for purpose. Schoolboys and then get to the failed. Start working the workday is long ten to twelve hours. And it is backbreaking physical Labor after work people usually go to housing provided near the fields very cramped housing you leave with ten to twelve or the people inside. The mobile homes and the lack of personal space in the extreme crowding have always been a problem. Harare says but now he adds there posing a dire health risk to there are about two and a half million farm workers in the US. And it's estimated that at least half of them are undocumented so they can't get unemployment insurance and they will not get stimulus checks from the government in fact there were no explicit protections or benefits for farm workers or undocumented workers in the massive cares act. The congress passed a couple of months ago. Meanwhile Geraldo says on many farms. That are no masks or gloves. Provided people are still packed together in the fields and in housing they have no sick leave and nowhere to isolate. If they start feeling ill. The message that it sounds is that we are acceptable. As worker you're expected to continue to produce food for everyone else brisk in your own life in the process Seems like a very very unfair preposition. Farda says there's an economic side to this is well farmworkers. Generally do low paid work. They get paid on average about fourteen dollars an hour. Roughly half of what. Us workers get per hour again on average without stimulus or unemployment benefits. Even if workers feel like they're getting ill many will feel they have no choice but to keep working there even been reports of farms who are ordering workers to show up. Even if they feel sick there is this feeling of powerlessness. Like what are we supposed to do because he we don't go to work? Then how are we supposed to have food for ourselves and our habits conditions are just ripe for massive outbreak? It should be the kind of thing that keeps people up. Daniel Costa is the director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute. Think-tank Daniel says. This situation is basically a tinderbox corona virus in one community of about thirty thousand foreign workers in Florida. One hundred fifty tests were conducted in thirty came back positive for covert nineteen. That's twenty percent to big community to you can take a a situation that is already really terrible. The low pay tough conditions for markers and you can just make it much much worse when when they all get sick with corona virus and it spreads to them and then it spreads to their family and all of them are underinsured and probably don't live in large houses where they can quarantine in one in one room and the rest of the family and other rooms. It's just the conditions. Are there for a lot of bad things to happen. And for it to have a real impact on our food supply. Our food supply. A lot of crops are harvested by machine but many still need to be harvested by hand including blueberries. Tomatoes Peaches avocados oranges. Without workers. Those foods won't be harvested. They will just brought in the fields right now. It is strawberry harvesting time. We spoke with Hector. Luhan one of the biggest berry growers in the country Hector grows mostly for driscoll berries in has farms all over the US in Mexico and employs tens of thousands of Workers Hector says if covert nineteen hits the farmworker community. He's not sure what he'll do. We could lose accrue we could lose a field just by a couple of people getting sick and the whole field goes full. Crop of strawberries can cost you thirty thousand dollars to Nacre just to grow it. Then you have to harvest it. It's a lot of investment. That's it's not sitting in a bank or it's not a and it's not a building that you can later sell. It's a crop that's alive and if you don't pick it you just don't get the value back. Hector has put a bunch of measures in place to try to protect his workers. He only lets small number of workers on transportation buses at a time. He space people out during harvest. He provides masks and wash stations in the fields and also free healthcare at clinics near the fields. He says he's chosen to take these measures because he cares about his workers. And it's the right thing to do but he also needs these workers to be healthy. For his business labor shortages have already become a problem for farmers in the last few years with immigration crackdowns and have covered nineteen takes a lot of workers out of the labor force even temporarily heck you're says farms like his won't have any way to get their fruits and vegetables out of their fields and into supermarkets. They will lose their crops. Their businesses will be devastated in the whole. Us Food supply would be compromised. My biggest concern is there won't be anybody to pick our crops here in the United States Geraldo Raise. Chavis says he hopes the urgency of these concerns gets lawmakers he wants to see some basic protections put in place right now before the situation among farmworkers gets truly dire is a shortage of food coming that is. GonNa put everybody in a really really tough spot just US. We are in this together and that's not cliche statement. We are in this together so people need to be aware of that. Somebody needs to be able to to push for people to realize that that human beings behind the food they need that for me is sacred and food is a sacred connection. This episode of the indicator was produced by Camille Peterson. Fact checked by Britney Cronin. The indicator is edited by Patty hearst and production of NPR.