5 things you should know about migrant farmworkers in Iowa

5 things you should know about migrant farmworkers in Iowa

By HealthConnect Fellow Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, EdD, CEO of Proteus Inc. 

The food we eat today and the products we use in our home were made, in part, by farmworkers who travel across the country doing difficult, risky work so we have what we need. As we celebrate National Farmworker Awareness Week from March 25-March 31, we encourage you to think about those who are working hard for us and how we, in turn, can support them.

Here are 5 things you should know about migrant farmworkers in Iowa and how you can join Proteus in taking action to promote their health and well-being:

1. Iowa has a large population of farmworkers.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, there were more than 70,000 farm labor workers in Iowa in 2017. Many farmworkers work seasonally and live in Iowa year-round, but more migrant farmworkers travel to Iowa in the summer months to work than most people realize. Iowa had 19 registered migrant camps in 2019, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Many of the migrant farmworkers come from the valley in southern Texas. They work sunrise to sunset every day of the week tending to vegetables, detasseling corn, caring for animals, and doing other agricultural work in demand.

2. Migrant workers travel with families, including children.

Some migrant farmworkers travel with their entire family. This means some children end their school year in Iowa, are here all summer, start their school year in Iowa, and then go back to their permanent home. Some migrant farmworker families continue to travel to other states, like Minnesota and Michigan, to perform other types of farm work, continuing to transfer communities and schools.

3. Intensive work leads to illnesses.

The work performed by farmworkers is labor-intensive due to the heat and long hours bending over and can be dangerous.  The workers are exposed to occupational or safety hazards, such as the sun, heat, chemicals, or pesticides. A Proteus needs assessment focus group found that occupational or work-related illnesses were very prevalent as described. The occupational or work-related illnesses indicated by the farmworker participants include back pain, sun exposure, heat stroke, infections, arthritis, sciatic nerve issues, heel spurs, body aches, and dehydration. In 2018, a farmworker in Nebraska died from heat stroke.

4. Supporting migrant farmworker health improves our state.

Proteus, Inc. has provided services to farmworkers in Iowa since 1979. The National Farmworker Jobs Program continues to operate throughout Iowa and in two additional states. To respond to migrant farmworker needs, Proteus provides job training, healthcare, support services, and occupational health hazard training. The occupational health hazard training is on topics such as heat stroke and heat stress prevention as well as pesticide exposure. In the summer of 2019, Proteus provided these trainings to over 2,500 farmworkers in Iowa.

This life-saving education is provided out in the fields by using curriculum that is research-informed and culturally specific. Proteus staff provide training in English and Spanish using posters with photos to help farmworkers with low-literacy understand. In addition to the education, Proteus partners with other individuals and organizations, such as Goodwill of Central Iowa, to provide long sleeve t-shirts to farmworkers to protect farmworkers not only from sun exposure, but also from pesticides and other chemicals.

5. You can be involved in this effort.

For Farmworker Awareness Week, I ask that all of you take action to ensure those who work hard for us have what they need to be healthy and safe. Educate yourself on farmworkers in Iowa, thank a farmworker for helping to provide food on your table, conduct a long sleeve shirt drive, or support Proteus who provides support to farmworkers each and every day. Finally, I ask that you get to know your farmworker neighbors. I am confident that once you get to know them, you will become an advocate for farmworker health in the future.

For more information, check our Proteus, Inc.’s website: www.proteusinc.net

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Reach out if you have questions.