Friday, August 8, 2008

Farmworker Engagement, Documentary Style

Image (right): A wash bucket used for laundering clothes sits next to a building at a farmworker camp. Photo: A. Duncan Pardo.

This week we're wrapping up a summer audio documentary project interviewing North Carolina farmworkers about their experiences working with pesticides. Student Action with Farmworkers interns Rachel, Pablo, Alejandra and I conducted the interviews and collected workers' recommendations on how best to achieve meaningful reforms for pesticide use as well as other pressing farmworker concerns.

My interview took place in Eastern NC with a man named Bernardo, who comes here every year to work in tobacco and cucumber. He had major concerns about some farmers' tendency to send workers into fields that have been recently sprayed with pesticides. He also talked at length about tobacco workers' inability to distinguish pesticide poisoning from Green Tobacco Sickness. He said that even clinic staff were frequently unable to tell the two apart, and that he was concerned about the potential for misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment. Bernardo is a vocal advocate for the rights of farmworkers, including the right to know when, if and to what they're being exposed. He said he was happy working for his current employer, but he acknowledged that many others weren't so lucky. He had this advice for other workers:
I want to tell my peers not to be speak out about what it's like for us in the fields. We have to stop and think and say 'I want to change this' and fight for it.
We plan to continue interviewing farm workers and building the relationships needed to make our policy and program work better informed by what the workers themselves see as the most pressing issues. We'll be posting audio clips and photos from the pilot project in the near future, so stay tuned!

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