Stories from Florida on the challenges faced by farmworkers.
WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers.
Blanca Moreno is a retired farm worker from Apopka, Florida. She came to the United States in the 1970’s from Valle Hermoso in Tamaulipas, Mexico to follow her husband. During her 17 years as a farm worker, she and her husband, Tirso, followed the seasons. In Ohio, they picked cucumbers, tomatoes, and corn. After that season, they went to Michigan to pick apples and then back to Florida for the orange season. Now, through the Farm Workers Association of Florida, Blanca and Tirso organize and educate farm workers about their rights.
“In the 70’s and 80’s, there was no talk about the pesticides. No signs, nothing. No obligation by the owners to post signs if they used pesticides. When I got pregnant with my last baby, they were putting pesticides in the field not far from where I was working. When my baby was born, he had a skin problem. I told the doctor which kind of work I was doing, what pesticides were involved. It was hard to say the rash was because of pesticides. It disappeared on my child after two or three years, but now his skin is so sensitive. Pesticide use has since changed in the fields. Now, they put up posters. Before, we did not have those precautions.
“Now, the owners put up signs with the date they spray the pesticides. If they don’t, the farm workers may say something. But it depends on the situation. If the farm worker doesn’t have papers, they don’t talk. The people who are not legalized don’t say anything. People have fear every day. So many of them are so young and they are so new here. They are scared. They think, I come to work today, praying that immigration will not come. But, I know that everywhere money is passed to control the raids. Big corporations prevent immigration from coming to their fields, but there are still raids. I don’t know when they are going to stop. Those people are not doing anything wrong. They are working and they need that work, so why is immigration doing that? I am not working in the fields anymore, but I know how hard it was and I see those people and it comes back in my memory.
“Pascual Martinez was a crew leader and a man from Apopka, but he took a lot of advantage of people. The Farm Workers Association once made him return 20 passports that he had in his possession. He would take people’s passports so he could control them. In those days, he was in control of a lot of people but later on laws started getting better for the farm workers, so they are freer now. In those years, the crew leaders had all the control. There is still a lot of abuse in the fields. Don’t tell me that those crew leaders don’t take most of the money. They have those big houses, big trucks – where does it come from? They get $10/hour and the crew leader gives the worker $6/hour, which means he pockets $4/hour per farm worker. I know where they live – – oh my, big mansions and big trucks. There is still verbal abuse. Hey, do this, and hey, don’t slow down. They still are doing that, but it has improved since the 80’s because of all the advocacy work.
“People need to be thankful of those who work in the field and bring the food to the table. It is hard work.”