Food Voices: The Struggle for Women Farmers

Yesica Ramirez is a farmworker in Florida searching for a better life.

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. 

Yesica Ramirez is a farm worker in Apopka, Florida. She came to the United States in 1997 from Maravatio Michoacan, Mexico to seek a better life along with her parents and sisters. Although she and her sister were still school aged when they arrived, they immediately went to work in the fields. Yesica has picked vegetables, fruits and flowers and has worked in plant nurseries, all of which use a host of chemicals and pesticides. Currently, she is very active with the Farmworker Association of Florida to offer support when needed.

“In the farms and the nurseries they use pesticides. We have to make a gel to apply to the plants. We use chemicals and we don’t get any protection when we are handling the chemicals. We don’t get any gloves or masks or anything. We don’t wear any protection. We inhale all the chemicals. We see on the bottles the safety warnings that say we should wear gloves and masks. Though we know we shouldn’t inhale the pesticides, we can’t protest. We cannot say to the boss, ‘it is my right to have protections from the pesticides.’ We cannot.

“It is difficult for us. It is more difficult for women. I know of one woman who has it really difficult. She was working in the heat and she needed to go to the bathroom one, two, three times, but she was not given permission to go because that would interrupt work production. That is difficult. It is really hot and we are not allowed to have water.

“My husband works on the farms – in the blueberries or cucumbers. It is temporary. When he finishes he will go to New York to pick apples.  He does this each year. He makes more money picking apples in New York because he works under contract. He leaves me here. It is very hard for me. I tell him, I don’t want to be left this year. I want to go with him. I have one boy – 6 years old, and he cries. I don’t want to be left here. My little baby girl has to check with the doctor before we leave.

“Right now, I am not working because I have a baby. She had brain surgery, so I have to stay with her. She is nine months old. She wears a helmet and has to go to the doctor every 15 days. The doctor does not know why she has that problem. She was premature and her cranium did not fully develop. Some people have said that [pesticide use] may be why she has the problem, but I don’t know. The doctor doesn’t know.

“The Farm Workers Association has helped me and I want to help others. I feel good working here, so I can help others as they helped me. When I first came, I did not know about my rights or about pesticide exposure, and the Florida Farmworkers taught me.”