Agriculture contributes nearly $44 million a year to the Pasquotank County economy — much of it generated with the help of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. The Gateway Community Health Centers and Albemarle Health celebrate National Farm Worker Awareness Week March 24-31, to recognize the more than 5,000 farm workers and their families who live and work in northeastern North Carolina.
National Farm Worker Awareness Week highlights the vital role farm workers play, as well as the challenges they face, while feeding America.
- Seasonal and migrant workers harvests 85 percent of all fruits and vegetables produced in the U.S. each year. More than 150,000 work in North Carolina — ranking it among the top six states in farm worker population.
- Farm workers suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any workers in the nation and have higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, urinary tract infections, parasitic infections and tuberculosis than other wage-earners.
- The average annual income for a farm worker is $11,000, making it the second lowest paying job in the U.S.
- Overtime, unemployment insurance and union protection are not guaranteed for farm workers under federal law. The minimum age for farm work is 12, not 16 as in other jobs. And minimum wage was not mandated for farm workers until 1978, and then only for workers on large farms.
- Only 13 percent of farm workers complete high school. On average, most do not reach the seventh grade.
- Barriers to receiving adequate healthcare for farm workers and their families include lack of transportation, lack of interpreter services and the high costs.
The Gateway Community Health Centers’ Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers Program was established in 2010 to address these healthcare challenges. Original funding was provided by the Albemarle Hospital Foundation and the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community Care. The program provides free, health-related services for workers and their families including medical field clinics with a bilingual Case Manager, Outreach Worker and Registered Nurse/Family Nurse Practitioner. These specialists offer health assessments and immunizations as well as HIV testing and TB skin testing; assistance with accessing existing health resources from both public agencies and private organizations; case management; interpretation services; advocacy; and health education.
Albemarle Health encourages the community to participate in National Farm Worker Awareness Week by supporting local farms and encouraging ethical business practices. For more information on Gateway Community Health Centers, visit http://www.albemarlehealth.org/facilities/gateway-community-health-centers/.
Photo: Zary Ortiz, Gateway Community Health Centers’ Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Program Outreach Coordinator, and Carlos Pineda, local farm worker, accept a proclamation recognizing Farm Worker Awareness Week in Pasquotank County from Commission Chair Jeff Dixon on March 18.