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The Human Cost of Food

Farmworkers' Lives, Labor, and Advocacy

Edited by Charles D. Thompson, Jr., and Melinda F. Wiggins

Publication Year: 2002

This book addresses the major factors that affect farmworkers’ lives while offering practical strategies for action on farmworker issues.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

As a child I hated living the life of a farmworker. I was embarrassed by the fact that my family and I had to labor in the fields in order to make a living. I rarely let anyone know this fact about me. Those who did know were only my closest friends.When our family stopped working in the fields I felt relieved and promised myself to never mention this part of my life to anyone....


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pp. xvii-xx

Sowing Seeds for Change Symposium Address, Gainesville, Florida, by Lucas Benitez, farmworker and organizer

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p. 1-1

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Introduction by Charles D. Thompson, Jr.

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pp. 2-20

This book is about students, consumers, and advocates joining farmworkers in their struggle for justice. It introduces a variety of issues and challenges that farmworkers face in health care, housing, education, and other areas, including legal and political hurdles. And it provides guidance on what farmworker advocates can do about these challenges....

The Virgin of Guadalupe, by Carmen Tomás, farmworker from Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico, Interview by Wendy Daniels Ibarra, 1999 SAF intern

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p. 21-21

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Chapter 1: Making Home: Culture, Ethnicity, and Religion among Farmworkers in the Southeastern United States, by Alejandra Okie Holt and Sister Evelyn Mattern

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pp. 22-52

Today, farmworkers are not the homogeneous group portrayed in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in the 1930s. In this chapter we explore how farmworkers change and are changed by the cultures they encounter and the complex ethnic relationships of the United States. Until the 1960smost farmworkers along the East Coast were African Americans. Now Latinos make up the large majority of farmworker populations in most areas of the country. We focus on Latinos in general— and Mexicans specifically—because in total they make up almost...

Sowing Seeds for Change Symposium Address, Gainesville, Florida, by Lucas Benitez, farmworker and organizer

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pp. 53-54

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Chapter 2: Layers of Loss: Migrants, Small Farmers, and Agribusiness, by Charles D. Thompson, Jr.

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pp. 55-86

By reading the preceding passages in juxtaposition, the first by a European writer of a generation ago and the second by a present-day farmworker organizer in the United States, we find two seemingly discordant causes for concern. Simone Weil’s major worry is the depopulation of the countryside brought about by the loss of farmers and the consequential decay of the social fabric. Lucas Benitez’s address a half-century later, on the other hand, reveals a great divide between ‘‘growers’’ or ‘‘agribusiness interests’’ who have made billions in...

Life on Easy Street, by Rachel LaCour Niesen, 1999 SAF intern

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pp. 87-88

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Chapter 3: Standing Idly By: ‘‘Organized’’ Farmworkers in South Florida during the Depression and World War II, by Cindy Hahamovitch

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pp. 89-110

If ‘‘organized labor’’ were defined as trade union activity, the story of organizing among African American migrant workers would be short indeed. They would appear to be the most powerless and marginalized of American workers. Denied the right of collective bargaining, disfranchised by both race and residency requirements, ignored by all but the most philanthropic labor unions, Atlantic Coast migrants would seem to epitomize the unorganized, if not the disorganized. 1 Certainly the experience of black farm laborers in South Florida...

Rifaré mi suerte/ I’ll Raffle My Luck by Humberto Zapata Alvizo, farmworker and musician, Interview by Joe Bagby, 1999 SAF intern

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pp. 111-112

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Chapter 4: H-2A Guestworker Program: A Legacy of Importing Agricultural Labor, by Garry G. Geffert

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pp. 113-136

That part of the agricultural industry that depends on hand-harvest labor has never completely adjusted to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the amendment that abolished slavery. Unlike other industries, many people who control hand harvest agriculture have not attempted to use modern labor management techniques to recruit and retain workers and have not felt it necessary to pay a living wage to their laborers....

Testimony at Hearing before the Commission on Agricultural Workers, by Roman Rodriguez, Florida farmworker

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pp. 137-138

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Chapter 5: Farmworker Exceptionalism under the Law:How the Legal System Contributes to Farmworker Poverty and Powerlessness, by Greg Schell

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pp. 139-166

Every few years, surveys are published ranking jobs in the United States. Invariably, these surveys identify migrant farm work as the single worst profession. Farm work is unattractive for a number of reasons. The work usually is seasonal, leaving many farmworkers without employment for weeks on end between harvests. The work itself is arduous in nature and oftentimes performed in unpleasant weather conditions. However, farm labor is principally distinguished from other low-skill jobs by the extremely low wages paid and the primitive working and living conditions offered....

Wells Farms, by Rachel Avery, 1997 SAF intern

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p. 167-167

The Conditions at the Camp Are Not Great, by Vanessa, farmworker and daughter of crew leader, Interview by Kris Adams, 1997 SAF intern

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p. 168-168

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Chapter 6: Bitter Harvest: Housing Conditions of Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers, by Christopher Holden

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pp. 169-194

Farmworkers are among the worst-housed groups in the United States. After long hours toiling in the fields, few farmworkers can look forward to a warm shower, clean laundry, or a room to call their own. Even a decent supper is difficult to come by if the stove is broken, the refrigerator does not work, or the place lacks a kitchen altogether. The deplorable housing conditions experienced by many of the nation’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers have been described in journalistic accounts, but little effort has been made to document systematically the nature and prevalence of housing problems...

The History We Wrote This Summer, by Jenny Carroll

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pp. 195-197

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Chapter 7: The Struggle for Health in Times of Plenty, by Colin Austin

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pp. 198-218

Esperanza Martinez lives in a trailer on the outskirts of a rural town in North Carolina. Even though the trailer is small, she tries to make it a nice place to live for her family. She hangs pictures over cracks in the walls and places hand-crocheted doilies on the television and the secondhand sofa. There is a small garden in front of the trailer where Esperanza grows a few fresh vegetables. Every day she tries to do the best with what she has. These patterns she weaves in her life...

That Summer, by Marcella Hurtado Gomez, farmworker and 1997 SAF intern

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p. 219-219

Bella Juventud/ Wonderful Youth, by Gloria Velásquez

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pp. 220-221

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Chapter 8: Understanding the Challenges and Potential of Migrant Students, by Ramiro Arceo, Joy Kusserow, and Al Wright

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pp. 222-246

Though nearly 80 percent of the three million to five million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States are men, at least a quarter-million children travel with their families as they follow the harvests (Leon 1996, 1). Almost three-fourths of these children who are under the age of fourteen live in poverty (Davis 1997). Many children whose families migrate to work in U.S. agriculture stay with relatives in their home countries instead of traveling with their families. Two in five migrant farmworkers live away from their children...

I Don’t Think People Give Up, by Sheila Payne, farmworker organizer, Interview by Melinda Steele, 1998 SAF intern

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pp. 247-248

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Chapter 9: From Slavery to Cesar Chavez and Beyond: Farmworker Organizing in the United States, by Paul Ortiz

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pp. 249-276

Students of history know that the Civil War ended slavery in the South. Fewer are aware that for agricultural workers in the South, slavery was replaced by institutions and laws such as debt peonage, sharecropping, and convict labor that kept millions of African Americans andmany poor whites segregated from economic, social, and political power for generations after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox (Daniel 1972)....

Sowing Seeds for Change Symposium Address, Gainesville, Florida, by Lucas Benitez, farmworker and organizer

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p. 277-277

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Conclusion: An Invocation to Act, by Melinda F. Wiggins

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pp. 278-298

As we began this book with Lucas Benitez’s reminder that ‘‘farmworkers are in desperate need of . . . [a] decent wage, the right to organize without fear of retaliation, [and] the right to earn overtime wages for overtime worked,’’ it is fitting that we conclude with his invocation to students, clergy, lay people, and everyday citizens to stand with farmworkers as they fight for change (Benitez 1998). As contributors and editors, we encourage you to continue to think critically...

Appendix I: Developing a Syllabus on Farmworker Advocacy

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pp. 299-306

Appendix II: Farmworker-Related Organizations and Agencies

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pp. 307-312

Appendix III: Recommended Readings

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pp. 313-316

Works Cited

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pp. 317-330


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pp. 331-332


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pp. 333-337

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798915
E-ISBN-10: 0292798911
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292781771
Print-ISBN-10: 0292781776

Page Count: 357
Illustrations: 23 photos
Publication Year: 2002