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Long Faced With Sub-Standard Conditions, Farm Workers Deal With Added Challenges During A Pandemic

Strawberries are sorted into square batches, filling the frame of the photo.
Thomas Iacobucci
/
WUSF Public Media
Peak agriculture season in Florida means workers are now harvesting tomatoes and strawberries grown in Hillsborough County and oranges in Polk County. On this week's Florida Matters, we travel to Immokalee where the bulk of the country's tomatoes are grown.

On this week's Florida Matters, we learn more about how the coronavirus is impacting Florida’s agricultural sector by traveling to Immokalee — about two hours south of Tampa Bay.

We’re headed into peak agriculture season in Florida. That includes tomatoes and strawberries grown in Hillsborough County and oranges in Polk County.

Farm laborers — most of them are migrants from Mexico, Central America, and Haiti — will pick the bulk of those crops.

On this week's Florida Matters, we learn more about how the coronavirus is impacting Florida’s agricultural sector. We travel about two hours south of Tampa Bay to Immokalee.

It's a town with few resources: there is no hospital, and workers often live in close quarters.

Farm labor advocates have complained about these conditions for years, with the calls for change gaining new urgency during the ongoing pandemic.

You'll hear two perspectives about what’s being done to protect the health of farm workers.

First, Kelly Morgan, the director of the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, which is part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The center has developed a COVID safety training program for farmworkers.

After the break is Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a farmworker activist with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

He said, while his group has been getting information out to the farming community, it's often hard for laborers to put it into practice.

"It's been difficult because as you know, farmworkers are considered essential workers. So there's no staying at home," Reyes Chavez said. "Recommendations and orders that were given by the government make no sense when you have the task to feed the country with your work, with your sweat."

Adding insult to injury, he said there are instances where growers are "going against the logic of science, and challenging the usage of masks and making fun of workers."

But Reyes Chavez said there has been progress with a few growers who are part of the Coalition's Fair Food Program. One provides industrial-sized hand washing stations for workers.

You can listen to the rest of the conversation above.

Dinorah Prevost is the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.
Bradley George comes to WUSF from Atlanta, where he was a reporter, host, and editor at Georgia Public Broadcasting. While in Atlanta, he reported for NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and The Takeaway. His work has been recognized by PRNDI, the Georgia Associated Press, and the Atlanta Press Club. Prior to his time in Georgia, Bradley worked at public radio stations in Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.