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Why We’re Fighting for Farmworker Justice

“We fed America all our lives,” said Geraldean Matthew, former Lake Apopka, Florida farmworker and a social and environmental justice leader. Geraldean passed away on September 3, 2016 after years of debilitating illnesses, including kidney failure and Lupus, and she felt these diseases were related to a lifetime of pesticide exposures. Geraldean was my hero. I can still hear her whispering in my ear; “I got your back.” I keep fighting for farmworkers because I must, for Geraldean’s sake and for the sake of other people in our communities, who risk themselves and their families’ health every day to feed all of us.

Everybody’s gotta eat—and every day we eat we are depending on farmworkers for our health and nutrition. People often want to know where their food came from, how many miles it traveled, how it was grown, or if it's organic, but how often do we worry about the people who grow and harvest that food? We should be concerned about the pesticides on our apples or spinach, but we should also be concerned about how pesticides are harming the people harvesting our food. Parkinson’s disease, cancer, infertility, miscarriage, autoimmune disease, low birth weight, birth defects, and learning disabilities in children are all linked to pesticide exposures. This is in addition to the low wages, poor housing conditions, language barriers, lack of transportation, and, often, the fear, intimidation, and abuse farmworkers are forced to endure.

—According to a U.S. government study, the pesticide poisoning incidence rate among U.S. agricultural workers is 39 times higher than the incidence rate found in all other industries combined.

That is why Coming Clean's Farmworker Health and Justice Program has been working to get stronger protections for farmworkers. When we protect them, we protect ourselves. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By uniting farmworkers with health experts, scientists, young people, and advocates, we raise the voices of people who have become invisible to those in power, and we ensure our victories make a difference in the lives of those most directly affected—because our leadership comes directly from farmworker communities. Through this approach, we’re working to create a world where no one is forced to sacrifice their health or justice to feed others. 

Our grassroots, frontline leadership has won substantial victories: 

  • We championed a regulation prohibiting dangerous pesticide applications by people under 18 years of age—who are at the greatest risk of suffering learning and developmental problems related to pesticide exposure.
  • We helped develop policies to ensure workers who apply pesticides are properly trained to protect health and safety.
  • We also played a key role in convincing the EPA to commit to banning Chlorpyrifos, a widely used neurodevelopmental pesticide, which is linked to neurological damage in young children.

Our unique, cross-cutting approach—which seeks to empower the very people in harm’s way—has been key to winning these achievements, but our work isn’t finished. I’m excited to continue the Coming Clean approach of bringing experts and grassroots leaders together, and empowering farmworkers with leadership roles in their own movement.

— Jeannie Economos

Co-Chair of Coming Clean’s Farmworker Health and Justice Program

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