Farmworkers Feed Us All
They are the backbone of the agricultural economy. Without them we wouldn't have the nourishing food that keeps us healthy and productive. Yet farmers and ranchers had the 6th highest fatality rate in the US in 2006, nearly ten times the average rate of 3.9 per 100,000 workers for all workers. This is due in part to the combination of poverty, limited access to health care, and hazardous working conditions.
The United States culturally and as a matter of government policy, devalues the importance of agricultural work with laws that inadequately protect our farmworkers. For example, it wasn't until 1987, after 11 years of litigation, that a federal law was passed mandating access to sanitation and water in the fields. Despite this law, access to sanitary facilities is still inconsistent, putting workers at risk of dehydration, and exposing workers and consumers to disease caused by fecal contamination.
During Maine's 2007 Harvest Season, photojournalist Earl Dotter, and audio producer Tennessee Watson prepared Farmworkers Feed Us All, an exhibition of photographs and interviews from Maine's wild blueberry, apple, cranberry, broccoli, egg, dairy and forestry harvests. Through providing a better understanding of farmworkers’ lives and working experiences, this exhibit hopes to contribute to the ongoing efforts to improve agricultural working conditions and farmworkers access to basic services in Maine and throughout the United States.
We could have gone to any state to document the lives of farmworkers. We chose Maine because of the efforts of the Maine Migrant Health Program (MMHP), a project that effectively works to provide low-cost health care services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Time and time again, the farmworkers we spoke with told us that Maine was one of but a few states where mobile clinics and nurse outreach teams offered them health care services in the fields and at worker housing. As a first step, we feel the MMHP should serve as a model for all agricultural states in our Nation to emulate.
Seasonal and migrant farmworkers who produce our food have earned the right to be treated with dignity and respect, with a guarantee of healthy working and living conditions. For those of you from the farmworker community, we hope this exhibit demonstrates our sense of gratitude for the vital work that you do.