Dependant on misfortune
We depend on misfortune to build up our force of migratory workers and when the supply is low because there is not enough misfortune at home, we rely on misfortune abroad to replenish the supply.
- President Harry S. Truman, 1951
Truman’s observations are as true today as migrant laborers continue to function at the bottom rung of the American economic ladder. Those working in farm labor tend to be either newly arrived immigrants with few connections or individuals with limited opportunities or skills who rely on farm labor poorly regulated for survival. Increasingly, such laborers are filling needs in other industries with high demand for low-cost labor. Employment in construction and meatpacking is also common. Other than low pay, these jobs also share high risk; the construction industry has the third highest rate of occupationally-related injury, behind farm work and mining.
The risks for these workers and their families, are not limited to those faced while on the job. This population, largely from Mexico and other Central American countries, also face a myriad of environmental exposures in their “home environments”, such as they are. A mobile lifestyle combined with the vicissitudes of economic insecurity, language barriers and the discomfort of prejudice imposed by the outside world, result in the isolation of these workers and their families from mainstream community life and its related services. The United States has had a spotty history of providing a consistent level of health care, housing, and sanitation for migrant workers. Today, migrant workers still suffer mortality and morbidity rates greater than the vast majority of the American population, due in part to the combination of poverty, limited access to health care, and hazardous working conditions.
A migrant is defined as an individual who is required to be absent from a permanent place of residence for the purpose of seeking employment. National data on all migrants is largely unavailable. The best data comes from the migrant farmworker population.
Farmworkers Feed Us All
The Labor and Health of Migrants in Maine
A Photography Exhibit
by Earl Dotter and Tennessee Watson
They are the backbone of the agricultural economy. Without them we wouldn’t have the nourishing food that keeps us healthy and productive.
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Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are one of this country's most vulnerable and invisible populations. Almost all live below the federal poverty level, with poor health due to poverty, transitional living, demanding physical labor, lack of services and social isolation.
Since 1991, the MMHP has provided primary healthcare services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers throughout Maine. Over 1100 farm workers and their family members are served each season during the harvest of broccoli, tree planting, tree thinning, eggs, apples, produce, blueberries, cranberries, Christmas trees, and wreaths
Three mobile units and nursing and medical teams travel throughout the harvest camps offering care, health education, case management, and transportation. MMHP outreach workers are skilled medical interpreters. All materials are bilingual and service providers are trained to recognize the linguistic and cultural needs of migrant communities. The MMHP collaborates year-round with growers, state agencies, local organizations and primary care providers to offer the best possible access to care.
MMHP offers a public voice to the issues affecting migrant and seasonal farmworkers by educating stakeholders and raising awareness about the often unseen population on both the local and statewide level. As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization MMHP is funded through private grants, donations, and by the federal Bureau of Primary Health Care.