The weather has warmed up but many farmworkers still feel the chill.
Recent freezes killed a lot of produce, leaving many without work in the weeks before Christmas. The Farmworker Association of Florida held a press conference Thursday morning outside the Guadalupe Soup Kitchen to draw attention to the workers’ plight.
“The farmworkers are very vulnerable when the fruit and vegetables get frozen because they’re going to become unemployed,” said Tirso Moreno, the association’s general coordinator.
There was a freeze last season, at the beginning of 2010, and many workers struggled to pay for basic necessities. This December’s freezes weren’t quite as bad, but advocates are concerned because they happened earlier than last year. Workers haven’t had a chance to save up much money, and work will be thin for the next few months, the advocates said.
Talk to advocates and workers about it, and you’ll hear anxiety in their voices. They’re worried that more freezes might come in the spring.
About 30 people looked on as the advocates spoke. Many of the people present were waiting to eat a meal at the soup kitchen, including out-of-work farmworkers.
The freezes came a few weeks after the workers started in early November, and the farms were on their second picking — meaning that a lot of produce was still in the fields, said Adan Labra, the association’s area coordinator.
The association urged people to send help to farmworkers in need, saying that money for rent and utilities, and food are what people need the most. Other things, like transportation, are a luxury.
Some are able to find work picking produce that can be salvaged or replanting where produce died, Moreno said. But most workers have drastically reduced hours.
The association said they want to call attention to the problem and urge the governor to request a declaration of disaster from the federal government so that legal workers will be eligible for assistance. Illegal workers wouldn’t be eligible for programs, they said.
They are also reaching out to community organizations for help, and encouraged anyone who wants to help farmworkers in need to call the farmworker association office at 657-8263.