Farmworker Awareness Week: Who grows your food?
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: April 8, 2013

Migrant farmworkers in the United States—the people who plant, cultivate, and harvest our food—are beating the odds if they live to be 50 years old. They are some of the lowest paid workers in the U.S., and they are usually excluded from fair labor laws that ensure overtime pay and minimum breaks during the workday.

A group of students at Portland State has set out to make more students aware of these sobering realities. 

With funding through the Solutions Generator program, the students organized a series of events for PSU’s Farmworker Awareness Week, which begins April 13. 

According to student Rob Duren, raising awareness about the way farmworkers live and work is especially pertinent in Portland, where farmers markets, trendy cafes, and natural food stores touting “local” and “organic” can be found on nearly every corner.

“It’s an invisible issue. This is such a foodie town, but a lot of people don’t realize the plight behind their plate,” said Duren, a graduate student in PSU’s sustainability certificate program.

More than 150,000 migrant farmworkers support Oregon’s multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. Like much of the U.S., many of Oregon’s farmworkers are undocumented, and the resulting fear of speaking out makes them extra vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Duren and his team have partnered with Oregon’s only farmworker’s union, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), to bring union activists to campus and to take students to the farms.

“We’re putting a face on the issue by leading students on a tour of labor camps where students can see how farmworkers live, providing education on the issue by hosting a documentary film screening and panel discussion, and are giving back to the farmworker community by participating in a service learning project,” Duren said.

Want to get involved? Here’s a lineup of events for Farmworker Awareness Week:

April 13, 8 a.m.–1 p.m.
Agricultural Labor Camp Tour
Visit local farmworkers’ living quarters and learn more about community organizations working to change their living conditions for the better. Email to sign up.

April 15, 5–8 p.m. | Native American Student and Community Center
Dinner, Documentary, and Dialogue 
Screening of “The Harvest/La Cosecha” with introduction by New York Times Bestseller Tracie McMillan. Q&A after the screening with Dr. Corbett from PSU's School of Urban and Public Affairs. 

April 18, 5–8 p.m.| Native American Student and Community Center
The Plight Behind your Plate: Oregon's Migrant Farmworker Movement
Panel discussion and key note with: Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN; Javier Lara and Carmen Gonzalez, Community Organizers with PCUN; Jaime Arredondo, Director of Special Projects CAPACES Leadership Institute.

April 20, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.
Service Learning with CAPACES Leadership Institute 
Part of Student Leaders for Service’s Earth Day of Service. Email to sign up.