Follow Up: October Florida Food Forum
Solidarity With Agricultural and Farmworker Communities, Update From The Experts
If you were unable to attend the meeting, watch the full presentation online here.
On October 28th, the Florida Food Policy Council (FLFPC) hosted the Food Forum titled "Solidarity with Agricultural and Farmworker Communities, Update from The Experts" featuring guest speakers Nezahualcoyotl “Neza” Xiuhtecutli, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida and Jaffe Silcott Pickett, Executive Director and CEO of Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. These speakers discussed several topics related to issues affecting our farmworker communities while also providing suggestions on how to support these communities. The forum was followed by an engaging Q&A session.
Erica Hall, Chair of the FLFPC Board of Directors, hosted the forum and opened with a warm welcome and land acknowledgement. Erica expressed the FLFPC’s excitement to hear from Nezahualcoyotl “Neza” Xiuhtecutli and Jaffe Silcott Pickett about how the ways legal issues and lack of support for our farmworker communities affect the way food is produced, consumed, and transported to communities throughout Florida. Erica introduced expert speakers Jaffe and Neza who gave an excellent presentation, followed by an informative question and answer (Q&A) session. Below is a summary of what was covered during the event.
Jaffe Silcott Pickett, Esq., Executive Director and CEO of Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. (FRLS)introduced her team and began her presentation by introducing the mission of the FRLS which is to empower low-income individuals, groups, and communities by providing them with access to justice through outreach and education, legal advice, legal representation, and advocacy. Florida Rural Legal Services is a non-profit law firm providing civil legal assistance at no charge to vulnerable and low- income populations. FRLS has over 100 employees, and 50 attorneys and is funded through grants such as the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) & other federal, state and local funders and through corporate contributions, foundation grants, individual donations, sponsorships and major gifts. FRLS continues to be the only legal services organization in Florida providing services to farmworkers and migrant workers statewide. FRLS helps clients in the following priority service areas:
1. Housing Protection and Homelessness prevention
2. Consumer Protection
3. Employment Rights and Public Benefits
4. Family Protection and Victim Protection
5. Individual and Civil Rights: education advocacy, expungements, and court fines and fees assistance.
FRLS also assist Seniors, Veterans, persons facing tax controversies as well as patients facing legal issues through their Medical Legal Partnership grant. FRLS’ provides comprehensive services including: Community outreach and education to ensure citizens are aware of their rights and have knowledge of the services provided by FRLS; Frontline Services through a toll-free hotline and statewide Farmworker Helpline to ensure access to our services and assistance for those facing unmet food needs’ and Holistic Legal Services including public benefits, to aid in emergency rental assistance to prevent homelessness and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with wide ranging benefits to children and families. SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. Food Insecurity is a major issue in the migrant farmworker community and FRLS does all it can to provide support and resources to the communities it serves by connecting them to food banks and food pantries. FRLS also has a toll-free hotline and a statewide Migrant Farmworker’s helpline to allow access to our services and to respond to emergency needs of our client communities. FRLS also allows greater access to our services through our online intake application, available to clients 24/7. The Migrant Farmworker Helpline launched August 3, 2020, and was created to ensure essential frontline workers, providing critical produce and fruit throughout the country, had access to our services during and following the worldwide pandemic. FRLS hotline transitioned to a full hotline in 2021 to ensure adequate access to our priority service areas as well as providing intake to our critical service grant funding.
Next, we had a presentation from Nezahualcoyotl “Neza” Xiuhtecutli, Ph.D., General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. The Farmworker Association of Florida’s long-standing mission is to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities, to respond to and gain control over the social, political, economic, workplace, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment where farmworkers’ contribution, dignity, and worth are acknowledged, appreciated, and respected through economic, social, and environmental justice. This vision includes farmworkers being treated as equals, and not exploited and discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, or immigrant or socioeconomic status. FWAF is a statewide organization established in 1983, with five offices in Florida. Each office was created based on work around separate natural disasters that impacted farmworkers. For over a century, Central Florida was known for its acres and acres of citrus groves growing oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits that were shipped around the state and around the country. The industry required the intensive labor of hard-working farmworkers to hand harvest the crops each year during the long citrus growing season. In keeping true to the organization’s mission and guiding vision, FWAF’s core strategy is to help farmworkers realize and build upon their power to be effective agents of social and personal change by:
Validating and strengthening the experiences, knowledge, and understanding of farmworkers,
Building farmworkers’ capacity to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives,
Building multiracial coalitions with other farmworker organizations promoting civic engagement and better working conditions,
Organizing around community and labor issues,
Raising consciousness about and advocating for farmworkers’ rights and justice.
Toward this goal, FWAF’s programs and activities build leadership, civic engagement, and activist skills among low-income communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, institutional racism, harassment and intimidation, exploitation, and political under-representation. The Farmworker Association of Florida’s Agroecology program is part of their work on food sovereignty and environmental justice. FWAF view the necessary change to the inequities inherent in the current food system in which we live to be rooted at the community level. To that end, they have four community gardens operating in four of their five area offices: Apopka, Pierson, Fellsmere, and Homestead. Currently they are starting a new community garden near their Immokalee office.
FWAF advocates for farmworkers and their families. Immigrant farmworkers are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in our society. Regardless of immigrant status, they often experience maltreatment, and exploitation in their workplaces and communities. Anti-immigrant sentiment and harassment is commonplace in the communities where we work and, annually, we see multiple divisive anti-immigrant bills proposed and, in some cases, passed at the state level. Immigrant families live in fear of job loss, family separation, detention, and deportation, and are in desperate need of information about their rights. They are often victims of exploitation and discrimination by employers, labor contractors, law enforcement, social service agencies, policymakers, landlords, and fellow community members, which results in racial profiling; unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, and detentions; unjust landlord-tenant relations; wage theft; inaccessibility or withholding of services; deportation; and separation of families. Also, in recent years many U.S.-based immigrant farmworkers have lost employment opportunities as more and more farms turn to the guest-worker H2A visa program to bring workers, temporarily, from other countries to work in the fields.
The Farmworker Association of Florida’s Defending Immigrants’ Rights Program addresses these problems and works with immigrant farmworkers to build the knowledge and skills needed to better understand their rights, their protections in the workplace and in the community, the policies that impact their lives, and their ability to participate in civic processes focused on bringing about positive change. In 2021 FWAF has seen an unprecedented need in the community due to COVID 19 and the complications that arose due to lockdowns and cessation of work. FWAF became a central place for information dissemination as well as a FEMA distribution site for masks, and other PPE supplies. They also set up several food aid distribution sites. FWAF maintains vigilance and provide training for preparedness for all kinds of natural disasters as well. From floods to hurricanes FWAF works to make sure our communities are safe, informed, and prepared. Following natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding, low-income immigrant communities have consistently been slow to receive assistance and are often the victims of discriminatory and inadequate services. FWAF works to organize communities to know their rights in responding to disasters. Some of the other issues affecting farmworker communities includes pesticides that are destroying the health of the farmworkers, low wages, no health insurance, heat exposure, food insecurity and hunger.
Watch the full recording on our YouTube channel here
Guest Speaker Bio:
Thank you to our sponsors for making this forum possible:
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)program is a decentralized competitive grants and education program operating in every state and island protectorate. SARE is divided into four different regions that operate as separate entities and run grant programs for their states.
Contact: Brennan Washington, email@example.com
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Disclaimer: The views of the presenters do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.