Fall is upon us, which undoubtedly means pumpkin everything; from pumpkin spiced lattes to jack-o-lanterns sitting on our front porches to cuddling up next to a loved one spooning pumpkin pie in our mouths – the season of pumpkin is here. But with the demand for pumpkin-everything comes the increasing demand of pumpkin picking farm labor.
There’s a small county in Texas that boasts, “Pumpkin Capital, USA.” Their mission goes on to say “We produce the world’s finest Pumpkins and a lot of them.” Patrons excited for the heat of Texas to transform into a brisk cool air travel to this small county to watch – and participate – in the beloved “Punkin Days.” From pumpkin arts and crafts to pumpkin size contests, it is truly a festival of pumpkin-everything. But the satisfied customers and crowds of Floydada, TX would not being lining up for pumpkin-everything if it weren’t for the toiled and hard-working farmworker.
Texas isn’t the only state that commends itself of the perfect pumpkin patch – every year an estimated 35,000-38,000 farmworkers migrate to Illinois for the ample (and very heavy) pumpkin and autumn harvest. In 2012 the USDA’s Agriculture Census reported Illinois has 16,426 acres of pumpkin patches, making it the largest acreage of farms growing pumpkins in the United States. With hundreds of pumpkins growing approximately every acre – that is a lot of land – and pumpkin – to cover.
It’s easy to overlook the occupational health risks of farm workers while we’re gutting our pumpkins and carving silly faces on them, but they exist, and they’re not going away anytime soon. Illinois reported only serving 0.9% of agriculture workers in 2014 – while in 2012 3.3% of ag workers were reported as receiving healthcare services.
In fact, only approximately 18% of the estimated number of agricultural workers in the U.S. are being served by health centers. In partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers, NCFH is working to improve the amount of agriculture workers served. The AG 2020 campaign calls on every migrant health center grantee to increase by 15% each year over the next five years the number of agricultural workers served.
The migrant farm worker rarely has time or a stable home to decorate with jack-o-lanterns, but their endless days working in the pumpkin fields need tribute. When reaching for a pumpkin at the store – or even reaching for an already-harvested-pumpkin in the field, think about the hands that touched the pumpkin before you and honor their efforts while we enjoy the brisk cool air of fall. Remember the contributions of this tireless population – the selflessness and devotion they have to their jobs are an essential part of our pumpkin-everything happiness this fall season.
By Mindy Morgan
Image Credit: Creative Commons: Public Domain
The National Center for Farmworker Health
Improving health care access for one of America's most vulnerable populations