Human Flower Project
Friday, December 30, 2005
In California, where most U.S. cut-flowers grow, a new program aims to improve the lives of agricultural workers.
It wasn’t by chance that the National Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, staged its first strike (1965) in the flower fields of McFarland, California. The Golden State made $1 billion off its flowers last year, and the industry, though better than in many parts of the world, is still rife with problems.
In California, “flowers and other ornamentals ranked sixth among all crops causing pesticide illnesses, according to data compiled by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. In San Mateo County, 23 percent of all pesticide poisonings occurred in the flower industry.”
A statewide survey of agricultural workers “Suffering in Silence” (2000) found that many farmworkers are malnourished; others fail to seek medical help for fear of deportation. The report concluded “that the vast majority of California’s agricultural workers are at serious risk for life-threatening chronic diseases, and that they have little or no access to health care.”
A new program—Poder Popular or “power to the people”—may “improve the workers’ health care, nutrition, housing and labor conditions and ...integrate them into the cities where they live.” San Diego is one of six regions with $600,000 in funding to bring improvements about. The project focuses on “promotores,” community leaders and spokespeople.
“In the next six to eight months, the promotores, both men and women, will be trained in such topics as doctor visits, water quality, tenant/landlord laws and fair housing. They also will go into the fields and ask workers what other needs they have, possibly bringing cameras to document living and working conditions.”
We would welcome their photographs of California’s flower fields and farmworkers at the Human Flower Project.
Those who dismiss the issue of pesticides should check out the “Suffering in Silence” report, and consider these eerie photographs by Laurie Tumer. Call them to mind next time you’re tempted to shake or spray a little poison in the garden.
The Poder program is part of California’s Agricultural Worker Health Initiative.