“A ticking time bomb…”

Work shoes outside a one-room apartment in Immokalee offer mute testimony to the severely overcrowded conditions typical of most farmworker housing as the coronavirus crisis looms.

Despite some advances, farmworkers’ efforts to secure aggressive community testing and a field hospital in Immokalee ahead of imminent coronavirus disaster still racing against the clock…

SIGN THE PETITION NOW for critical health care for farmworkers in Immokalee before it’s too late!

Last week’s New York Times Op/Ed by CIW Co-founder Greg Asbed helped launch a clarion call for urgent action to address a critical health care shortage in this country’s farmworker communities.  A recent BuzzFeed article echoed those concerns, with one longtime farmworker advocate calling the situation in Florida’s fields “a ticking time bomb.”  Yet state officials have yet to publicly acknowledge the unique threat facing Florida’s critical farmworker communities, and continue to offer only vague plans for addressing what will almost certainly be an unbridled contagion in communities where tens of thousands of the state’s hardest – and most essential – workers live and work in almost unimaginably cramped, overcrowded conditions.  

The danger is real, and we need your help.  You can still make your voice heard in calling for urgent action to stave off disaster for Florida’s farmworkers: Sign the Change.org petition now, and help circulate it on social media.  The time for action is now.  We can no longer stand by while our elected officials tell farmworkers, “your labor is essential, but you are expendable.”

Recent victories on the preventative front show concerted action can have an impact…

The formula for fighting COVID-19 is a two-part equation, made up of 1) preventative interventions before people contract the deadly virus, including social distancing and hand-washing, and, 2) critical health care provisions after people are sick and suffering its often-terrible symptoms, provisions which would include self-isolation and the kind of medical treatment we see on the nightly news in ICU units from New York to New Orleans.  

The CIW’s call for a field hospital addresses the second of those two factors, the health care provisions that are so dearly lacking in Immokalee: space for isolating people who test positive for the virus, and care for those who are fighting its worst symptoms.  But despite the dark forecast for the devastation the virus will leave in its wake if urgent measures are not taken immediately to address the historic health care deficits in uniquely vulnerable farmworker communities, there was some good news on the preventative front this past week in Immokalee.

A hand-washing station, one of seven provided by Fair Food Program participating grower Lipman Family Farms, stands one block from the CIW office in the heart of the Immokalee community. The stations are the product of a unique collaboration of growers, farmworkers, fire and police personnel, and local health and emergency officials.

The story of how the hand-washing station above, and six more like it, came to be placed in strategic locations around Immokalee last week – a significant step forward in the fight to slow, and limit, the virus’ impact – was told by multiple news outlets.  Here below is the local NPR story on the unique community collaboration behind the important, though still partial, victory:

Handwashing Stations Installed in Immokalee

APR 3, 2020

Considered “essential workers,” farmworkers are still harvesting crops during the pandemic. In Immokalee, the community has banned together to make handwashing stations available for those still at work in the fields. 

Seven handwashing stations have been placed at labor pick up locations throughout Immokalee.

Julia Perkins of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said the stations help laborers engage in a critical preventative measure outlined by health experts

“It’s at least another opportunity for people to be able to practice some of those preventative measures,” Perkins said.

Perkins said the handwashing stations were provided by Lipman Family Farms and delivered by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.  Soap that was provided by the Collier County Department of Health  and Collier County Emergency Management.

The stations will be refilled with water by the Immokalee Fire Control District, according to  Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Cunningham.

“For the immediate future, we’ll be going out every evening to make sure that they’re full for the morning and topped off,” Cunningham said.

Perkins said information on social distancing and other methods for preventing the spread of COVD-19 will  be available at the handwashing stations.

The lesson this story holds is as simple as it is important: When we work together to address the critical needs facing the Immokalee community, we can make a real difference.  While Immokalee is historically one of the poorest communities in this country, it is also home to one of its most dynamic grassroots movements, the CIW’s Fair Food Movement, as well as some pretty remarkable community leaders beyond the CIW itself.  From FFP participating grower Lipman Family Farms, who has stepped up admirably since the threat of the virus first appeared on the horizon to protect the workers on its farms on multiple fronts, to the local fire, police, public health, and emergency services personnel who immediately answered the call when help was needed to put the hand-washing station plan into place, the community came together without hesitation behind a plan that will save lives.  And at the heart of that collaboration, the CIW was there to help coordinate the team, facilitate communication, and provide the farmworker community voice in the process.

But preventative measures can only slow the spread of the virus, they cannot stop it.

Failure to provide crucial health care to Immokalee – starting now – is not an option…

A farmworker in Immokalee waits aboard a crowded field bus for the pre-dawn drive to work on a local farm.

If we hope to stop the COVID-19 virus from devastating Immokalee, and countless farmworker communities like it around the state, intervention by Florida’s elected leaders – starting now, by directing our public health and emergency services officials to provide critical health care resources and services to the state’s essential farmworker communities, including testing and a field hospital – is paramount.  There is no more time to waste.

These are the two things that you can do, right now, to advance the campaign for a field hospital:

  1. INDIVIDUAL PETITION: Sign and share the Change.org petition that has already topped 10,000 signatures in its first 72 hours, calling on Gov. DeSantis to take all the necessary steps to get a field hospital in Immokalee ASAP!
  2. ORGANIZATIONAL OPEN LETTER: Stop and think about your entire network, professional and personal: Are there any public health institutions, businesses, human rights networks, or faith-based groups that you’re a part of? The CIW’s open letter calling for the field hospital has already been signed by over 100 organizations since its launch on Friday, representing a growing wave of support from experts and everyday-consumers alike for these essential health care provisions for farmworkers. You can share the letter with this simple link: bit.ly/supportfarmworkers

The Fair Food Movement’s greatest strength over the past twenty years has been its broad, and deeply committed, base of allies across the nation in support of farmworkers’ fundamental human rights – and the need to flex that hard-earned muscle has never been more urgent than it is today.  At a time when it feels like so much is beyond our control, this fight is something we can do, together, to change the course of suffering and devastation that the coronavirus would otherwise carve through our community here in Immokalee.  And you can help us keep this monster at bay, without ever leaving your home, by adding your name to the petition and circulating its crucial message through your social media networks. 

Let’s get to work, Fair Food Nation!