“With the Fair Food Program, we are protecting ourselves against the worst effects of climate change…”

Over the next few weeks, as a part of our “Build The Future” fundraising drive to raise $100,000, we will be sharing a series of posts written by farmworker leaders themselves, with messages drawn from their own experiences as workers and as organizers in Immokalee.

Today, the CIW’s Cruz Salucio takes up the pen to share a powerful reflection on the Fair Food Program’s impact in advancing climate justice.

I remember the heat of the sun and the intense exhaustion during my first years in the tomato and watermelon fields.

Struggling with dehydration, I would get hit with terrible cramps in my feet, my legs, my fingers.  They would get hard as rocks, and I could not walk, carry my bucket, or lift a watermelon well.  But I had to just endure and keep working.  I remember, in my first weeks as a young farmworker in the tomato fields, one supervisor saw me struggling with a foot cramp and just said, “Well, you’ll have to drag it.”

I thought to myself:  Surely, I will burn.  Surely, I will sweat too much.  Surely, this will affect my health. 

Cruz Salucio (on the ground, second from right, red handkerchief, preparing to throw melon) works with the CIW watermelon harvesting cooperative in Mariana, Florida, in 2013.

But even so, you just worry for your family.  If I said something to the boss, or if I stopped to catch my breath, there was always this fear that the boss would yell at me, threaten and humiliate me, and worse, that he would not give me work the next day.

That was the day-to-day experience, but the situation can get far worse, and quickly.  Once, a fellow worker on my crew fainted in the fields.  For me, it was an incredibly difficult and frightening moment.  We all stopped picking and gathered around him, asking ourselves:  Is he going to wake up?  He seemed to be dying.  As we waited for an ambulance – which do not arrive quickly when you’re working at remote farms – we took our hats off and began to fan his face and body, trying to bring him back to us.  He survived – but barely.

Every year, the temperatures keep rising due to climate change.  So much of what we have done as human beings, sadly, has hurt this Earth, and as a result, it is changing.  When temperatures in the fields are at 98 or 99 degrees, but it rained the day before, it is going to feel more like 110 degrees, with the humidity.  You feel so much hotter.  And those of us living in poor communities, working outside in low-wage jobs, are suffering the frontline consequences.

But in Immokalee, we are taking action.  Even as temperatures rose over the last 10 years, so did the Fair Food Program, growing up out of the tomato fields of Florida and now spreading to many states and crops across the country.  With the Fair Food Program, we are protecting ourselves against the worst effects of climate change.

Help the CIW advance climate justice.  Click here to donate!

Today, unlike when I started in the fields, when there is a great deal of heat and you need to rest, you know you can take action to protect yourself without fear of retaliation, you can use your voice as a worker. Now, as a farmworker, I can leave my bucket for a moment, and know that a short walk away, I will find water, a bathroom, and shade in which to rest.  I know my boss will not yell at me to get back to work, or threaten to fire me.

Cruz Salucio (left of drawing) sharing a popular education drawing on heat stress in the tomato fields of Tennessee.

In short, in the Program, you see and respect the humanity of the women and men working.

And every year, we keep improving the protections under the Fair Food Program.  When we saw that the heat was rising, and affecting workers more and more, we got together with the Fair Food Program Participating Growers to create and implement the nation’s first set of privately-enforced heat stress protocols for farmworkers.  This past summer, they went into effect for the first time, requiring breaks every two hours during the hottest months of the year, adding new educational materials about how to recognize the first signs of heat stress, and ensuring that supervisors are keeping a close eye on their crew staying hydrated and safe.

Working together within the Program, and following the leadership and needs of the workers, we have seen that we can do more than improve the day-to-day health and safety conditions.  We can prevent a father or mother, a daughter or son, from losing their lives.

You can help expand these protections to more of America’s agriculture fields.  Click here to donate!