- The new grant will provide library researchers funding to conduct community forums to gather information on the most pressing needs of this vulnerable population, which includes migrants and others
- The Florida Department of Health estimates that between 150,000 to 200,000 farmworkers pick crops in Florida fields annually
Librarians at the University of Miami and the University of Florida are launching a new study to analyze Florida’s farmworker populations.
Partnering with the Farmworker Association of Florida and the Rural Women’s Health Project, the libraries will design, plan, and document methodologies and collaborative practices to document the experiences of farmworker communities. The study will be aided by a $136,126 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the University of Miami Libraries and the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries
“This work is important because farmworkers are a vulnerable population, but they are also an essential population because of the type of work that they carry out for our state,” said Beatrice Skokan, head of manuscripts and archives management for University Libraries. She will serve as co-investigator of the study along with Margarita Vargas-Betancourt and John Nemmers, from the University of Florida (UF).
The project with farmworkers will also continue the libraries’ engagement with both historical and current issues of migration, climate change, and agricultural labor as the public looks to libraries and universities for relevant educational materials.
Farmworkers in Florida are at the heart of the agricultural industry in the state, picking crops ranging from tomatoes and strawberries to sugar cane, according to experts.
Although the majority of Florida’s farmworkers are originally from countries in South and Central America—and many of those are from Mexico—there are other ethnicities represented as well, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 35 percent of farmworkers are of Haitian or Caribbean descent, and many African Americans work the fields.
As part of the study, members of both the UM and UF libraries will conduct community forums in Apopka, Florida, and Homestead, Florida, areas with a large number of farmworkers. “We will listen to their needs and proceed from there,” said Skokan.
The librarians will rely on the guidance of the grassroots organizations, which are their partners, in assessing the needs of the workers.
“The methodology would not be coming from us. But we would partner with local grassroots organizations that work with these groups, because they have an expertise,” Skokan pointed out.
The project participants plan to also collect oral histories of the farmworkers, as well as community participant surveys, and organize one symposium with the participation of national and local advisors, she noted.
Skokan noted that researchers hope to compile a comprehensive archive on the lives and needs of the farmworker community that could be used to develop strategies to empower them, as well as cultivate a blueprint with the type of services they need.
Issues such as a vulnerable immigration status, housing insecurity, lack of access to health care, and education may come up during the community forums, Skokan predicted. The researchers also partnered with the Rural Women’s Health Project, anticipating that many female farmworkers are among the most vulnerable in the population.
“Women, in many cases, are more vulnerable in the fields through abuse. And they are the ones caring for children, so they have other needs,” said Skokan.