Farm workers gathering crops.

Who are the food heroes you never see?

2.5 million.  That is how many farmworkers we have in this country.  They are the food heroes, or people behind the scenes, running the harvester or loading crates of produce and driving trucks to make sure those fresh baby greens get to your table.  They are the people picking thousands of bushels of blueberries off the bush. 

Farm workers sorting through fresh blueberries.

They are the workers caring for the poultry, picking eggs, milking cattle, or caring for newborn pigs.  They are the people picking fruit off the tree or working in the line at a meatpacking plant. These are the essential workers who we rarely have a glimpse at, but who are some of the most essential in making sure we all get food on our plate each and every day and never in modern times has it ever been more clear just how essential they really are. 

Through FarmHer I have a unique viewpoint into farms of all types and have become very aware of the past 7 years that all food starts at the farm.  However, I can’t say I have ever thought about the absolute necessity of each and every piece of that food chain in making sure we all get food on our plates, nor what would happen if any of those parts or pieces breaks.

Over the years as I visited different types of farms around the country for FarmHer, I started to see a pattern.  Many farms, and especially the larger commercial type of operations producing mass amounts of food don’t just rely on the farmer or FarmHer, but rather on teams or crews of people working throughout the farm to make sure food is planted, raised, harvested and shipped safely and efficiently.  

Farmworker holding a basket of tomatoes in a field.

I noticed there were frequently people in the background, heads down, making sure the job gets done.  No farm gets it done with just one person.  Not just the farmer, the FarmHer, the workers, the banker, the truck drivers, the warehouse workers, or the supporters at home.  All of the pieces have to work for the food to get where it needs to go. 

In comes Proteus, a non-profit serving farm workers in Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska. Proteus serves immigrant, minority and low-income populations working in agriculture by helping them overcome language and cultural barriers in order to better provide for their families.  

This assistance comes in the form of English classes, childcare and health care, all of which are essential no matter who you are, where you work or what your socio-economic level is.  Their programs have a proven record of lifting families out of poverty and helping them become a functioning part of the society for which they are essential.  

Fresh carrots and vegetables from the field picked by farmworkers.

Some of the Proteus resources include clinics where patients can access care but also mobile healthcare units that they can set up on site at a farm and help them get the help they need. They also conduct heat stroke, heat stress and pesticide training for thousands of workers each year.   

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel (face-to-face from the comfort of our computer screens of course) who is the Executive Director of Proteus.  I would encourage you to listen in here to better understand as Daniels shares who these workers are, what their needs are, how they are being met and what that means for the food you will be eating at your next meal.  Daniel’s care and concern for the workers was evident and his parting words were impactful to say the least, “I would challenge each and every one of us, when we eat to remember how we got that food and to really be thankful for the work that farmworkers do each and every day.”

I would echo Daniel’s challenge now more than ever before because it affects all of us.  From the farmers who are forced to dump milk because there is nowhere for it to go, or the growers who have to destroy produce because the supply chain is no longer functioning correctly.  

From the producers raising pigs or poultry that rely on these workers not only at the farm but at the plants that process the meat….and finally to the parents who are blessed and fortunate enough to be cooking dinner tonight for their families.  These essential workers are part of the equation in making sure Everybody Eats.

Click here to learn more about donating face masks for farmworkers through the Proteus #FaceMasks4FarmWorkers campaign!

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