With funding from a new grant, library researchers at the University of Miami and University of Florida Libraries will host community forums to gather information about the most pressing needs of this vulnerable population, which includes immigrants and others.
The Florida Department of Health estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 farm workers pick crops from Florida fields each year.
Very little academic research has been conducted to document the lives and needs of these workers. Now, a $136,126 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the University of Miami Libraries and the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida could make the difference.
In partnership with the Farmworker Association of Florida and the Rural Women’s Health Project, the libraries will design, plan, and document collaborative methodologies and practices to document the experiences of farmworker communities.
“This work is important because farmworkers are a vulnerable population, but they are also an essential population because of the type of work they do for our state,” said Beatrice Skokan, Manuscripts and Archives Management Manager. university libraries. She will be co-investigator of the study with Margarita Vargas-Betancourt and John Nemmers, from the University of Florida (UF).
The University Libraries’ Manuscripts and Archives Management Department coordinates the arrangement and descriptions of distinctive collection materials and makes them available to students, faculty, researchers, and surrounding communities.
This work involves objective descriptions balanced with an awareness of voices missing from the cultural record, Skokan said. The Farmworker Project continues libraries’ engagement with historical and current issues of migration, climate change and agricultural labor, as the public turns to libraries and universities for relevant educational materials.
Florida farmworkers are the heart of the state’s agricultural industry, picking crops ranging from tomatoes and strawberries to sugarcane, experts say.
Although the majority of Florida farmworkers hail from South and Central American countries — and many of them are from Mexico — other ethnicities are also represented, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and of urban development. More than 35% of farm workers are of Haitian or Caribbean descent, and many African Americans work in the fields.
As part of the study, members of the University and UF libraries will host community forums in Apopka, Fla., and Homestead, Fla., areas with large numbers of farmworkers. “We will listen to their needs and go from there,” Skokan said.
Librarians will rely on the orientations of grassroots organizations, which are their partners, to assess the needs of stakeholders.
“The methodology would not come from us. But we would partner with local grassroots organizations that work with these groups because they have expertise,” Skokan stressed.
Project participants plan to collect oral histories from farm workers, as well as surveys from community participants, and organize a symposium with the participation of national and local councilors, she noted.
The researchers hope to compile a comprehensive archive of the lives and needs of the farmworker community that could be used to develop strategies to empower them, as well as cultivate a plan with the kind of services they need, Skokan explained. .
Issues such as vulnerable immigration status, housing insecurity, lack of access to health care and education can be raised at community forums, Skokan said. The researchers also partnered with the Rural Women’s Health Project, anticipating that many female farm workers are among the most vulnerable in the population.
“Women, in many cases, are more vulnerable in the fields due to abuse. And they are the ones taking care of the children, so they have other needs,” Skokan said.