By the Farmworker Advocacy Network
Edited by Cassidy Jensen
After the fall 2018 hurricane season, I embarked on a listening tour.
I interviewed migrant health and migrant education outreach workers, members of faith-based organizations, union organizers, representatives of farmworker leadership organizations, legal service providers, and other members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN).
Using information from these interviews, news articles, academic research, publically available information from administrative agencies, and my personal impressions and experiences working with the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, I have organized this information into a FAN tool kit to help FAN as a coalition, and individual FAN member organizations, prepare for disasters and limit the impact on the farmworkers we serve as extreme weather events become a regular part of a post climate change reality.
On September 13, 2018, Hurricane Florence struck the coast of North Carolina. With Florence came prolonged power outages, high winds, high rains, and flooding from storm surge for days and weeks after the hurricane passed. After the flooding, farmworkers experienced the consequences of destroyed crops, lack of work, lost wages, damaged housing, and instability and uncertainty about the future. Although hurricanes are common in North Carolina, Florence’s impact is considered worse than past hurricanes because of its geographic spread, slow moving trajectory, and heavy rainfall. Shortly after Florence, on October 11, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in an already saturated North Carolina as a tropical storm, knocking out more power lines and causing rivers to rise once again. Advocates described the impact of the fall 2018 hurricanes as “catastrophic” When it came to farmworkers in need of relief or evacuation, one advocate reported feeling “no one was coming to save anybody.”
North Carolina Farmworker Advocacy Network and a disaster of “epic proportion.” Many migrant workers as well as seasonal farmworkers and farmworker families were unprepared for the storm and the floods that followed. Many organizations working with farmworkers lacked a concrete emergency plan or protocol. Individuals on the front lines of disaster relief to farmworkers said they were largely “winging it.” When it came to farmworkers in need of relief or evacuation, one advocate reported feeling “no one was coming to save anybody.”
However, farmworkers and the communities that they are part of are resilient. Individuals and organizations went above and beyond to keep one another safe in the disaster and aftermath. The people interviewed for this toolkit expressed that they learned many lessons that will help farmworkers and those who work with and alongside farmworkers in North Carolina. Where this tool kit stops short is in reflecting feedback from workers themselves. At the time of publication, the FAN Research and Advocacy (FAN RAD) team planned to interview workers directly about the disaster and the recovery effort with the hope of incorporating their findings into a future release of this tool kit. I hope this tool kit honors the tremendous sacrifices North Carolina’s farmworkers and their families bear while making valuable contributions to our state by offering affirmative steps towards minimizing the adverse effects of natural disasters on their lives. I also hope that this tool kit also recognizes the hard work of those on-the ground advocates providing support to workers in their area by identifying concrete ways the larger farmworker advocacy community can support them as individuals and in their professional lives during a disaster.
Legal Aid Of NC – Farmworker Unit