The Abundant Table is a small but mighty non-profit farm education outfit in Santa Paula, founded by a group of idealistic CSU – Channel Islands students a few years ago. One of them, the eloquent Erynn Smith, director of farm education, explained to me in an interview last year that they had been inspired by the example of Christ, and the way he saw "the marginalized" of his time, the people and the suffering that others overlooked.
They asked themselves, if Christ was alive today and looked around Ventura county, who would be his people? What suffering would he see that others did not and do not? And they agreed that he would see the people who pick our crops, who work our fields, who apply our presticides. And so part of their mission, beyond environmental sustainability, was decent, healthy work for farmworkers. This they have done, I believe, on a small scale, but across this country, two million people work on farms, and all too many of them must struggle to survive.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the agriculture industry as one of the most hazardous workplaces in the U.S. While in the fields, farmworkers are at risk for both fatal and nonfatal injuries, lung and skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor reported at least one farmworker death per day, as well as hundreds of injuries due to work-related accidents—an injury rate 20 percent higher than that of the private industry.
Farmworkers are typically socioeconomically vulnerable immigrants with low levels of formal education. They receive low wages—in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that agricultural workers earn an average annual income of US$18,910—and one-quarter of the farmworker population live below the national poverty line. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost half of farmworkers lack work authorization, which, in addition to deficient resources, has created a population with little power to speak for themselves.
The Ojai Chautauqua will discuss Immigration: American Dream or American Nightmare? on April 12th, at the Ojai Valley Community Church, with a panel of experts, and, God willing, a good representative of our local immigrant community. Boy have I been looking!
You wouldn't think it would be difficult, but life is ever surprising.