WORKING ON FARMS

There is not a great deal of public information about farm workers in the state. What we do know is presented in the following fact sheet. The working conditions and situation of these people merits further research, but is complicated by a number of factors including workers' own concerns about privacy, the concerns of their employers and the overall small number of people who do this work in the state.

According to the Census of Agriculture (2007) there are 1,641 hired workers on farms in Rhode Island. Many of these workers are high-school and college-aged youth who work on farms as their summer employment. There also are a number of farmworkers who come to the United States specifically to pursue farm labor during the growing seasons in the US.

For this project we had numerous conversations and conducted interviews regarding farmworkers in Rhode Island. Although there were no conclusive trends found, it was clear that there are many workers who regularly migrate to Rhode Island to work on farms. For example, one farmer said that he hires 30 immigrants as his picking force every year, with some workers returning each season for the past 10 to 15 years. He stated his workers mostly come from Guatemala or Korea and are in their 20s and 30s. His workers are paid minimum wage, $7.40 per hour, and work 10 to 12 hours a day. Another farmer that we spoke to hired 20 part-time workers who were mostly high-school or college students; however, he also had one hired picker from Jamaica who had worked for him for over 17 years.

Some farmers in Rhode Island use government programs to hire workers. H2A is a program overseen by the Department of Labor that grants temporary visas to workers for agricultural work. There are a number of farms that use the H2A program to hire workers. Nationally, there have been many critiques of the H2A program, in particular that there are not enough protections in place to ensure that workers are respected. However, there is no conclusive information regarding the treatment of H2A workers in Rhode Island. Another program that farmers in Rhode Island make use of is the Jamaican Labor Board, which facilitates workers from Jamaica coming to work in the United States.

~ One farmer said that he hires 30 immigrants as his picking force every year, with some workers returning each season for the past 10 to 15 years. His workers are paid minimum wage, $7.40 per hour, and work 10 to 12 hours a day ~

It is clear that hired labor plays an integral role in the agricultural food system of Rhode Island, but these workers are rarely discussed when talking about the future of agriculture in the state. Furthermore, the number gathered by the census is likely an underestimate because many farms hire undocumented workers that they may not report to the census. To have a just agricultural system in Rhode Island it is necessary to involve farm workers in this conversation in addition to ensuring that their jobs pay fair wages and they have safe working conditions.

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