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New documentary series highlights climate change’s toll on farmworkers

More than 5,400 Prima Wawona employees, including office workers as well as farmers and farmworkers, were laid off on March 12, 2024.
Photo provided by Gerawan Farming
More than 5,400 Prima Wawona employees, including office workers as well as farmers and farmworkers, were laid off on March 12, 2024.

FRESNO, Calif. – From sweltering temperatures to more frequent natural disasters – a new documentary series released this week by the United Farm Worker Foundation highlights how farm laborers face a wide range of risks and dangers while harvesting the nation’s crops.

The five-part mini-series, called Farm Worker Voices, aims to show how climate change affects the everyday lives of agricultural laborers, and spotlights the stories of farmworkers across the country who are directly affected.

“They’re extremely vulnerable to heat, illness and death. They’re vastly affected by climate change,” says Daniel Larios, a spokesperson for the foundation.

The UFW Foundation is releasing a video every week until May 20.

Issues highlighted in the Valley

Two farmworkers from the San Joaquin Valley are featured in the series.

Elizabeth Ramirez, 44, from Bakersfield, talks in one video about the impacts brought on by last year’s record-breaking floods. Heavy rainfall from a series of record atmospheric rivers drenched the state and flooded farms.

“Before the floods, I’d never seen such a widespread loss of work,” Ramirez says in Spanish. “We couldn’t pay our bills or provide for our kids.”

John Deere Tractor with field sprayer.
Mirko Fabian
John Deere Tractor with field sprayer.

Adela Leon, a 43-year-old farmworker from Fowler, speaks about another challenge for farmworkers – pesticides – and how a lack of protections from pesticide drift affected her while she was pregnant.

“Sometimes [our bosses] don’t tell us what kind of chemical is being sprayed,” Leon says in Spanish. “I started having heart problems. My son was born with asthma and other health issues.”

The documentary also calls attention to workers who have labored under scorching temperatures – an issue the Valley is familiar with. A farmworker reportedly died last August of heat exhaustion.

The UFW Foundation, through the series, is calling on state and federal agencies to implement stronger regulations to protect workers such as a national heat standard, pesticide bans, and more widely available relief programs.

“Climate change is real,” Larios of the foundation says. “We need to do more to support our farmworkers”

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.