Community and Rural Development and the Farming Community: Why Are They Such a Great Match?

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It is well known that the agriculture industry represents an important source of economic development in the United States. In North Carolina, agriculture is the largest industry, generating roughly 17 percent of the state’s workforce and gross state product. However, the resources and efforts to support that industry tend to be fragmented. In the case of the farming community, there has been a tendency to focus either on production (farmers and farmers) or on labor (farmworkers). A third growing focus group the Farm Labor Contractors (FLCs). This context is a perfect niche for Community and Rural Development efforts and the foundation of the grant-funded NC State Extension Farmworker Health and Safety Program (Farmworker Program).

The Farmworker Program was developed in 2014 based on the belief that everyone involved in the agriculture industry, which includes farmers/producers, FLCs, farmworkers, and their families is exposed to risk factors and stress; therefore, an education program that recognizes and includes all of them is needed. Additionally, existing video-based training is inadequate to change safety behaviors, with farmworkers having little awareness after watching the video that they have been trained.

The Farmworker Program model builds and strengthens relationships between all people working on the farm as well as community partners in order to enhance the well-being of the Farm Working Community. The components of the program are: 1) Farmworker on-farm and in Extension Centers Training (90-minute interactive face to face training); 2) Farm Labor Contractors Training; 3) Community Educational Events; 4) Partnership and network development; 5) Extension Cross Programming. The program team is Luis Cruz, Roberto Rosales, Javier Rivera, program educators, and Susan Jakes and Cintia Aguilar, program PI and Co-PI. It is currently implemented in 8 N.C. counties.

In 2018 the educators conducted 63 training sessions for a total of 2,095 workers from 101 farms. In addition, 879 farmworkers were trained in partnership with external partners. Twenty-one FLCs attended an educational workshop. Furthermore, 8 community educational events were conducted for a total participation of 160 adults and 137 youth, and 21 community organizations and programs were part of the Farmworker Community Partners Coalition. Post-training survey data shows that 96% of workers understood the key concepts on pesticide, heat stress, and green tobacco sickness safety and prevention.

On a qualitative level, the farming community have praised the program over the years of implementation. In the words of a farmer, I think this program is awesome. My farm has been using it for years. I love that they will come out to the farm, they always work out a good time for me and them. My guys seem to never mind sitting in and learning. I love that they keep it interesting and fun to learn.

Susan Jakes, Ph.D.
Associate State Program Leader, Community and Rural Development

Cintia Aguilar
Latino Programs Manager, Community and Rural Development