Farmworker Services

What is a Migrant Farmworker?

Migrant farmworkers travel from place to place to provide the labor-intensive work necessary to harvest fruit and vegetable crops on farms across New York State and the country. In 2004, Finger Lakes Community Health (FLCH) data revealed that farmworkers came into the Finger Lakes region from 29 different states and remained until our field crops, orchards, and vineyards were all harvested. Many lived in registered labor camps, and some found housing with private landlords.

Depending on the agricultural labor needs in the Finger Lakes, many of the workers arrive in early spring and migrate back and forth within the region throughout the summer, tending field crops such as onions, beans, asparagus, carrots, and cucumbers. As the autumn begins, our farmworker population moves north into the counties that border Lake Ontario, where the fruit orchards, including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, etc., are ready to harvest, and many move back into the southern counties for the cabbage harvest in November. Additionally, food processing plants and fruit packing plants also employ and provide temporary housing to seasonal workers brought in from other countries or territories of the United States.

The Finger Lakes region, in western New York, has the highest concentration of migrant farm workers in New York State. Due to the nature of their mobile lifestyle, they have been difficult to accurately count. Census figures have historically undercounted farmworker populations in New York, as in other states. In 2011, the National Center for Farmworker Health reported that there were 112,827 farmworkers and their dependents working/living in New York State.

The ethnic breakdown of the mostly young male (59%) migrant population in this part of New York has been fairly consistent over the past eight years: 84% Hispanic/Mexican American, 7% Haitian, 6% Puerto Rican, 2% African American, and 2% Central American. Approximately 86% of FLCH migrant patients are most comfortable speaking Spanish.

Most migrant farmworkers earn annual incomes below the federal poverty level. The transient nature of their work often prevents them from establishing any local residency, excluding them from most, if not all, public benefits. FLCH receives funding to provide access to care for farmworkers. This funding ensures that the farmworkers have access to healthcare, as well as the ability to work and provide an agricultural workforce for the farms in the region.

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