WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Almost half (47 percent) of Latino migrant and seasonal farm workers in North Carolina can’t afford enough food for their families and 15 percent have to resort to measures such as cutting the size of their child’s meals or not eating for a whole day, suggests research conducted by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
"Ironically, farm workers have an essential role in the production of most of the fruits and vegetables in the United States," said Sara A. Quandt, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences and the study’s lead researcher. "Yet, many of them can’t afford enough food and worry about whether their children have enough to eat."
The study involved 102 households in a five-county area of central North Carolina (Duplin, Harnett, Johnson, Sampson and Wake).
Face-to-face interviews were conducted at 22 sites including farm labor camps, trailer parks, individual homes, churches, laundromats and at Migrant Head Start programs using the Food Security Core-Module Questionnaire developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The questionnaire measures food security, which is access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle.
"This is the first study on food security among farm workers," said Quandt. "We found a high level of food insecurity among this group."
The researchers found that farm workers with children were especially at risk. "Households with children were four times more likely to have limited food access than the general United States population," said Quandt.
The study was conducted as part of a four-year project, Casa y Campo, and was funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to address the health issues affecting farm worker communities. In North Carolina, the farm worker population is estimated at 200,000 workers and their dependents. They work on a variety of crops including tobacco, green peppers, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, apples and Christmas trees.
The research team, which also included Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D., research director and professor of family medicine, and representatives of the North Carolina Farmworkers Project in Benson, recommends that the following steps should be instituted to help protect farm workers:
- Agricultural employers should be made aware of food insecurity among their workers. Food assistance is needed for these workers during the slack periods of the agricultural cycle to ensure a healthy workforce during the peak seasons.
- Health and social service providers should find ways to provide access to higher quality food for farm worker families to prevent future health problems.
- Although many churches provide emergency food pantries, they should consider new food outreach programs to reach the farm worker and their families.
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