Henderson County Extension Farmworker Health and Safety Program

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In the mid 1940’s migrant laborers began arriving in Henderson County to pick apples through the Braceros program. An agreement between Mexico and the USA to address the shortage of farm help during WWII. The majority moved on after the fall harvest. Starting sometime in the 1980’s the farmworkers began finding year-round jobs in Henderson County and brought their families. Today, the Spanish speaking population of Henderson County is approximately 10-12%.

The need for farmworkers in Henderson County has continued to grow, with most farmworkers coming from Mexico. Some are permanent residents however, there is a growing use of the H2A Agricultural Program. The H2A Agricultural Program allows farmers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring non-immigrant, foreign guest workers legally to the United Sates to perform agricultural work for a season. North Carolina is the one of the top users of this type of temporary agricultural visa.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension: Farmworker Health and Safety Program was established in 2014 in Eastern North Carolina. It was identified that Henderson County had a growing need for the program and in March 2022 a Regional Farmworker Health and Safety Educator was hired to work out of the Henderson County Extension office. Since then, the program has conducted 12 trainings on farms in Henderson County and Western North Carolina. Almost 200 farmworkers received training. The training consists of WPS pesticide safety, COVID updates and protocols, heat stress awareness and safety. COVID test kits were also provided to all the farms that participated.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Henderson County Center also facilitated the Farmworker Fair Organizing Committee, made up of 14 local organizations. The committee met for several months organizing and preparing for the fair. Over 100 farmworkers and their families came and celebrated at the Farmworker Fair. The 14 organizations all set up booths filled with information and fun activities for farmworkers and their families. The event was held at the Hola Carolina Cultural Center and the wonderful food was provided by a Mexican woman who had completed the MountainBizworks Foundations Program; the Mexican DJ was fantastic. Danza Azteca Chichimeca mesmerized the crowd with their dancing, drums and costumes and Interfaith Assistance Ministries provided over 100 boxes of food including fresh vegetables and meat. The event was a big success and will continue to get bigger and better each year.

There is a growing need for farm workers in Henderson County. The work is challenging and dangerous. It is only reasonable that while they are here working, they receive the education they need to stay safe, healthy, and feel welcome. The Farmworker Health and Safety Program is here to help provide just that.