Farmworkers’ average annual income is $11,000, making them the lowest paid workforce in the nation.
College Educators: Developing a Syllabus on Farmworker Advocacy
Below are topics for a fourteen-week semester seminar, developed by SAF for our book, The Human Cost of Food.
A more complex, printable PDF version is available as well. The PDF file includes a complete syllabus, not just the basic topics listed here.
Basic elements for a course on farmworkers and advocacy:
- History of farm work particular to the region where the course is offered. In the Southeast, any discussion of farm work must discuss links between current farmworker conditions and slavery, sharecropping, and tenant farming.
- Contextualization of farm work with region's agricultural crops. How did the crops that farmworkers plant, prune, and harvest in this region become popular here? Why these crops and not others? How are these crops transported to markets? How have these cropping patterns and crop selections changed over time?
- Changes in farmworker populations over time. Discuss the shifts of farmworker population ethnicities and countries of origin. Why do whites and African Americans make up only a small percentage of the farmworker population today, while Latinos make up the overwhelming majority?
- Push/pull factors that encourage or force farmworkers to enter farm work today. In the Southeast, discuss the vacuum created by the out-migration of the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers from agricultural communities. Also review the economic and social aspects of communities in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere that create a climate where inhabitants must leave in order to survive. Discussions about NAFTA, other federal trade programs and how U.S. policy has helped create poverty in Latin America are also important.
- Patterns of farmworker travel and labor in the present. Where do farmworkers who work in the region studied stay in the winter? What months are they in your community? How long do they stay? From where do they come and to where do they go when they leave? Are there year-round workers in the area?
- Farmworker advocacy. What were the antecedents to present day farmworker advocacy? How do farmworker advocates of the past resemble those of the present? Make the students familiar with various areas of advocacy including, education, legislation, housing, health, and immigration.
- Direct experience with farmworkers and advocates. While it may be difficult to work with farmworker communities during the academic year, students should have some contact with former farmworkers and farmworker advocates. This can come in the form of a field trip to a labor camp and farm, inviting farmworkers and advocates as guest speakers, or requiring students to volunteer with local farmworker organizations.
- Volunteer experience with farmworker advocacy organizations. Service-learning requirements can be a useful tool to involve students in the farmworking community. In lieu of writing academic papers, students can document their volunteer experiences as a means of conveying what they have learned through oral histories, photography, video, and/or ethnographies of the agency personnel/community members/farmworkers with whom they have worked. A journal is an effective means of documenting experiences and required presentations encourage students to convert journal writings into effective communication.
- Special reports by the students to expand upon topics only slightly covered by required readings. Depending upon the level of student experience and interest, students may have their own topics of interest to explore and present to the class.