General Project Information
Our engagement project is a language exchange initiative. Our program would offer basic Spanish language instruction to farm owners and other stakeholders who would benefit, while simultaneously providing English language instruction and assistance to farmworkers, many of whom are native Spanish speakers from immigration backgrounds who may lack the resources to pursue English language education. At the core of engagement is communication, which is often obstructed by barriers in language comprehension. By facilitating instruction in both Spanish and English language proficiency for relevant stakeholders, and dialogue between these groups, including cultural events and themed discussions, our project could hopefully help facilitate communication between parties that may come into conflict. This would give farm owners increased understanding and thus empathy of their employees, and giving farmworkers an increased ability to communicate their needs.
PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) as an organization tackles many issues. They aim to protect and ensure the rights of the Latinx farmworker community. They do this through their myriad programs such as the Healthy Workplaces program which educates farmworkers about safe practices, raid resistance, as well as monitoring pesticide use. PCUN is also powerful in its dedication to their community in its use of Spanish. From their website, publications, to Radio Movimiento, PCUN creates a safe space for their community with their use of language. Our group became interested in what role language might play in PCUN’s work and the ways that they engage.
Our group proposes working with PCUN to create a new program, a language exchange program that would allow farmworkers, farm owners, PCUN members and families, and students to interact with one another on a regular basis. Though we have not been able to communicate much with PCUN in order to ask them what they would like to see from an engagement project, we believe that this program will be a beneficial addition to all of the work that they already do. On the surface, the issue involved is any potential language barrier that farmworkers might face. This is also related to the overall health of farmworkers as “cultural and language barriers may deter helpseeking” for healthcare in Latinx farmworker communities (Finch et al. 2004). Instead of language being something that divides them from the greater agriculture community such as farm owners, this program would allow for greater dialogue between Latinx community, the greater agricultural community, and students. A our team has been building upon our knowledge of PCUN. We have discovered just how complex their range of projects and organizations are. One of the things that continues to come up in our ongoing research and reflection from their reconnaissance trip presentation is PCUN’s and the Oregon Farm Bureau’s potentially opposing stances on pesticides. Pesticides are a major issue within the agricultural community and PCUN is first and foremost concerned for the health and safety of farmworkers, which may be put at risk by pesticide. Health issues linked to pesticide exposure include multiple pregnancy complications (Flocks et al. 2012). and increased infant mortality rates, cancer, and cardiovascular disorders (Payán-Rentería et al. 2012). As part of their Healthy Workplaces program, PCUN documents pesticide exposure and even works to ban and control the use of certain pesticides. The Oregon Farm Bureau, while no doubt also concerned with the health of farmworkers, does seem to make its priority farm owners. On our visit to Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, OFB president Barb Iverson explained how banning certain pesticides,such as chlorpyrifos, which combat invasive species like the spotted lanternfly could be potentially detrimental for farm owners. Documented issues associated with chlorpyrifos include blurred vision and alterations in the functional role of red blood cells (Payán-Rentería et al. 2012). Pesticides would be a central theme to the language exchange meetings. So, not only would farmers learn to better communicate with farmworkers, but they would be building a longer dialogue about each of their motives behind using vs. banning pesticides. By facilitating this dialogue, we hope not only to have both “sides” of this issue feel heard and understood, but also begin tackling the reasons and pressures farmers have for using pesticides in the first place. Pesticides could potentially just be the theme for the first months or year of the program, eventually moving on to other food systems issues such as GMOs and other practices.
As we have had some difficulty in contacting and establishing a relationship with PCUN, that remains the most important next step for any future student continuing our project. Once more of a dialogue has been created with PCUN, it will be more clear as to how we can shape this project to benefit them the most or how it needs to be reformulated to reflect their needs. It would also be important that they reach out to farmers such as members of the Oregon Farm Bureau to gage their interest level in participating in this project. Beyond that, an important step would be setting up the first meeting as a sort of test drive to see the effectiveness of our ideas.
Input for our project should be gathered through three demographics: English speaking farm workers such as those from OFB, Latinx farm workers associated with PCUN, and input from language instructors such as those at Lewis & Clark. Each of these three groups offers unique approaches to language barriers that may exist. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PCUN has been unavailable for input on our project at this time. Going forward, ideally a representative from each group could be used to help discuss the viability of this project.
In the meantime our group has reached out to a family friend Ron Muir. Muir works in the industry as a Certified Tree Safety Professional for Vegetation Management at FirstEnergy Service Company. Managing tree workers in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, Muir works with many Pineros like those in the Pacific Northwest. Commenting on the proposed project, Muir suggested that it could be viable with a need for many jobs he has worked. Muir cautioned the importance of having the support of the older workers or else he didn’t feel the younger workers would take it seriously. In his experience, many workers are very open and excited to share but may take a while to feel comfortable and confident.
Lewis & Clark faculty will be an excellent recourse to reach out to once the project is approved. The project depends on the instruction of both English and Spanish language lessons given to both native and migrant workers. The Hispanic Studies department could be a great place to start receiving instruction on the best ways to educate both groups, native and non native speakers and their instruction. Another section of input they can give is types of cultural activities that could help form narratives to best explain each other such as themed dinners or even shared holiday events.
The Oregon Farm Bureau is another resource for input. Since they represent many native English language speakers they are effectively half of the project. Their input not only on the viability of the project but also the targeted issues can be important. The OFB can help identify types of engagement that are broken down by a language barrier in hopes of continuing these discussions during a language exchange with immigrants. The OFB can also describe how active they would like to be possibly even becoming a second partner in the project.
PCUN will obviously be one of the largest forms of input we can receive. The organization can also speak to the viability of the project within their current organizational structures. With NCFH citing that 27% of workers have no English language skills, PCUN can help decide whether or not this statistic holds true for their community. PCUN can also convey whether this is an issue that is worth taking up in their organization.