Have you ever thought about the cost of the sweet, fresh fruits you purchase from the store? While produce seems cheap, thousands of low-income laborers at farms are paying a heavy price. In the past few weeks, hundreds of wildfires have broken out in California, filling the air with thick smoke. From the COVID-19 pandemic to wildfires, heatwaves and drought, farm workers in California have been forced to continue working despite unhealthy conditions.

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Many farm workers who are forced to work under these conditions come from marginalized communities. They are already disadvantaged by the fact that they have no way to shelter from the virus. It is not possible for such workers to harvest produce from their homes. Further, many farms in California are not automated and as a result, farm workers have to manually harvest the fruits and vegetables.

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According to the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, more than 381,000 people in California work in the frontline agriculture industry. This means that they cannot shelter from COVID-19, as food is considered an essential service.

“Whether it’s wildfire, pandemic, drought or storm, farmworkers are out in the field,” said Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy. “It’s a largely immigrant workforce, many undocumented. Many are from Indigenous communities from southern Mexico who face even greater barriers to accessing services and reporting labor abuses.”

Zucker said that the wildfires’ impacts on the workers are far-reaching. Some workers have reported experiencing chest pains and headaches after several days of working under harsh conditions. Each fire season, there are many farm workers who do not receive N95 masks to protect them from smoke. During the pandemic, these masks are even harder to come by. As such, farm workers are left to face the wildfire smoke and the virus in addition to heatwaves and drought. Zucker said employers need to provide workers with safety education and better protective gear.

Via The Guardian

Image via Bureau of Land Management