(Miami, Fla./June 29, 2021) — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the creation of Florida’s first Farmworker Advisory Council under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Florida’s previous statewide farmworker advisory council, first established in 1979 under Governor Bob Graham, was later disbanded leaving farmworkers without a voice before the Florida Cabinet. In a proclamation, Commissioner Fried also recognized June 29, 2021, as Farmworker Appreciation Day in the State of Florida.
Fried announced the creation of the Council at a press conference at Tamiami Park in Miami, and was joined by Óscar Londoño of WeCount!; Susana Vela of Centro Campesino Farmworker Center; Arturo López of Coalition of Florida Farmworkers Organizations; Susana Rivera of M.U.J.E.R., and Gerardo Reyes of Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Additional information on the Council, including appointees, will be forthcoming over the next few weeks.
Commissioner Fried has been a strong advocate for farmworkers, pushing for increased COVID-19 testing, access to vaccines as essential workers, healthcare and protective gear, cultural respect, and pandemic and heat illness awareness. Farmworkers face one of the highest risks of death from COVID-19, and a risk of heat-related death twenty times higher than other workers.
“Florida’s farmworkers are critical to a safe, strong domestic food supply, but their health and safety needs are too often ignored. Farmworkers are particularly susceptible to respiratory illnesses and heat-related death – yet less than half of farmworkers have access to adequate health coverage, which is unacceptable. These challenges have become more dire as the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks faced by farmworkers and the food and agricultural industries,” Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “Since 2019, my department has prioritized the health, wellbeing, and rights of farmworkers by collaborating with state and local partners. With this Council, we will be formalizing these partnerships, ensuring those who feed our families have a voice on the Florida Cabinet, and recognizing that all farmworkers are an integral part of Florida’s social, cultural, and economic fabric.”
“We are excited to be here today to help launch the Farmworker Advisory Council alongside Commissioner Nikki Fried. Over the past year, Florida’s farmworkers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 public health crisis – a crisis that endangered the lives and the health of our members, and thousands of other essential workers across our state,” said Óscar Londoño of WeCount!, a Homestead-based organization advocating for low-wage and immigrant workers. “For years, WeCount! has been working to expand heat illness protection and education in the farms, fields, nurseries, and packing plants in Florida. We thank Commissioner Fried for her leadership and support on this issue, including launching a statewide heat illness prevention campaign last September.”
“To date, our collaborative has provided 1,218 vaccines and are helping more people understand the truths about the vaccine and assisting them with other services, such as rent, utilities assistance, mental health, and immigration,” said Susana Vela of Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, a Florida City-based farmworker advocacy organization. “We know that reaching and protecting farmworkers includes being a trusted messenger and making services accessible, but more importantly being unified as a collaborative community, all with one powerful voice and a bunch of passionately motivated people – so thank you to all our partners and, of course, Commissioner Fried.”
“It has been a fight for us to get the resources we needed in our communities, like testing. We have formed alliances because our voices were not recognized or taken into account by those agencies that were supposed to protect us. We heard a lot that we are essential, but we have been treated like we are disposable,” said Gerardo Reyes of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an Immokalee-based worker-based human rights organization. “We are here today first to say thank you, because this collaboration is saving lives, and because we are looking forward to continue working together to eliminate vulnerabilities and put the food on the table from a place of dignity. As a community, we need to change – and I think this is a way to do that.”