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A Farmworker Institute for Farmworkers

By Anna Jensen, NC Farmworkers' Project

For 13 years, the Farmworker Advocacy Network has been bringing farmworker advocates together to strategize, share stories, and work collaboratively on legislation, enforcement, and farmworkers protections across North Carolina. This year, FAN expanded its effort to bring farmworkers themselves together from across the state to share their own stories, learn together, and support each others’ struggles.

On a Sunday in May, 22 field and poultry workers from Morganton to Kinston gathered at a church in Fuquay-Varina to meet each other, attend workshops about topics relevant to their lives, and relax on a day off work. The event, planned by members of FAN’s Worker Solidarity subcommittee, featured workshops on nutrition, phone apps that can be useful to farmworkers, immigration, theater performance, and workers’ rights. The lunch break included time for karaoke, and the day concluded with a raffle of donated items like soccer balls, speakers, and duffel bags.

Workers who participated said it was good to meet people and to have the chance to learn. Workers spoke highly of the nutrition workshop because it was practical and interactive. Other workers expressed an interest in knowing more about using theater to talk about difficult topics and to promote social justice.

In past years, some farmworkers have had the opportunity to travel to the Farmworker Institute, where advocates from across North Carolina gather for workshops every year. While the experience has always been valuable for workers and advocates, this year, the decision was made for farmworkers to have their own Institute so that more workers could participate, and so that FAN could offer more workshops relevant to farmworkers’ lives. Many workers can’t attend the Institute because it is held on a weekday during work hours, so participation is limited to workers who aren’t working or who feel comfortable asking their bosses for a day off. The decision to hold a separate event was in hopes that workers would have more of a chance to talk to each other, to build connections with workers from across the state, and to feel that they belonged in a space that taught advocacy and organizing.  While this year’s event was small, it offered workers the chance to form meaningful connections, and we hope to create more such spaces for workers in the future!

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