Bad Apples: A Migrant Farmworkers Project Update

By Megan Hope

Although local grocery stores are stocked with apples this fall, the abundance belies the reality in Missouri orchards. A severe Easter freeze hit trees that had already begun to bud and damaged an estimated 48 million pounds of the state’s apples. Orchards along highway 24 in Lafayette County (about an hour east of Kansas City) lost 90 to 95 percent of their crops. Since the trees that did survive produced lower-quality fruit better suited for juice than eating, the orchards did little polishing, packing, and shipping of apples.

Many fewer apples meant many fewer workers. Lafayette County orchards rely largely on migrant farmworkers to bring in the harvest. Peters Orchard near Waverly usually hires 150 migrant workers, but this year had work for only about 30 pickers. Just a handful of farmworkers, instead of 60 in a normal year, found employment at Rasa Orchard.

Staff and volunteers of the Migrant Farmworkers Project (MFP), a project of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, saw the human effects of the poor season first-hand. For 24 years, the project has provided emergency assistance, free legal services, and help to access health care and education to farmworker families. This was the worst apple crop in its history. Even migrant families who never come for the bags of supplemental groceries the Project offers claimed them several times. Knowing their time in Missouri would be much shorter, workers rushed to take advantage of medical, dental, optometry, mammogram, and other health appointments that the MFP facilitated. By the end of September, a full month before the apple season usually concludes, many families had headed to Florida or Texas to wait for work picking citrus.

Following a trend of recent years, however, about 200 farmworker families remain in Missouri. They will try to find other work between apple seasons. Hence, MFP remains very busy all year round, accompanying and advocating for migrant adults and children in all aspects of their lives. The Project facilitates migrants’ participation in a spectrum of education and leadership development activities, including Head Start, Migrant Head Start, migrant pre-school, a Youth Group for 5th through 12th graders, a Tutoring Group, college preparation, and adult English as a Second Language classes. And MFP supports parents’ involvement in education through its Women’s Group, Parents as Teachers, and presence at parent-teacher conferences. Since 2001, ten migrant students from Lafayette County have graduated from high school, seven have attended college, and one is now in graduate school.

This work is grounded in the belief that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty within farmworker communities and to improving the systems that constrict migrants’ choices and dishonor their dignity as human beings. The Project’s education programs address the socioeconomic challenges of migrants and support them to become educated, skilled, and confident leaders actively engaged with the institutions and systems they want to reform.

Kansas Citians can support the education of migrant farmworkers, too—just by having some pre-holiday fun. From 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 1st, 2007, MFP will receive 15% of sales at each of three businesses in downtown Overland Park:

• Ten Thousand Villages will host MFP for its first Community Benefit Shopping Night of the 2007 holiday season. The store features beautiful, fairly traded home décor, jewelry, gifts, and more made by artisans in developing countries.

• Farm To Market Neighborhood Café, a locally-owned restaurant featuring gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads, hand-crafted pastries, specialty coffees and organic teas, will make its full menu available to MFP supporters and shoppers.

• All Fired Up, a locally-owned, paint-your-own pottery store offers a unique way to create your own ornament or gift. MFP supporters can choose a piece of pottery, decorate and paint it, leave it to be kiln fired, and return in five days to pick it up.

All three businesses are located in the 7900 block of Santa Fe Drive in historic downtown Overland Park.

To contact the Migrant Farmworkers Project with any questions at (816) 474-9868 or by emailing Megan Hope at immigrantsurvivors@yahoo.com.

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