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FALCON helps migrant farm families at Fremont event

FALCON helps migrant farm families at Fremont event

The following article, written by Kevin Milliken, appeared in La Prensa August 24, 2012. Read below, or view the article on La Prensa's website .

August 11, 2012: More than 200 migrant farmworkers and their families attended the annual Farmworker Appreciation Day at Conner Park just south of Fremont.

The annual summer event is put on each year by the Farmworker Agencies Liaison Communication and Outreach Network (FALCON), a coalition of about 20 government agencies and advocacy groups that work on behalf of the migrant population that travels here to work the fields each year. The group seeks to honor farmworkers in Northwest Ohio by hosting the free, family-friendly event with games, food, music, prizes, and entertainment.

"What they contribute to the economy—we just want to honor them for it," said Francisco Espinoza, Lucas County extension educator and FALCON chairman. "We just want to keep the focus on Ohio agriculture and this is one way to support it. We want to keep the non-farm communities informed of what's happening out here in the fields."

The mission statement of FALCON explains their work well: committed to serving Ohio's migrant and seasonal farmworkers and agricultural employers by encouraging and supporting the dignity of productive work, healthful working and living environments, educational, networking, legal assistance, and spiritual outreach. Most of the FALCON collaborative network's actual work focuses on the personal and social service needs of migrant Latino families.

FALCON present awards to Amelia Nava (Advocate for Community Service), Jeff Stewart (Advocate for Workers Rights), farmworker Oswaldo Salinas, farmworker and farm labor contractor Enedelia Cisneros, grower Dan Liskai, and the Ohio Commission of Hispanic Latino Affairs.

The Teaching & Mentoring Communities (TMC) recognized the work of FALCON with a resolution presented to Francisco Espinoza.

Migrant Head Start, adult education, ESL, health clinics, employment and consumer education, emergency and support services all are provided for workers. FALCON agencies also network with growers and employers to develop in-camp programs and provide information, outreach, and referral regarding programs and services.

For example, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) performed a skit as part of a presentation on the president's administrative order not to deport DREAM Act-eligible young people and what it may mean for families. ABLE presenters/participants included Arturo Ortiz, Eugenio Mollo, and Mark Heller.

A PathStone advocate, Heather Cruz, gave a similar presentation on heat stress during what has been one of Ohio's hottest summers to date. Benito Lucio, Jr. is the Ohio Migrant Agricultural Ombudsman (which is a division of the ODJFS) was present and acted as a DJ.

But that advocacy work may have been strengthened by the impression the event and FALCON's work left on a top state official. The director of Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services (JFS) attended the event and saw a migrant farmworker camp for the first time in his career.

"It really changed me," admitted Ohio JFS Director Michael Colbert. "It was really good to interact with their children. Most of the time we couldn't talk, because they didn't speak English—but the good part about it is you could see the value system. They want the same thing for their children that we want for our children. That's the biggest thing."

"I would believe that and I would hope that," said Espinoza. "That is one of the goals—the connections between the parties that should be involved and sometimes that's just for lack of contact. It was a great honor and an opportunity to have the director there so he could see firsthand what was going on. That's what you have to do. You have to have the contact. You have to have the conversation."

The FALCON chairman even appeared amazed that he ran across the same ODJFS staffer in the fields for the second time this summer, two days after the celebration "on the ground holding tomato in hand."

"To have that connection, that exchange of knowledge—the more contact, the more knowledge that you have, hopefully, the better and wiser the decisions that are made," Espinoza said. "At least they're looking in this direction and that's a positive sign."

"There's a journey for our migrant farm workers going from the South to here—and that journey sometimes has hazards in the road. If we can think about all this, I think we can make life better for them," said Colbert.

hio JFS manages the state's migrant farmworker program and may have the biggest stake in those outcomes. About 13,700 migrant farm workers travel to Ohio each year to help pick crops. Many of them stay at the estimated 100 farmworker camps set up. Among other duties, ODJFS caseworkers ensure the migrant worker program is run properly in conjunction with the federal Dept. of Labor. 70 percent of the farmworkers are estimated to be undocumented, so the ODJFS director stated the need to get them proper visas.

"It is critical that we have the workers we need to harvest these crops. This is work that you're not going to be able to find Americans to do," Colbert said. "They need good living conditions. They bring their families, their children—and it's important that while they're here in Ohio they're comfortable so they can do their work and go back home."

ODJFS just released its 2012 migrant farmworker report. The results remain basically the same: migrant workers and their families still have basic unmet needs such as education, better housing, and basic healthcare. The agency's director has vowed to strengthen the Columbus connection and try to improve those conditions.

"How much they mean to our economy—without them, we don't have an agricultural economy. We as a state are going to have to start looking at how they're treated," said Colbert. "We have to start looking at their conditions, stop some of the local profiling. We're going to have to treat them humanely and make them feel like we need them as much as they need us. Other states are competing with us in agriculture and we don't want them to take the people we need to do this work."

The ODJFS director traveled to the Fremont event to present a proclamation on behalf of Ohio's governor. Fremont Mayor Jim Ellis also attended the appreciation picnic to present a proclamation on behalf of that city. Growers came to lend support.

In one afternoon, FALCON and its outreach workers showed the migrant farmworkers how important and appreciated they are. But conversations between the advocates and officials themselves may have made the biggest one-day difference for their future trips to Ohio to help harvest the state's crops.

"This population in Ohio serves a great need and we have to treat them as humanely as possible. We have to put away some of our differences and look at the value, not only that they bring, but that we can bring to them," said Colbert. "We've got to come together on this one."

The ODJFS director admitted when all is said and done, there is no difference between a migrant farmworker family and the rest of Ohio.

"I think we all as a people need to understand that. What do we want for our children? We want work. We want the ability for them to get a good education. We want safety. We want to know our families are safe," said Colbert.