IRVINE, Calif. — Former farmworker Flor Martinez has made it her mission to help essential workers in California's crop fields. She says farmworkers are out helping to feed America rain or shine.
"Climate change is very real, and I think a big victim of that change is our farmworkers because they are there working and feeding the nation regardless of if it's sunny and super-hot or if it's raining or hailing," Martinez said.
During the pandemic, Martinez decided to step up and raise funds through her nonprofit Celebration Nation to help provide masks, suits and other supplies to help protect farmworkers out in the field. These are supplies that she believes should be provided by their employers.
In a video clip, dark billowing smoke can be seen from a nearby wildfire as farmworkers work. Through research on farmworkers working conditions, Michael Mendez, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, shared that this is common and likely to cause health impacts. That's why he's hoping to learn more about what type of impact this has on farmworkers throughout Central and Northern California.
"Right now, a lot of the disaster planning that's happening is very ad hoc about how to safeguard these individuals, when to allow them to work in these mandatory evacuation zones; when to provide them N95 masks for their protection as well, as if we should be providing them hazard pay for entering these dangerous work situations," Mendez said.
Recently, he received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to continue his work and investigate impacts on this population.
"We're hoping that this research, that's going to provide not only the health effects of exposure to long-term wildfire smoke. But also, what are the social and economic impacts," Mendez said.
In the field, Martinez is hoping to bring more awareness for farmworkers.
"If we want to rise as a community, we need to take care of our most vulnerable. Those at the bottom. Those that are literally in the dirt, that are working to keep our nation going. Because we never ran out of food through the whole pandemic and that was because of farmworkers. And, if they decided to stop working one day we don't know what would happen," Martinez said.
Until more can be learned about the impacts of wildfires on farmworkers, Martinez will continue her work to raise funds and brings supplies to those who might need them the most.