During the height of summer, the network’s 73 outreach leaders engaged in 16,741 conversations, 11,273 of which were with agricultural workers. New relationships accounted for 20% of these conversations, an increase from the previous months. Finding previously uncontacted groups of workers through experience and partnership with various state and local organizations. This seems to indicate that the Network is not only gaining more trust with communities, but also expanding regional outreach networks.
As the farming season continued, promotores consistently contacted many groups of potentially vulnerable agricultural workers, including: H-2A; migrant; or seasonal. As reported previously, self-care and hygiene kits and duffel bags continue to be common requests. The network was able to respond by distributing 665 kits and 201 duffel bags over July and August. With record heat affecting almost all regions of Colorado, promotores resourcefully ensured that agricultural workers had access to sun-protective clothing and gear, and increased focus on dehydration relief -- North 2 alone distributed hundreds of gallons of water, drinks, and juice. Even so, weather and seasons change rapidly in Colorado and over August there was already a notable increase in requests for cold-weather clothing.
Concern over the COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant continues across the state, as do efforts to vaccinate. Face mask and hand-sanitizer distribution was significantly higher, at a combined 8,715 units being given out to community members. This need was on particular display in certain large-scale distribution events, wherein two to three bulk gallons of hand-sanitizer were distributed to agricultural housing units. In July and August, the Network took part in 616 outreach events where COVID-19 was a primary focus, while lower than previous two months it still represented 37% of all outreach events. Additionally, the number of workers who have COVID and reported to promotores that they had not received medical attention has been rising again.
Promotores are not only completing more outreach, but there has been a continual improvement in data-collection quality and thoroughness over this summer. Continued training has advanced strong advocates capable of providing deep insights into the communities they serve. In June and August, promotores recorded stories, personal experiences, and valuable data that can shape future outreach. While occasionally painful and raw, these stories provide some of the best, and only, recorded experiences of agricultural workers in Colorado.
Regional Highlights: July & August
Summertime is the height of farming season, which also means the on-the-ground work is both nuanced by region and richly detailed. To give each region and their work the attention it deserves, this report highlights three regions (North subregion 2, San Luis Valley region, and Western Slope subregion 1). For highlights on North subregions 1 and 3, and Southeast regions, please review our previous report (May and June). The next report will feature some of the initial data emerging from the team in Western Slope region 2.
North 2 Highlight
Throughout this summer the team in North 2 has been dedicated to seeking out previously uncontacted groups of workers including undocumented and highly migratory workers. In July and August, this region alone built new relationships with 649 workers. Soraya Leon, the Regional Director and a massage practitioner with kinesiology training in Mexico, led a "self massage weekend" with these workers. Workers learned ways to stretch their bodies to release tension and examples of exercises for healthy muscles. This activity fostered a trusting relationship that may facilitate continued contact in the future even as these workers regularly change locations.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a large issue for essential workers. In early August, the North 2 team assisted in responding to an outbreak among 10 agricultural workers in worker housing. Occasionally, the team has needed to call on the help of legal professionals, including a situation wherein Dominican agricultural workers contracted COVID-19 and were not paid during their sick leave. It was only through the dedication, previous work, and partnerships that the promotores in North 2 were able to deal with the issues faced.
As the summer came to a close, the region organized a picnic for the community with local organizations, demonstrating their commitment to building a community that is not only connected to resources, but cooperative and celebrated. Finally, several new team members were hired during these months, turning the region’s focus inward as training and guidance was provided to new promotores. This development will see a regional team that shares their caseload while developing internal support for one another.
San Luis Valley Highlight
The San Luis Valley region deserves considerable accolades for their work with H-2A workers throughout the summer. The region hosted multiple events geared to welcoming, celebrating and supporting H-2A workers in their area. These events were part party, part service -- they shared meals, connected visa workers to resources, and hosted games and lotteries. The positive response to these events showed that while outreach remains a priority, it is also important to provide a space and time for agricultural workers, their families, and their communities to simply enjoy life together.
Unfortunately, this team has been forced to tread carefully with farmers who are frustrated by the passage of SB 21-087, the Agricultural Workers’ Right Bill. Many have acted out against the promotores and created an abrasive environment when the team has visited worker housing units. Zoila Gomez, who recently became the SLV Regional Director, explained that they were suddenly not welcome, even when they had previously obtained permission to visit and deliver groceries.
“We were asked to bring [the food boxes and other items] to the office and that [the staff] would deliver. But they did deliver the items right away. We just wish we had the freedom to go deliver ourselves. [The office staff] said they did not need gloves or masks because they provided that for the workers already. We also learned some workers were hesitant to receive their food share as they said they did not want to get in trouble and did not want to be in direct communication with us.”
(SLV, July 2021, [ID 11034])
Even when operating off-site and not associated with any farms, promotores reported navigating multiple barriers as they extended invitations for events. Frequently, promotores were unsure if workers were actually going to attend due to fear of retaliation. Thankfully, the continued good-will the region has cultivated proved stronger than the intimidation, and all events had impressive attendance.
Western Slope 1 Highlight
This summer the Western Slope 1 team has been intent on not only serving, but honoring agricultural workers. One example, the Mexican Heritage Festival, was a large effort at the end of June that was incredibly well attended and received. The summer’s celebrations were vital to the effort of building a strong and loving community, to say nothing of providing increased visibility for the Network. Unfortunately, similar to San Luis Valley, many of the producers along the Western Slope resisted the presence of promoters and the aid they offered throughout these months. Even when outreach concerned the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, hostility was felt.
Angeles Mendez, Regional Director, explained: "One farm [didn’t allow] us to bring a COVID vaccine clinic. Then they lied about telling their guys where to go get it. We spoke with workers and they want the vaccine."[Western Slope 1, June 2021, RDID 173] Stories such as this illustrate one of the vital services provided by the Network: access to potentially life-saving information. It is both clear, and wholly disappointing, that employers gate-keep access to the vaccine like this. Thankfully, the summer has shown that the promotores of this region are providing powerful outreach despite any barriers.
The region’s continued success and devotion in these regions has led to further partnerships, such as a newly formed association with Food Bank of the Rockies. This program focuses on providing children nutritional access in Delta County and extends the important work taking place. Another focus has been health education for farm workers, many of whom must advocate for their own needs. For example, at a vaccine event for H-2A workers, promotores helped provide information on proper eating and hydration. At a different event the region hosted, team members reported that: “People are hungry, families who are still affected by our pandemic are still in great need of food for children during school summer. Our agricultural workers are also in need of food as work is getting slow due to lack of sales.” [Western Slope 1, July 2021, 9785]
Transportation is a ubiquitous challenge for this not only rural, but mountainous region -- thus also is a common service provided by promotores. Navigating the DMV was among the most frequently requested services, second only to vaccine appointment scheduling assistance. Beyond simple navigation of the DMV, promotores also frequently provide rides to essential appointments and visit worker housing sites with only one vehicle that is prohibited for use by workers.
Changes to the Network
September 11, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the first first training and official launch of Project Protect Promotora Network. Over the course of this first year, the network has moved together to change and adjust systems and structures to maximize the program sustainability and ability to enact shared values. Moving forward a new team structure that standardizes the team size and job structure across all teams in the network. Now, the Project Protect Promotora Network encompasses 7 standardized regions across Colorado. Each region has one Regional Director, 4 Promotores, and 6 Neighborhood Organizers. The Promotores file regular data reports and participate in all PPPN activities in that region, while the Neighborhood Organizers expand capacity for food distribution activities and other events. Prior to September, each of the regional teams had a varied amount of Promotores and Neighborhood Organizers. Standardizing the model facilitates more equitable distribution of resources and attention to Colorado's agricultural workers across the state. This shift emerged from our 12 months of collective learning about obstacles and successes throughout the entire Network. As H-2A and migrant workers begin to leave Colorado, Project Protect Promotores will move into the winter season where year-round workers are the primary focus and regional teams make time for further training and skill development.
This report was prepared by Kassandra Neiss and Mark Ludke with contributions from Soraya Leon, Zoila Gomez, and Angeles Mendez.
September 16, 2021
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Data Activist and Systems Manager | Frontline Farming