All Coloradans Rely on Food System Workers, but Thousands are Exploited Daily. A Colorado Nonprofit Was Awarded $2,000 to Share Their Stories.
[Press release courtesy of Colorado Equity Compass (CEC)]
DENVER — Whether shopping in a grocery store, stopping by the drive-thru or sitting down for a five-star meal, all Coloradans will inevitably interact with the food system during some part of their day. However, as vital as food system workers (FSWs) are to all levels of the food system, Project Protect Food Systems Workers (PPFSW) consistently finds that FSWs — particularly agricultural workers — are affected by “substandard” environmental and living conditions. Its Project Protect Promotorra Network (PPPN) has been awarded $2,000 by the Colorado Equity Compass (CEC) to share the voices of FSWs served by PPFSW.
“Our PPPN of 65 outreach workers currently provides consistent services and support to agricultural workers and their families, holding an average of 7,000 conversations every month,” say organizers. “PPPN operates across four regions in Colorado: Northeast (divided into three subregions), San Luis Valley, Southeast/Arkansas River Valley, and on the Western Slope.”
“The CEC is pleased to announce that PPFSW is one of 20, $2,000 recipients of CEC’s storytelling awards,” said Project Lead Rachele Espiritu. “Awardees exemplified their connection to the communities they serve, their mission to address social determinants of health (SDOH), and their ability to uncover and create stories that highlight the unique experiences of their community.”
Over 2022, Promotores will collect stories in various forms — including written, audio, photo and videos — about workers' lives, hopes, and experiences. PPFSW publishes a bi-monthly report, such as this one from September and October of 2021, but the depth of the stories are not well represented in periodic reports. PPFSW has thus undertaken a community story archive project, called Esencial, where these stories will live on publicly.
These products are scheduled to be released in June 2022.
“Federal relief directed toward the agriculture sector has prioritized the needs of business owners but the specific vulnerabilities and needs of food system workers — both immigrant and non-immigrant — have largely been ignored,” says Kassandra Neiss, PPFSW Data Lead. “Inattention to the plight of food system workers is both unsurprising and deeply problematic.”
Outside of having conversations, PPFSW’s outreach focuses on COVID-19 relief, vaccination support, food distribution, and other basic needs navigation such as interpretation services at hospitals and assistance with DMV appointments.
“The passionate team hosts cultural and celebratory events alongside wellness education because we know that spiritual and cultural needs are just as important as physical ones. We have helped to distribute half a million pounds of food and relief packages to agricultural communities across the state and continue to provide education about workers’ rights in the workplace,” Neiss says.
About Project Protect Food Systems Workers Project Protect Food Systems Workers is an organization dedicated to advocating for FSWs who have been “undervalued, at best, and often exploited.” Especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these workers, who have been deemed “essential,” are put in positions where they must risk their health and safety to provide services without receiving adequate compensation and protections. PPFSW works in four ways to “long-standing forms of marginalization that undermine food security.”
Collecting data about and stories of FSWs that illuminate their contributions to society, the ways in which their work is undervalued, and the needs that arise as a result;
Organizing social movements to raise awareness of FSW strengths, dignity, and capacity, and resilience — as well as to highlight their needs for public protection and support and to motivate just and equitable structural change;
Proposing and advocating for policy action to make sure that FSWs receive protections commensurate with the risks they assume and the value they provide to Colorado’s security and economy, as well as to dismantle structures of oppression;
And raising funds to provide immediate relief, especially to immigrant FSWs, and to enable all of this important work.
About the Colorado Equity Compass Across Colorado, communities are facing inequities that impact their health and wellbeing. Different factors, including systemic racism, a lack of affordable housing, and environmental concerns, contribute to these inequities.
As a project ofThe Colorado Trust, CEC helps communities — and the organizations that serve them — better understand these issues and advocate for change using data and stories. This work consolidates diverse resources, connects peers, and both aligns and empowers communities and institutions via its Equity Data Navigator. The model showcases inequities and the social determinants of health (SDOH) across communities. CEC also serves as a hub for community storytelling and information-sharing.