farmworkers-mental-health Farmworkers pick bok choy in a field on Jan. 22, 2021, in Calexico, California.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

“Mental health is a health and wellness issue, but it is also a critical workers’ issue that we all must address,” said Mónica Ramírez, founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women.

For decades, farmworkers, many Latino, have toiled in the fields, weathering the worst of times to feed people in the United States. Today, an estimated 3 million farmers from all over Latin America work in the States. They have endured a pandemic, yet they rarely have access to health care, let alone mental health services.

RELATED: Washington State Farmworkers Will Soon Be Eligible for Overtime Pay

A collaborative group is trying to change that with a new mental health initiative, the first of its kind. The pilot program is called “Healing Voices” and will use technology to engage farmworkers and bring them together in virtual support groups to support healing, teach workers their rights, build community connections, and inspire change.

“This project plans to leverage pre-existing and trusted national and local resources and relationships to access our targeted populations through culturally appropriate and responsive outreach efforts,” Cleo Rodríguez Jr., executive director of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, told The Americano. “Although we have a specific target of farmworkers associated with a Migrant or Seasonal Head Start program, we will outreach to other farmworker-focused organizations in our target areas.”

While the launch of this program comes during Mental Health Awareness Month, Rodríguez said the project intentionally aligns with the peak agricultural season. Many farmworkers are active year-round. However, May through September are the busiest months, Rodríguez said.

In June, the first support group sessions will begin to take place in the pilot states of California and Florida to test the model and reach farmworker communities and other essential workers nationwide.

The National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association have direct contact and interaction with farmworker families in the target states of Florida and California along with 32 other states through the federally funded Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs, Rodríguez said.

RELATED: Farmworkers Will Be Given Heroes Award for Service During Pandemic

These groups provide services to more than 20,000 farmworker families and their extended networks. Many of these programs are housed within broader agencies with community-wide connections and reach.

“Mental health is a health and wellness issue, but it is also a critical workers’ issue that we all must address,” said Mónica Ramírez, founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women. “This program does just that in addressing a critical gap in the farmworker organizing ecosystem focusing on healing personal and community trauma as a needed step in increasing power for farmworkers to be advocates and activists.”