Helping Farmworker Families Who Chase the Harvest

Dec 17, 2015

Most of the region’s migrant workers have packed up for the season – heading a way from winter cold and wet to places were the growing season continues.

While chasing the harvests is part of the life of migrant farmworkers, it’s a disruptive slice of life for workers’ children and their education.

That’s where the Monterey County Office of Education’s Migrant Program comes in. It serves more young adults and children than any other program of the kind in the country, according to the US Department of Education.

That’s in part because there are so many workers needed to work Monterey County’s specialty crops. And because the Office of Education has put together a stellar outreach team.

The team of four starts work before dawn. In October, they were on a mission to find migrant families among the dwindling number of farmworkers in the fields outside of King City.
 

Since much of the agricultural work in the county spans from Easter to Halloween the group didn’t have much time to find migrants before workers leave follow the harvest.

At a field of red bell peppers,  outreach worker Alejandra Valadez interviewed field workers before they start their day.

She wanted to find out if anyone in the fields or their kids qualify government supported programs, including tutoring, mentoring and even help with doctor’s bill in Monterey County or wherever work takes them.

After talking to one man, she noted they had already enrolled him in the program.
 

“He does travel to Mexico,” Valadez said. “He goes every winter and comes  back during the spring.”

Finding families and workers isn’t easy.

The hours are long. And even though the group clears their visits with growers, the message doesn’t always make it to the field. Standing outside of their van, the crew often scanned for supervisors who sometimes run them off.
 

“There’s a supervisor. And there are two more over there,” Valadez said, pointed across the green fields toward the hills in the distance.
 

For the team though, this isn’t just a job. It’s a mission to help families like their own.

All four lived as migrants growing up. Valadez was lucky  -- moving only between Spreckels and a community in Mexico. Others moved to new town after new town.

University of San Francisco law professor Maria Ontiveros said that life is hard on children.
 

“It is not uncommon for a child of a migrant family to go to two or three different schools in a school year,” she said. “And it makes it incredibly difficult for the child to graduate on time or even to graduate with a high school diploma.”

 

That’s where the education services come in.  Using the program, Miguel Contreras earned his GED. Now he works with the office’s outreach team.

“I remember we used to just come here to California for the season -- six months here and six months in Mexico. It was hard. You have to make new friends, with different teachers,” Contreras said.

“I like to help other families in the same situation. That’s why I like this job.”

 

After visiting a second field, the team was excited. They found several people who qualify for support at a single job site.

It’s a victory for the kids they signed up and the kid they once were.