Equitable Food Initiative EFI May mental health awareness

May 16, 2024
May is farmworker mental health awareness month

Farmworker organization Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is spotlighting Mental Health Awareness Month in May.

EFI, the capacity-building and certification organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumer groups, recognizes the month as a time to highlight the needs of essential food supply chain workers and the importance of supportive workplace environments.

Equitable Food Initiative EFI May mental health awareness

According to a study by the North Carolina Office of Rural Health, 30% of farmworkers experience elevated levels of anxiety, and 40% report depression – rates that are significantly higher than the general population. A 2021 editorial in Time magazine by actress Eva Longoria and Monica Ramirez, founder of Justice for Migrant Women, noted how the COVID-19 pandemic added layers to the existing trauma, anxiety and stress experienced by farmworkers.

With appropriate treatment and support, 70%-90% of individuals report improved mental health and quality of life, according to the Riverside University Department of Behavioral Health. A positive and supportive workplace culture goes a long way in protecting farmworkers’ mental health.

“Farm work is demanding, both physically and mentally,” LeAnne Ruzzamenti, EFI’s director of marketing and communications, said in a news release. “The fresh produce industry employs many migrant workers who are far from their families and familiar experiences and can experience loneliness and grief. Creating a workplace that acknowledges these challenges is the first step toward offering real solutions.”

Positive initiatives

Employers who support farmworker mental health are seeing results.

“We believe it’s critical to look after the mental and spiritual health of our employees as much as their physical well-being,” said Vernon Peterson, owner of Abundant Harvest Organics, said in the release.

Abundant Harvest Organics, along with its marketer-shipper Homegrown Organic Farms, offers chaplain programs that provide on-site support and resources to employees. The programs create a confidential space for farmworkers to discuss personal challenges and workplace stress and offer extra support during times of need.

Equitable Food Initiative EFI May mental health awareness

“The benefits to our workers are profound,” Janie Mann, Homegrown’s director of human resources, said in the release. “When facing personal challenges, employees might hesitate to share with peers or supervisors. Having an external source of support has proven invaluable. We’ve received constant positive feedback from employees on the chaplain programs.”

Practical steps for employers

Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder, but supporting farmworker mental health is a year-round responsibility. Employers can take concrete steps to support the mental well-being of their farmworkers:

  • Provide education and training
  • Offer resources and referrals
  • Create a culture of openness and support
  • Promote work-life balance

Materials, resources and referrals should be provided in Spanish and other primary languages spoken among the workforce.

For a list of resources, including the on-demand recording of EFI’s recent webinar on leading employees with a trauma-informed approach, visit here. 

Based in Washington, DC, Equitable Food Initiative is a capacity-building and certification nonprofit that works to improve the lives of farmworkers and drive business performance by integrating worker voice and engagement throughout the supply chain. As a multistakeholder organization, EFI brings together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to create assessment, training and organizational development programs that support continuous improvement and address the industry’s most pressing problems.

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