Getting involved can be as simple as starting in your own backyard, and that's exactly what these few local advocates did for their community. Four activists from two of California’s largest agricultural regions have banned together to protect communities and workers from harmful pesticides. Each gaining their own power nickname based on the services they assist with, they have followed in the footsteps of past local organizations and individuals that have fought for change.
‘The first responder,’ Americo Prado, is the heart warming leader and supervisor for the call center at the United Farm Workers’ Emergency Relief Program in California since 2020. This a nationwide service program that helps laborers with COVID vaccination and personal protective supplies, along with servicing food banks for the local areas. The other half of the program is the call center for laborers and their rights, from immigration laws to counseling efforts. One of the main topic callers alert the center of is the exposure to pesticides. Prado assists with the health, livelihood, stability, and financial status of the farmers that call in. Many farmers and laborers remain hesitant to report an incident due to retaliation from their supervisors. Prado’s mission is to ensure workers and others of their rights, and the resources to obtain them.
“We have a lot of folks living check-to-check. They would rather go silent and try to self-medicate versus reporting because they don't want to lose out on their work. They don't want to be blacklisted. Sadly, it's something that happens,” stated Prado.
Silvia Zamora, ‘the community power,’ lives in the Cantua Creek within the San Joaquin Valley surrounded by almond and pistachio trees. Living in highly dense farmland, Zamora has experienced the endless fields of green countryside, and the rotten effects of pesticides. Being an avid farmer and animal lover, Zamora spends most of her time outside, where she eventually found 12 of her rabbits dead from the overhead sprayed chemicals.
“I asked myself, if this is what is happening to animals, what could be happening to us? That is when I decided we need to raise our voices about this issue,” stated Zamora. Her chance arose when an air-quality study conducted by the Central California Environmental Justice Network was advertised and she jumped at the opportunity.
Linda Martinez, or ‘the fighter,’ is the program coordinator with the United Farm Workers after years of personal experiences with farmworkers, their families, and the land. She recalls her six year old self advocating for her grandmother’s wage rights, and now advocating for the livelihood of her community and beyond. Martinez also assists with in person situations brought to by UFW call center, and with each exposure, she tallies more and more into her agricultural commissioner report.
There are an estimated 165,000 indigenous farmworkers in the state’s farmland, many that speak Mixteco and Zapoteco. Martinez has confronted those language barriers as a translator in order to provide full support, and compensation to those deserving. “If you really want to help someone it doesn't matter their language or their culture. If you really try, you can get your point across,” stated Martinez.
‘The next generation,’ can be seen through the eyes of Victor Julian Torres, an advocate for young people in the fight for pesticide reform. Torres is a junior at Greenfield High School and has been a member of the Safe Ag Safe Schools (SASS) since sixth grade. This coalition consists of more than 30 organizations that fight for the protection of students against the side effects of pesticides. In 2017, Torres went about his regular school routine, enjoying the fresh air from the classroom’s open windows when he started to have trouble breathing. GHH is situated in the farm-rich Monterey County, the highest concentration of pesticide use in the state. Through his severe asthma attack, Torress realized the link between pesticides and dire health consequences.
Now, Torres and many others have assisted in the 2019 ban of organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos, which brings a lower birth weight and higher developmental issues in children. This impacted the 2021 U.S. EPA decision to ban its usage in all food products. These events have propelled Torres and his fellow students in fighting harder for change. “The youth is very loud and we need to stay involved because we are the next generation,” stated Torres.
Prado, Zamora, Martinez, and Torres are among the many that fight for the health and wellbeing of others. Whether ignited from a personal trauma or experience, or the frustration of seeing deterioration in the livelihood of agriculture, these four have pushed the protective boundaries in their local areas and fight continuously for the much needed change.