The Food Action and Research Center reported last month that migrant and seasonal farmworkers tend to be young and have very high rates of food insecurity, especially among those who have children, according to a review in Social Work in Public Health. On average, migrant and seasonal farmworkers are 33 years old. Many have terminated their education by middle school, in part because the legal minimum age for farm work is 12 years compared to 16 years for other sectors of the workforce. The ten studies in the review article found varied rates of household food insecurity among both groups (migrant and seasonal) of workers even though all ten studies used the same USDA 18-question scale. In most studies, food insecurity rates were high and ranged from 50 to 65 percent; however, one study in the Southwest reported a much higher rate of 82 percent and one study in the Northeast found a much lower rate of 8 percent. Seasonal farmworkers tend to be relatively stationary while those who are migrant workers tend to move frequently, and have higher rates of food insecurity than their seasonal counterparts (55 percent versus 43 percent, respectively). Both rates are still dramatically higher than the national average.
Household level risk factors for food insecurity in this population included: lack of access to stoves and refrigerators for food preparation and storage; presence of children; and transportation challenges (reliability as well as distance to work, grocery stores, and assistance, such as food pantries). Individual risks included low maternal education and lack of documentation of legal status. (The latter makes workers vulnerable to abusive worksite practices. Workers on H-2A visas, for example, have certain rights, including the availability of food and food preparation facilities at the worksite.) Strategies to cope with food insecurity included adult reduction of food quantity or quality in order to feed children, seeking help from assistance programs (e.g., WIC, school meals, food pantries and SNAP), and eating wild foods hunted or gathered by the family or workers’ group. To improve food security for this population, the authors suggest that social workers advocate for immigration reform, increases in migrant and seasonal worker wages, inclusion in federal assistance programs, and improved access to healthy foods through alternative emergency food models, such as mobile distribution points.