Valentine Love for Farmworkers

Valentine’s Day is soon upon us. This Saturday many people surprise their loved ones with gifts of jewelry, chocolate, or a valentine card, but the most popular gift is flowers. Over 100 million roses are sold on Valentine’s Day in the US every year.

Included in just about every bouquet is a fern leaf to add a touch of greenery and extra fullness. Ferns pull the green color from the stems up a little higher into the bouquet and provide a nice frame for the brightly colored flowers.

Farmworker Justice works with community-based organizations to serve workers in the commercial ferneries in Florida and, through this work, we’ve developed a special appreciation for the men and women who cut fern leaves. They work in fields covered with a ceiling of shade cloth that keeps the air and ground damp to mimic the natural growing conditions of ferns. The wet conditions put the workers at higher risk for pesticide exposure, as damp clothes transfer more chemical onto the skin. The workers cover their clothes with trash bags in an effort to stay dry, even though the heat can feel suffocating. Many workers have told us of health problems related to pesticide exposure, such as itchy skin rashes and throat irritation, which they experience on a regular basis. The moist growing conditions make a hospitable environment for snakes, and workers have told us that snake bites occur all too often and they commonly fear being bitten.

Each day, the fernery workers bend over with shears and cut leaves one-by-one, being careful to cut them all at the same length. They create bunches of leaves and are paid for the number of bunches they cut, which means their income is dependent on how quickly they work. Most workers earn close to the minimum wage, with no benefits. They’ve told us that bathrooms and drinking water are not always provided. They bring their own water but, on really hot days, they say they can’t drink enough water to stay hydrated. They’ve told us that they feel the symptoms of heat illness, including dizziness, vomiting, and fatigue.

The product resulting from this dangerous and difficult work is a beautiful piece of greenery that adorns valentine bouquets across the country. This Valentine’s Day, Farmworker Justice would like to encourage you to think about the people who cut the flowers and fern leaves that are part of the beautiful bouquets enjoyed this holiday and take action to help fernery and other agricultural workers secure stronger pesticide protections. We are participating in a “Valentine Love for Farmworkers” Thunderclap. Click on the thunderclap icon below or follow this link and send a social justice Valentine to the EPA’s Gina McCarthy urging the agency to end the delay in updating the rules that protect farmworkers from toxic pesticides!