MARY JO DUDLEY: My name is Mary Jo Dudley. And I'm the director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, which is a university wide program that works to address the needs of farmworkers and their families. One of the biggest challenges for farmworkers is that as essential workers, they must go to work. And they are concerned that they don't have the personal protective equipment that would make that a more safe setting for them against the virus.
So volunteers from the community and our students have been sewing cloth face coverings out of material with elastic bands, materials that they have at home. And we have been distributing these to farmworkers on farms.
While the masks and the contribution of people sewing and sending masks to help farmworkers is in response to an immediate need, what we see is a long term recognition that in fact your apple doesn't come from Wegmans or your cheese. But yet, there are hands of farmworkers scattered throughout New York state and the country who makes sure that that food gets to your table.
And I've been encouraged by the growing understanding that farmworkers are an essential part to the security of our food system. And farmworkers play an important role in making sure that we get the food that we need to sustain ourselves.
So it's that growing recognition of who the farmworkers are and the role that they play in our food systems that I think will change the perspective of the public from here on forward, which is important for those people who have remained invisible for-- sometimes intentionally and sometimes not intentionally and has broken some of the barriers between the us and them.
The farmworkers in receiving the masks made statements and asked me to express their deep gratitude. They were surprised that people in our community, the students that they had met, were willing to take the time and the effort to make masks to protect them.
As one farmworker said, these unknown individuals are concerned about us. And it has surprised us that that outpouring of support has come from all corners of the community, which we never would have imagined. So we hope that this recognition of the role of farmworkers will continue to grow in our community and that we will find new ways to support those who are-- whose hands produce the food that we eat.
I want to extend to all of you the invitation to get involved. You can make a change. You can make an impact. And at these times when we experience despair about the pandemic, this gesture of making a mask can be a positive action to protect those who produce our food and are often living at the margins of our society.
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Mary Jo Dudley, MRP ’96, an expert in farmworker issues at Cornell University, talks about how the pandemic has underlined the importance of farmworkers, who are crucial to maintaining the country’s food supply. Farmworkers are essential workers and are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as they live and work in close quarters, she says.
Dudley is director of the Cornell Farmworker Program and a faculty member in the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She researches immigrant workers, farmworkers, U.S.-Latin American relations, migration from Latin America to the U.S. and immigrant communities in the U.S.