Agriculture has historically been one of Oregon’s leading industries. The history of famworkers in Oregon dates back to the early 1940’s when thousands of Latino farmworkers first came to the Willamette Valley as part of an agreement between the United States and Mexico known as the Bracero Program. The Program began in 1941, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War II which took many men and women out of the fields and involved them in the War effort.
The Bracero Program lasted until 1946 and was considered a remarkable success in supplying food to the American people throughout World War II. The program continued in various forms until 1964, when it was ended by both governments. Today, the Mid-Willamette region has one of the largest agricultural workforces in the country; led by over 35,000 hard-working farmworkers, some of whom migrate seasonally to other parts of the country when other crops are ready for harvest. Many, however, reside permanently in the area.
Farmworkers are important to Oregon’s growth and economic success and farmworkers continue today to leave their mark in our state, not just with their strong economic contributions, but with their rich and fruitful culture and active community participation.
According to Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) a farmworker is defined as a person working in connection with cultivating the soil, raising or harvesting any agriculture or aquaculture commodity. A farmworker may also work in connection with catching, netting, handling, planting, drying, packing, grading, storing, or preserving in its unmanufactured state any agriculture or aquaculture commodity. A farmworker may deliver to storage, market, or a carrier for transportation to market or to processing any agricultural or aquacultural commodity.
A farmworker can work in the forestation or reforestation of lands, including but not limited to the planting, transplanting, tubing precommerical thinning and thinning of trees and seedlings, the clearing, piling and disposal of brush and slash and other related activities.
There are three categories within the definition of farmworker. Each of these categories represents a distinct population who may have needs that are unique to that population:
A permanent farmworker is defined as a farmworker whose primary source of income comes from farm work and is compensated by a constant year round salary or wage.
A seasonal farmworker is defined as a farmworker who is employed in farm work at least 25 days per year. A seasonal farmworker earns at least $400 during a twelve month period and is primarily employed in farm work on a seasonal basis without a constant year round salary or wage.
A migrant farmworker is defined as a seasonal farmworker who performs farm work throughout the year, but whose work requires travel such that the worker is unable to return to his/her domicile (permanent place of residence) within the same day. The migrant farmworker establishes a temporary residence while performing farm work at one or more locations away from the place he/she calls home or home base. (this does not include day-haul farmworkers whose travels are limited to work areas within one day of their work locations.)
FHDC follows the definitional guidelines established by OHCS.
The Need For Affordable Housing
Marion and Polk County FHDC has over 500 families on its waiting lists for its apartments in Woodburn, Salem, and Independence.
The Johnson-Gardner’s analysis of the current farmworker population, based on the presently known demographic and enumeration studies available for Marion County and for Woodburn, in particular, indicate there are 19,277 farmworkers in Marion County. It is estimated that over 5,783 of these farmworkers reside in Woodburn and 3,918 are seasonal workers.
As of 2002, the market analysis estimates that there are 8,786 farmworker households residing within the City of Salem. Affordable housing projects in Salem are generally not available to farmworkers.
In Polk County, out of an estimated 4,794 farmworkers 3,313 are year round farmworkers. FHDC is the only Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Marion and Polk County providing housing specifically for low-income farmworker families.
Did You Know….
- The average life expectancy for migrant farmworkers is 49 years, compared to 73 for the general U.S. population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
- Oregon produces some 220 crops and livestock commodities -a greater variety than any state except Florida and California. The value of these crops and commodities totals more than four billion dollars each year.
- There are approximately four million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S. today, with Oregon agricultural industries and farms reliant upon up to 90,000 each year.
- There are at least 7 different languages spoken in FHDC’s housing communities.
- The median household income for FHDC residents is under$16,000.
- Recent research shows 14% of FHDC residents went hungry at some point last year (2008) and 40% were “food insecure.”
- Recent research shows 76% of FHDC residens don’t have health insurance and have limited access to health care providers.