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Farmworker Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hands digging sweet potatoes from the ground, with other workers standing on the horizon
Sweet potatoes (pictured), tobacco, Christmas trees and fresh produce are among the crops that farmworkers play a large role in producing and harvesting in North Carolina. Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farmworkers are essential to our lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their work hasn’t stopped. In the latest episode of CALS’ Farms, Food and You podcast, guests share insights on the risks these workers face as they produce the food that’ll end up on our plates in coming weeks and months and on what NC State Extension, its partners and other state agencies are doing to help lower those risks

Download file | Download transcript (PDF) |  RSS feed | Subscribe on Apple Podcasts |15m:37s


Our Guests 

Head and shoulders image of Pedro Zuniga MartinezA native of Mexico, Pedro Zuñiga Martinez has come to North Carolina as a farmworker for 33 years. For the past five years, he’s worked at Ann Angus Farm in Rocky Mount, which produces sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans and cattle.

Head and shoulders image of Beth RodmanBeth Rodman is bureau chief for agricultural safety and health with the N.C. Department of Labor, which is responsible for inspecting migrant farmworker housing and enforcing the Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina and occupational safety and health standards applicable to agricultural operations, including field sanitation.

Cintia Aguilar is a native of Costa Rica with a psychology background. She has worked with and for farmworkers throughout her career. She serves as Latino programs manager with NC State Extension, NC State University’s largest outreach program.

RHead and shoulders image of Robin Tutor-Marcomobin Tutor-Marcom is director of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute and an East Carolina University faculty member. She earned her doctorate in agricultural and extension education from NC State University.

Head and shoulders image of Susan JakesSusan Jakes is principal investigator with NC State Extension’s grant-funded Farmworker Health and Safety Education Program. She also serves as the organization’s associate state program leader for community and rural development.

Roberto Rosales is an NC State Extension farmworker health and safety educator serving Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties. He was introduced to farm work as a child, when his parents traveled the East Coast as migrant farmworkers.

Blake Brown is Hugh C. Kiger Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University. An expert in agricultural policy analysis, Brown has served as a senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the U.S. President.

Blank image as placeholderShane Varnell owns V&V Farms in Rocky Mount, which produces tobacco, cotton, soybeans, wheat, corn, sweet potatoes and beef cattle. He holds a degree in agricultural business management from NC State’s Agricultural Institute, and his son is now a junior at the university.

Head and shoulders image of Neyre Barajas

As a farm labor contractor, Neyre Barajas recruits, trains, manages and transports farmworkers to harvest citrus in Florida and then sweet potatoes in North Carolina. Originally from Mexico, Barajas has worked in agriculture since she was 9.

Resources for More Information

Farms, Food and You