Farmworker conference set for Caldwell

Sonnay Alvarez of the Community Council of Idaho says an upcoming conference at the College of Idaho in Caldwell will focus on issues related to farmworkers.

An event that aims to show appreciation for southwest Idaho farmworkers while providing access to free medical and hearing screenings, educational services and other information is slated for Oct. 21 in Caldwell.

The first AgroFiesta, from noon to 4 p.m. Mountain time at O’Connor Field House, 2207 Blaine St., is intended to celebrate and thank farmworkers across the Treasure Valley, co-sponsor Community Council of Idaho said in a release.

Families and individuals who show proof of agricultural employment, such as a pay stub, will get in free. The event will feature food, entertainment and booths with information about various programs that may benefit farmworkers and their families.

“They contribute so much to the community in general,” Community Council spokeswoman Sonnay Alvarez said in an interview. “And as far as food and the economy, they contribute a lot.”

Most farmworkers do strenuous work to provide for their families, who also contribute to their communities, she said.

Estimated agricultural employment in Idaho averages 50,040 per month, down by 2.8 percent from last year, Idaho Department of Labor figures show. The typical high is in October, which is projected to be 61,555 this year compared to 61,127 in 2017. About 74 percent are hired, 25 percent operator-supplied and 1 percent unpaid family.

Jennifer Uranga owns Mountain West Ag Consulting and is H-2A foreign guestworker manager for the Marsing Ag Labor Sponsoring Committee.

“It is a great outreach opportunity for the workers and the Community Council,” she said of AgroFiesta. “For the workers, whether they are foreign or domestic, it’s a great opportunity to step away from the farm and enjoy.”

Health screenings and information are an important aspect of the event, Uranga said. Most farmworkers are not covered by health insurance, because they are seasonal or because they opt out due to a lack of affordability. “It hits home for seasonal farmworkers who may be making $12 an hour or less,” she said.

Employee turnover continues to challenge farmers, many of whom have raised pay to stay competitive with other job opportunities, such as construction work or even different work within agriculture, she said.

Alvarez said a farmworker appreciation event was held in previous years but lost focus as it grew. AgroFiesta will strive for a celebratory atmosphere while emphasizing services that can benefit farmworkers and their families, she said.

She said Caldwell-based Community Council of Idaho in 2017 housed 83 farmworker families in five locations in southern Idaho. The organization also has health clinics, immigration-related legal services, employment and training services and an educational unit that includes 10 Head Start preschool sites.

Other event sponsors include the Idaho Department of Labor, the Mexican Consulate in Boise, Family Medicine Health Center, Boise State University’s high school equivalency program, the Nampa School District migrant education program and Center for Community and Justice.

Additional sponsor support is sought, Alvarez said.

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