Advocacy & Activism, Migrant & Seasonal Workers, Nutrition, Poverty

Pine Island Migrants Suffer After Floods

From RecordOnline.com, John Sullivan, 17 Nov 2011.

The floods that destroyed much of the Black Dirt onion crop in August and September left migrant workers in desperate straits – with no crop to pick. Outreach worker Mario Fernandez packs rice at the Alamo Farm Workers Community Center in Goshen. DOMINICK FIORILLE/ Times Herald-Record

The floods that destroyed much of the Black Dirt onion crop in August and September left migrant workers in desperate straits – with no crop to pick. Outreach worker Mario Fernandez packs rice at the Alamo Farm Workers Community Center in Goshen. DOMINICK FIORILLE/ Times Herald-Record

No crops, no work, with winter ahead

Pine Island, NY — The devastation wrought by the floods in August and September have left an untold number of migrant laborers in the Black Dirt region scrambling for ways to survive the winter.

“Most of them would have been packing onions now, but I don’t know what they’re going to do, and I don’t think they know what they’re going to do,” said Stash Grajewsky, director of the Alamo Farm Workers Community Center on Pulaski Highway in the heart of the Black Dirt.

The Alamo managed to partially restock its shelves, which had been emptied by surging demand during the weekend, after a fundraising concert. It will need far more donations to keep the men, women and children who usually show up at the center fed for the next five months, Grajewsky said.

“We have an unlimited demand for nonperishable foods,” he said. An exact figure of the number of people in need was unavailable. A visit to the center last week found about a dozen families looking through donated clothes.

New York’s Department of Labor does not count the number of migrant workers in the state, nor do nonprofits, which lack the resources to survey the population, said Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant Ministry in Poughkeepsie.

A significant number of those working in the Hudson Valley have been here for years, surviving on the predictable and often dependable supply of seasonal work. Floods have damaged Black Dirt farms before, but not as extensively and as close to the fall harvest as this year’s, Grajewsky said. “This has just never happened before,” he said.

While they’re willing to house the laborers for free for now, Black Dirt farmers — faced with extreme financial difficulties of their own — said they lack the resources to support them for much longer. “Half of my work force has already left,” said Joe Morgiewicz, who, typical of the farmers in Pine Island, lost 80 percent of his onion crop to the floods. For the few remaining —» I have only enough work for maybe a month or two, maybe, and then that’s it,” he said.

The work shortage also comes as churches, social service agencies and nonprofits that help these workers tighten their belts. Jobs in nearby urban or suburban enclaves, such as along the Route 59 corridor in Spring Valley, just do not have enough work to absorb more workers, Witt said.

“Some of the families I’ve been talking to are really struggling with alternatives, because there weren’t many alternatives to begin with,” he said.

jsullivan@th-record.com

Source: RecordOnline.com, “Pine Island migrants suffer after floods” by John Sullivan, 17 Nov 2011.

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