From MiamiArch.org, Tom Tracy, Florida Catholic, 30 Nov 2011.
Patricia Stockton says holidays are perfect time to remember the ‘faces behind our food’
MIAMI, FL — It has been so long since the creation of the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network that Patricia Stockton almost forgot she was one of the founding members.
The group celebrated its 25th anniversary at the end of October during a national gathering at Immaculate Conception Church in Sacramento, Calif.
The Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network started as a membership organization for migrant farmworkers and pastoral outreach workers. Its purpose is to provide accompaniment and spiritual development for farmworkers and rural immigrants as they move from state to state.
Stockton, who worked for the Miami Archdiocese for many years in farmworker ministry and later campus ministry, attended the gathering in California, where she reconnected with people involved in the past and current work of the farmworker network, along with farmworkers and pastoral leaders from across the country.
Stockton, who now works as a hospice chaplain in South Florida, spoke with The Florida Catholic after her return from California. She talked about farmworker issues in general and also touched upon how the holiday season is a time for Catholics in particular to show gratitude to the people who help put food on everyone’s table.
Florida Catholic: What do you remember about the early years of the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network?
Stockton: We were about eight people who thought it would be a good idea to create a little structure around the farmworkers’ lives. Because they travel across state lines working with the various crops, they need support both in their Church sacraments but (also) all kinds of other support. Religious women and priests would travel with them to the different towns and serve as pastoral agents, serving as a bridge to the communities they lived in.
Florida Catholic: Where is farmworker ministry and Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network today in your opinion?
Stockton: After all these years a lot has been accomplished. They no longer have clergy traveling with them and the organization has started focusing more on training the “receiving communities” by going to parishes to train people to do (many) of the same things. Another thing that is new is a farmworker immersion experience program for the students from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Even if those students won’t be involved with farmworkers directly in their future jobs, those experiences can change their lives. The students see how hard those people work and how difficult their lives are. That is a good no matter what field of study they go into; they will engage their work in a whole different way because of those experiences.
Florida Catholic: How has farmworker outreach changed over the last five to 10 years?
Stockton: Beginning next year I hope to be more involved again, not in a fulltime way but reconnecting and seeing where things are at, and helping facilitate the presence of ministers and people who want to be involved. There are people with a heart for farmworker ministry who are looking for something to get involved with.
Florida Catholic: What has improved in the lives of farmworkers in Florida?
Stockton: I have seen the growth and improvement in the lives of farmworkers in places like Immokolee, for example. There was a priest in those days who worked to sow unity for the farmworkers because there used to be different groups of Hispanics, African-Americans and Haitians. The growers sometimes created division among them so that the workers would be busy fighting their own battles instead of paying attention to the issues that needed to be addressed. They started organizing and now they have had a series of victories in their approach to working with the food and agricultural companies. They are doing something right to benefit the workers. That requires people who are very dedicated.
Florida Catholic: Is anything actually worse for farmworkers today?
Stockton: In a way, the life of the farmworker hasn’t changed much. They really have to beg for things that other workers may take for granted even in this economy — benefits such as minimum wage and paid holidays. They way growers are compensating farmworkers still seems to be substandard. If they are not earning enough the farmworkers may bring the children to the field and the children don’t receive the education they need. With that comes the vicious circle.
Florida Catholic: We see attention in Florida being given to ‘wage theft’ through a public awareness campaign that some parishes have supported. Does wage theft affect farmworkers?
Stockton: The farmworkers were sometimes informed that they have consumed more than they earned in terms of housing and supplies, and that is a kind of slavery.
Florida Catholic: You have expressed concern about the effect of the previous housing boom on agricultural work in Florida.
Stockton: That has been happening in Homestead a lot. The word is “greed.” It is plainly about how can we get the most dollars out of this land, and it creates an ecological imbalance. Ironically, my area of work is South Miami and Homestead, so I am passing through Homestead with a different function now but my eyes are peeled to see what is going on. If you have been in this ministry you have never left it.
Florida Catholic: How is farmworker ministry and outreach relevant during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays?
Stockton: Farmworker life is a powerful reality that touches our lives in an ongoing basis even if we are not involved directly. This is the time of year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, that people want to be generous, and a time when you say God has blessed us so abundantly and let’s share those blessings. The holidays bring that awareness. When you educate a parish community you are multiplying the effect of your educational work because these people travel from town to town. It helps them be more confident in their lives.
Florida Catholic: How can farmworker programs be more effective?
Stockton: We can serve as a bridge with the urban community (to let them know) that these farmworkers exist. When you go to South America you see the poor in the streets but generally the life of the farmworkers is not in our face. There is a human life behind everything we eat and it is important for the ministry to create and maintain that awareness, and we should be in a process of reflecting, to be more grateful and to live life more consciously.