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Extension Focus

Cornell Workforce Development and Cornell Farmworker Programs provide outreach on COVID-19

By Richard Stup, Mary Jo Dudley and Tim Martinson

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed special challenges for farm workers and agricultural producers. Workers and growers are dispersed across rural areas throughout the state, and many workers don’t speak English or have access to information in their native language.  Growers that employ farmworkers have had to adapt work procedures and practices to address COVID19 – and develop business safety plans mandated by the the State of New York’s New York Forward reopening plan.

Two Cornell extension programs,  the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development Program and the Cornell Farmworker Program have provided COVID-19 resources and programming aimed directly at farmworkers and ag businesses and managers.  Their complementary efforts have addressed informational needs of employers and the workers themselves:

Ag workforce Development Logo

The Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development Program, led by Dr. Richard Stup, provides  “leadership and management development education focused on farm supervisors, middle managers, and owners”.  The program’s COVID-19 outreach efforts have focused on four major areas:

  • COVID-19 prevention education.The program provided some of the first industry-specific webinars and web-based information (dairy, fruit and vegetable, greenhouse) addressing COVID19 prevention, reaching 500 fruit and vegetable producers in NY.  Materials were picked up and reused throughout the US.
  • Business safety plans.  During the “NY-Forward” business reopening phase following the initial COVID-19 “lockdown”, the State of New York required individual business safety plans for farm businesses.  The program developed farm-specific resources, guidance, and templates that enabled farm employers to rapidly develop COVID-19 comprehensive business safety plans.  Webinars attracted 750 people, and resources have been downloaded 5000 times.
  • Local leadership and organization.The program teamed up with the New York Farm Bureau to organize training, communications, and planning among local health deparments, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the NY Farm Bureau.  These efforts helped local authorities across NY to understand needs of the agricultural workforce more clearly, and assisted them in preparing plans to support farms and farmworkers with quarantine and isolation housing needs.
  • Data analysis. The Cornell ag workforce team proided analysis of federal and state data about the size and distribution of farmworkers in NY, and how the population changes during the growing season. The resulting report was used by state authorities and partners to deliver prevention supplies such as face coverings and hand sanitizers to distribution sites and the right times.

Cornell Farmworker Program Logo

The Cornell Farmworker Program, led by director Mary Jo Dudley, directly addresses living and working conditions of farmworkers and their families – and seeks recognition for farmworkers’acceptance and full participation in local communities.  In March 2020, the program’s focus rapidly shifted to addressing COVID-19 – and the need to change support efforts from face-to-face interactions to text messages and telephone calls.The program has:

  • COVID-19 information in other languages. Sent text messages to 3000 farmworkers with links to short visually graphic videos and FAQs about coronavirus in Spanish, Mam and other indigenous languages.
  • Spanish language phone calls. Sent text messages to 3000 farmworkers linking farmworkers with Spanish language phone calls on how to protect themselves in light of COVID 19.
  • Spanish language question and answer sessions. Organized and widely publicized Q & A sessions with Dr. Jose Canario, Medical Director of Finger Lakes Community Health on April 13, April 22, May 20 and July 28).
  • Face covering distribution. Distributed over 7500 cloth face coverings to farmworkers.
  • Legal clinics. Organized six virtual legal clinics linking farmworkers with pro bono immigration and family law legal assistance. 
  • Farmworkers and Coronavirus: What you should know, and what you can do. Organized English language webinars with Dr. Jose Canario on COVID safety and regulations on April 7 and July 28, 2020
  • Emergency Food Distribution. Organized emergency food drops when accessing food became more difficult than usual for farmworkers that were prohibited from leaving the farm to go grocery shopping.

Since COVID-19 erupted in New York this past March, these two labor-focussed Cornell outreach programs have provided growers and farmworkers with timely information about COVID-19, to help ensure workplace and community safety during the pandemic.  Their resources and programs have contributed substantially to the response to COVID-19 throughout New York State.

For More Information

Cornell Farmworker Program COVID-19 Resources.  English and Spanish language resources supporting farmworkers and their families.

Cornell Workforce Development COVID-19 Resources.  Labor management information for farm supervisors, middle managers, and owners.

Cornell Cooperative Extension EDEN COVID-19 Resources.  General information from the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN).

COVID-19 Resources For Food, Beverage, and Agriculture Businesses .  Hosted by the Cornell AgriTech-affiliated Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture, this resource provides links to state and federal agencies and programs for food and agriculture businesses.

Reopening Craft Beverages Tasting Rooms.  Webinar hosted by Anna Katharine Mansfield and Chris Gerling providing guidance to businesses reopening tasting rooms.

Richard Stup is senior extension associate and director of the Cornell Workforce Development Program,  Mary Jo Dudley is senior extension associate and director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, both based at Cornell's Ithaca campus. Tim Martinson is senior extension associate with the Statewide Viticulture Extension Program, based at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, NY.