Nearly eighty representatives from more than twenty agencies across the State of South Carolina gathered on Friday, April 15, 2016 for the second annual South Carolina Farmworker Institute at the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce focused on serving farmworkers. Summit participants learned about the latest issues affecting South Carolina farmworkers ranging from understanding service gaps for immigrant families, connecting families to services, providing equitable job services to farmworkers, to understanding labor issues, immigration services and advocacy.

The day closed with stories from farmworkers and advocates. Farmworker Rafael, served by Telamon Corporation, bravely shared some of the struggles he faced to work with dignity and provide for his family. “The hardest part is leaving your family behind and having to live in a small place with up to ten other people you don’t know,” Rafael told the audience, “we do this hard work to help our family.” Farmworkers literally feed the world. Migrant and seasonal farmworkers work across South Carolina – men, women and sometimes children – from sun-up to sun-down to support the state’s multibillion dollar agribusiness sector and economy. According to research conducted by the Foundation, many farmworkers encounter a broken labor system, engage in dangerous work, experience poverty-level wages, live in substandard housing and their children may have difficulty accessing school.

In the words of Cesar Chavez, “From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own programs and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.” Established in 2015, the South Carolina Farmworker Institute provides a day-long opportunity to unite farmworkers and advocates while sharing skills, knowledge and resources through presentations, workshops and networking. The 2016 planning committee consisted of representatives from South Carolina Legal Services, South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, South Carolina Primary Health Care Association – South Carolina Migrant Health Program, South Carolina Department of Education Migrant Education Program, Student Action with Farmworkers and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina.

Honoring farmworkers, Mexican multimedia artist Laura Hoyt painted the image for this year’s Institute based on the vital contributions that farmworkers provide to the economy and food distribution from the Palmetto State.

Donations from the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association, the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council and the Foundation helped to cover the costs of interpretation, food and provide stipends for farmworkers in attendance. Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, who leads the Foundation’s Immigrant Families Initiative, reflected, “The planning and collaborative efforts of all organizations involved made today a tremendous success, building upon last year’s first convening. Our collective advocacy efforts are creating lasting positive change for farmworkers and their families.”

Learn more about migrant and seasonal farmworkers in South Carolina: Research Brief – From Sun Up to Sun Down.