A program with the goal of developing relationships between farmers and Hispanic farm workers is reporting positive results.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County received a grant in September from the Appalachian Regional Commission to be used for jobs in agriculture for Spanish-speaking new Americans. The 18-month grant provided $39,416 to provide English language and agricultural training for 30 residents. A local share of $70,297 is also being used. To date, the program has had 31 participants.
According to a press release from ARC, since 2000, there has been a 40 percent increase in the Hispanic population of Chautauqua County, many of whom are on public assistance.
Friday, Earl Gohl, ARC federal co-chair, and Guy Land, ARC chief of staff, met with several of the people involved in the project locally to discuss how the grant was working.
According to Ginny Carlburg, community educator: farm business management for CCCE, the program has had men and women between the ages of 18 and 51 come through, with varying levels of English proficiency. The majority of the 31 participants are from Puerto Rico, however Columbia and Bolivia were also represented.
According to Judy Shaffer, adult and community education coordinator for Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, the majority of participants are referred to the program by the Department of Social Services or the Department of Health and Human Services.
"We also would like to open it up to the public, but that's difficult to do both," Shaffer said. "These are folks that are not working, and they have expressed an interest in farm operations."
Over 40 minutes, Gohl and Land asked participants a series of questions in order to learn how the program was running, what was working well and what the challenges of the program are.
"This is the first time we have funded something like this. This is a very pioneering effort for us," Land said. "So, we're wanting to learn from this, because I suspect we will be seeing more like this."
In addition to Friday's discussion, the men have also met with four other applicants from other parts of New York state this week.
"We've stopped and we've visited with several of these folks over the last couple days, as well as looking at other food-related issues, like the Jamestown Farmers Market, to really get a sense of, 'What are we trying to do here? What are we trying to accomplish? What are folks learning from this process?'" Land said. "It's probably too early to jump to conclusions, but the idea was to sort of get a sense of where are we going and what are we going to get out of it."
According to Patricia Hammond, project coordinator for CCCE, one of the biggest challenges Chautauqua County has been seeing is transportation.
"It is very difficult, especially with dairy farming, because the dairy farmers do want them there just usually when they're milking," Hammond said. "There's a long period in between, where they don't need people as much. So, they either want them to live on the farm - so, (workers) either need to make that kind of commitment - or, they have to come up with a better way to get them transportation. Department of Social Services will pay for that for a while, but when we looked at how expensive it was going to be to make that many trips back and forth, we couldn't justify it. Once their work experience period ended, they wouldn't be able to afford to do it on their own."
Another difficulty the project has run into is funding. Although the program provides an English as a Second Language training, participants expressed that a lack of funding prevented the program participants from attending other trainings, such as OSHA.
Land said although ARC is providing funding for the program now, ultimately he hopes it will grow independently.
"This is something, in the long term, they're going to be looking at and trying to figure out how to do it," Land said. "Part of the ARC work has been to get started on stuff. At some point, someone else is going to take this over and make it much bigger than what this is. The real important work is the foundation and the early discussion and the early money, making the investments in these things. That's our role."