As the winter ag season continues in Yuma County, local fields are filled with workers, visible from early in the morning until late in the evening.
Their days are long and the work is physical, but these men and women are vital to the region’s $3.2 billion annual ag industry.
For 25 years, Campesinos Sin Fronteras has organized on a December night to connect some of these workers with local services like health care and immigration help. But organizers say the annual Dia Del Campesino event in San Luis is really designed as a way to thank this hard-working population.
Gates open at a city park in San Luis, Ariz., where volunteers from throughout Yuma County and Arizona have been up long before the sun on a chilly Saturday morning in December. It’s the start of the annual Dia Del Campesino event.
To meet some of the tens of thousands of hard-working local ag workers, you have to match their routine. That means the start time for this year’s event is 1 a.m.
Starting then and for the next several hours, a steady flow of workers will catch buses not far from here to begin their work day in the fields of Yuma County.
Dia Del Campesino, or Day of the Farmworker, at Joe Orduño Park will welcome more than 3,000 farmworkers tonight. They come for health screenings, donated clothing and a warm meal.
Lamberto Escobar Carrera was the first person in line. He works for D’Arrigo Brothers Company of California. He’s wearing a white cowboy hat, navy jacket, black jeans and caramel-colored boots.
Escobar Carrera said “This is a program that helps many in the Hispanic community, particularly those who need services, who need some help. People need medical services and some are battling the flu. People can come to get a check up and get information on things like citizenship services.”
Social service agencies offer health checkups and other services for farmworkers and low-income residents year-round in Yuma County but this is arguably the largest gathering of the organizations in one place at the same time. To keep things moving music is provided by a local Mexican banda group.
Emma Torres is the executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras. The agency, organizes this event. Torres says the number of participating agencies has grown over the years. In 2013, the event moved from a park directly on the border to the city’s main park about one mile north of the port of entry because enhanced security measures at the port made the park there off-limits. Torres says the event is still a success.
“I think that this is a beautiful event," Torres said. "Not just because of the services we provide but also the commitment to service of our community as well. I think that’s what gets me very excited and hopeful. We’ve been doing this for 25 years in my organization and my family.”
The longest line is for the donated clothing from a local homeless shelter, Crossroads Mission. The next longest line is for warm menudo.
Jose Vidal is a substance abuse counselor at Crossroads. He says the agency has participated in Dia Del Campesino for 13 years. He calls it a personal thank you to these important workers.
“Some people, they approach us and say they’re very happy to see us and they love what we do," Vidal said. "We just want to show how much we appreciate all the effort they do for us, you know, to put food on our tables. We’re just very grateful for them.”
Those in attendance are offered free health screenings, including blood pressure and dental check-ups from mobile health units.
Farmworkers say it’s not easy for them to get services because they’re out in the fields during the day and are too tired when they get off work. And few have health insurance.
Josefina Valdivios works in the lettuce fields. She stands covering her head from the cold morning winds with a head scarf that many female farmworkers use to keep out the elements.
Valdivios said "I like to attend this event because, well, there’s coffee. They give us farmworkers so much. It helps a lot.”
Valdivios is one of the thousands of farmworkers who legally cross the border daily from San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico every morning to work in Yuma County fields and factories. Her day began late Friday night.
Organizers say they hope scheduling this event ahead of her work day sends the message that she and her fellow farm laborers are appreciated.