University of Arizona Teams up with Produce Growers in Northern Mexico to Help Migrant Farmworkers

The Los Angeles Times released a large expose on the conditions of farm workers on large corporate farms in Northern Mexico. The travesties include inadequate living conditions, company stores that create indentured servitude to pay off debts, and accusations of child labor.

The agricultural industry in the northern states of Mexico has become one of the fastest growing commerce in the nation due to exportation into the global market, especially the United States. The growing agribusinesses in northern Mexico increased the demand for temporary migrant farmworkers from the poorest regions of southern Mexico. Many agricultural employers provide housing to the migrant farmworkers during the harvest season. Often these living conditions are overcrowded and leave individuals with limited to no access to potable water, bathrooms/washrooms, sewage systems, bedding, and electricity[1,2].  International media coverage has recently shed light on many of these conditions, creating a stir within Mexican agricultural producers. Some farm owners have already been working to generate change at their farms by collaborating with institutions to create healthier working and living conditions for their workers.

Jill Guernsey De Zapien, Associate Dean for Community Programs, and Dr. Cecilia Rosales, Professor of Public Health and Associate Dean for Phoenix Programs, have been working for many years with a large corporate grower and colleagues at Centro de Investigacion en Alimentacion y Desarollo (CIAD) training health promoters to improve farmworker health. Because of growing tension and public pressure to change practices, there is now an open window of opportunity for collective efforts to improve migrant farmworker conditions at this farm. This begins by addressing one of the major highlights in the criticisms addressed by the Los Angeles Times – the living and working conditions of the farmworkers.

The climate for change has prompted students, a group of MPH and PhD students from The University of Arizona (UA) College of Public Health – Environmental and Occupational Health division, to team up with Rosales, De Zapien, and Health Promotion Health Behavior PhD student Luis Valdez to assess the living and working conditions of farm workers in Mexico.

Students had the opportunity to visit several large, commercial farms in 2015, and were hosted by the director of a local agricultural organization that works with farms to improve living conditions. During the visits, students spoke with contracted field workers, supervisors, kitchen staff, farm doctors and dentists, and social workers. At the request of the farms’ owner, students completed a housing assessment of the dormitories at two different farms in the summer of 2015. The assessment included: heat, ventilation, humidity, pests, bedding, and physical properties of the structures. The results were presented to the farms’ owner and to the Mexican Secretaria de Desarollo Social.

Recognizing the need for an assessment of working conditions, UA students wrote and were awarded a grant funded by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to assess pesticide and heat exposure in the field. This project is currently ongoing and includes biological, environmental, and questionnaire measurements.

Useful Resources

  1. “Product of Mexico,” Los Angeles Times:
  2. “Mexican farmworkers strike over low wages, blocking harvest,” Los Angeles Times:
  3. CIAD:


About the Authors

Reitta WagonerRietta Wagoner is currently working towards her Masters of Public Health in Environmental and Occupational Health and the University of Arizona. She hopes to continue to utilize her skills and background in environmental and occupational health to assess and protect the health of agricultural communities in need.   Email:


Aislinn NielsonAislinn Nielsen is pursuing her Masters of Public Health in Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Arizona. She is passionate about improving the health of communities through their environment and workplace and has worked on several research projects addressing the health effects of occupational exposures amongst underground miners and firefighters. Email:


Nicolas Lopez-GalvezNicolas Lopez-Galvez, MPH, MA is pursuing an Environmental Health Sciences doctoral degree at the University of Arizona. He has worked on several research projects involving underserved populations, and he is very interested in developing studies that help improve the health of migrant agricultural workers in the southwest. Email:


Luis ValdezLuis Valdez, MPH is a PhD student in Health Behavior. He is a borderlands native with research interests in Latino health disparities, border health, migrant health, farm worker health, and corporate social responsibility. Email:


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