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The migrant health streams.

The agricultural industry in America was formerly controlled by small, local, family-owned farms. These small farmers often relied on family, locally hired hands, or neighbors to meet the seasonal labor demands of agriculture. However, as farming production grew larger and larger, smaller farms that used to be the economic backbone of rural communities were absorbed. Small rural communities died out, migration from rural to urban areas increased, and the labor supply needed for these large and specialized farming productions was no longer locally available. Today, agricultural growers want large numbers of temporary workers, hired for the duration of the harvest, who will work long hours when perishable crops are time-sensitive commodities.

As a result, each year millions of farmworkers leave their homes to harvest our nation's crops. Farmworkers are typically either seasonal workers who are employed in agriculture during harvests in their home area or they are migrant workers who travel from a home base to take on agricultural jobs elsewhere. Since the late 19th century, large populations of migrants have followed the crops through "migrant streams" trailing harvest seasons throughout the country in search of employment. These streams represent three separate patterns of migration. The latest National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) reported that 42% of farmworkers are migrants.

Today, there are three primary streams in the US, each with its own ethnic and social history. The three streams are divided into regions called the Eastern, Midwestern, and Western.

Eastern Stream

The migrants, who follow the Eastern Stream, start in Florida and follow the local crops up the coast to North Carolina, Ohio, New York and sometimes they travel as far as Maine. There are many crops grown along the East Coast, some of these include citrus, sugar cane, tobacco, tomatoes, blueberries, and apples. The first migrants that traveled the East Coast Stream from the late 1800s to the 1920s were largely displaced African-Americans who were formerly sharecroppers and tenant farmers; Irish, Italian, and Scandinavian immigrants, and Canadian Indians. In recent years, farmworkers in the East Coast Stream are predominately Mexican and Mexican-American migrants along with some Southeast Asian Immigrants, Haitian migrants based in Florida, and Jamaican H-2A guestworkers.

Midwestern Stream

The second stream that farmworkers travel in is the Midwestern Stream. Farmworkers in the stream are based out of Southern Texas and move northward going in several directions. They often travel to the Great Lakes Region or to the Rocky Mountain area and the Northern Pacific often looping back through the Texas Panhandle. Some of the crops that are harvested by farmworkers in the Midwest Stream include onions, citrus fruits, beans, cucumbers, and potatoes. The first migrants that traveled the Midwest Stream from the late 1800's to the 1920's were largely European immigrants. In recent years, farmworkers in the Midwest Stream are overwhelmingly Mexican-American, and Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants.

Western Stream

The third migrant farmworker stream is the Western Stream. Farmworkers in this stream are based in California and travel along the Pacific coast to Oregon and Washington State, or they head northeast from central California to North Dakota. More farmworkers travel through this stream than any other stream. Some of the crops that are harvested by farmworkers in the Western Stream include citrus fruits, grapes, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, peaches, and onions. The first migrants who traveled the Midwest Stream from the late 1800s to the 1920s were largely Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants. In recent years, farmworkers in the Midwest Stream are overwhelmingly Mexican-American, and Mexican immigrants.

Today, the phenomenon of a continuous stream has become significantly less pronounced. Travel patterns are changing to include a good deal of crossing over between the original streams. Workers will travel from Mexico to the northeast, from the mid-west to the east, etc. However, the migrant health streams remain a valuable tool for understanding the migration pattern of farmworkers throughout the United States.

By Josh Shepherd, Resource Center Manager, NCFH
COPYRIGHT 2007 National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shepherd, Josh
Publication:Migrant Health Newsline
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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